Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Cuba: Edificio Bacardi, Havana

The Bacardi building - or Edificio Bacardi - is Havana's landmark Art Deco building.  It's astonishing, another piece in Havana's rich mosaic of architectural styles.

Built in 1930 by the Bacardi family, it became the beacon of their Bacardi rum empire which began its life in 1862 in the town of Santiago de Cuba on the South East of the island.

It was designed by architects Rafael Fernandez Ruenes, Esteban Rodriguez Castell and Jose Menendez, and although it was once the tallest building in the whole of Havana, it is surprisingly good at concealing itself.  When you are standing at ground level on one of the surrounding streets, it disappears.  So here's a good pointer: if you're trying to squeeze into Floridita's for a Daiquiri, you only need look up to locate it!

The building shows its true personality in the early morning (when those who were at Floridita's last night are still asleep!).  In the glow of the sun rising behind it, it turns to gold.

Of course, the sun shines in Cuba most of the time but there is something very special about the quality of light as the day is 'born'.  Perhaps it's a photographer thing!

On top of the tower sits the 'bacardi' bat, the symbol of the company.  It looks as if it's presiding over Havana from a pile of gold ingots.  The bat was chosen as Bacardi's logo because of the fruit bats that gathered around the first distillery in Santiago de Cuba, attracted by the sweet smell of sugar molasses.

The facade of the building is decorated with enamelled terracotta panels of water nymphs and flowers by an American artist called Maxfield Parrish.

During Prohibition in the US, Havana became a weekend party destination for the rich and famous. The Bacardi building and its nymphs were born into a dancing, singing, drinking world of colour and celebration.  It's hard not to feel sorry for them now.  The attention they enjoyed then has been lacking for decades.  This is very clear when you get to the top of the tower.

You take a lift and one flight of stairs to get there.  It will cost you around 1 CUC, paid to the security guard in the lobby.  The price is a little variable, depending, maybe, on what kind of day he's having or, perhaps, how nicely you smile.  It's well worth the small consideration. The panoramic views are great and gave us yet another perspective on this vibrant city.

Having raced up to get a bat's eye view of Havana and its many contradictions laid out before us, the building demanded that we linger on the way back down.  The art deco lobby areas were gorgeous.

I have read that some people have been lucky enough to get a peek at the Bacardi Cafe within the building, even that it is going to re-open again. We were not so lucky, but it's always worth asking. And smiling a lot.  You never know.

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