Little by little, the nation's Capitolio is recovering its splendor. After four years of restoration work, the scaffolding is beginning to come down, to reveal most of the Capellania limestone façade, boasting a renewed, clean look. The cupola is still covered by ironwork, as are the two bronze statues, over six meters tall, guarding the main entrance: La Virtud (Virtue) representing the people, and El trabajo (Labor), created by Italian sculptor Ángelo Zanelli.
Inside the building, the work continues. Masons, carpenters, electricians, artisans, architects, and conservationists are attentive to every detail of the edifice inaugurated in 1929, which since the beginning of this year, has housed the Cuban National Assembly of People's Power.
Restoring this designated National Monument has been a challenge for the Havana City Historian's office, responsible for the effort being supported by the state which is providing the necessary resources.
The interior structure appears to be frozen in time. Scaffolding still covers the walls of the the Salón de los Pasos Perdidos, on the second floor, where careful work is underway to restore the marker bearing a 25 carat diamond, which symbolically represents mile zero, the starting point of the country's national highways.
RECOVERING A SYMBOL
On the first floor, precisely below the rotunda, is the Crypt of the Unknown Mambi, a room with a coved ceiling in honor of those who fell in the struggle for a free, sovereign nation, being meticulously reconstructed by skilled artisans.
As soon as restorers began to delve into information on the Capitolio, attention was focus on the Crypt of the Unknown Mambi, conceived to pay tribute to the many anonymous fighters who died in Cuba's wars of independence, which was never completed.
Thus, "When we started the restorations in 2013, we resurrected the original idea, given its symbolic value," recalled Mariela Mulet, head of the Prado Investment Group and project manager, speaking with Granma.
Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal has been the efforts principal advocate, she added, recalling, "I remember the first time he saw the place, everything in the dark, in very bad condition. But he captivated us and the Crypt is today what he dreamed of that day."
Today, the sarcophagus which bears the national symbols holds the remains of an unknown Mambi which were transferred from the Colón Cemetery's Pantheon of Independence Veterans, and at its base is a floral wreath, which arrives every week in the name of Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers.
An eternal flame occupies the center of the Crypt, perfectly aligned with the diamond above in the Salón de los Pasos Perdidos, and the building's cupola. To the sides, cast in bronze relief are Cuba's shield of arms, the national anthem's music composed by Figueredo, and the words of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes delivered when he was proclaimed President by the Guáimaro Assembly.
After five months of work, the floor's unique design shines. Mulet reported, "We preserved the original marble floor here, as we did in the rest of the building."
To be heard in the background is the composition of Hubert de Blanck, "paraphrasing" the national anthem, performed by the Camerata Romeu chamber orchestra, while Mulet explains, "In an adjacent room, still being repaired, we will incorporate an audiovisual depicting the history of this pantheon and the rest of the building."
The space is open to the public 8:00am to 4:30pm, Monday through Saturday, and as the restoration is concluded, other areas of the national monument will be opened.
The unfinished Crypt was designed by architect Félix Cabarrocas, constructed under the direction of another architect, Eugenio Raynieri Piedra, and has now taken shape with the raised tumulus placed just as they imagined. "To the unknown Mambi," reads the bronze inscription on the top, and depicted on the front is the national shield, from which extend laurel and ancathus leaves wrapping around a white stone, symbols of the glory earned on the battle field.
This is a precious corner of the Capitolio that will now serve to render tribute to all the nameless Mambis who gave their lives for the independence of Cuba.