La Necrópolis de Cristobal Colón: Being Dead in Public
original site of the city of Havana, on the southern coast of Cuba where
Batanabó stands today, was established in 1514. Five short years later,
the capital was moved to the site on the northern coast where it has
remained for the better part of five centuries. Havana, like many walled
cities, was bursting its seams by the middle of the nineteenth century,
and when the walls came down, the city expanded into the surrounding
forest reserve known as the Vedado (literally, “prohibited”). The
Necrópolis, too, was moved from its original site near the Malecón,
and has undergone significant expansion.
lands upon which the Necrópolis now stands were originally Chinese
Coolie agricultural plots known as “La Dionisia.” The lands were
proposed for use as a cemetery in 1866 and the first stone of the Necrópolis
was laid in 1871, in the midst of the flurry of construction which
characterized the era in the Vedado. In both neighborhoods we see a
condensed version of nineteenth-century architecture in the New World,
marked more than anything by its eclecticism; and the rapid growth of
the Necrópolis mirrors the intense and telescoped expansion of the city
which houses it.
in contemporary Cuba escapes the significant after-effects of the Cuban
Revolution, and the Necrópolis is no exception. Today, the Necrópolis
is in an abominable state of disrepair, and current efforts at the
rehabilitation of the city extend to the city of the dead as well. The
space has been nominally democratized, but its use remains for the most
part available only to those Cubans who can afford the relatively steep
price of interment here. In this way, the Necrópolis is literally the
most affluent neighborhood of Havana and, as such, merits thorough
written part of this project will be an article examining the most
important theoretical implications of the space of the Necrópolis,
including a treatment of its indexical and iconographic status within
Cuban culture. An initial working definition of the necropolis in
general, derived from a comparative study of four major necropolitan
sites, from Paris to Argentina, will situate the Havana Necrópolis
within the conceptual spectrum of mortuary practices. We shall then
demonstrate the points of intersection between the Necrópolis and the
city of Havana which houses it. Central to this discussion will be the
example of the Baró-Lasa tomb, constructed in the 1930s.
Its counterpart, the art-deco manor of Juan Pedro Baró and Catalina
Lasa (Paseo No. 406, e/ 17 y 19) was built in the Vedado in 1927, and
the design of the mansion is the work of René Lalique, the same man who
realized the project of the family pantheon. A detailed comparison of
these two surprisingly different structures will illuminate the
significant contrasts between the house of the living and the house of
the dead, but more importantly, will paint a vivid picture of the
imperative to the written study will be an exploration of the internal
urban logic of the Necrópolis. From the teleology of the chosen
topography: coolie farmland to the present-day TTE (totality of the
topographical emission), we will extract a deeper understanding of the
layers of meaning embedded in the sacralized economic aura of the Necrópolis.
Included among them are: post-mortem utopianism; conceptualizations of
the afterlife, class structure and religious symbolism as evidenced by
the approach to the space; and the urban semiotics of the plastic
construction within it.
with the scholarly work of the project, the Center will present a work
of haptical cartography, consisting of the literal objectification of
the process of mapping, visual representations of imagined spatial
qualities, and the superimposition of real upon temporal space.
The field component for this project is complete. In June 2003, a team consisting of a historical archaeologist and an urban theorist from the Center for Landscape and Artefact visited Havana. One of the members lived and worked in the Vedado for six months. Over the course of this fieldwork period they surveyed the Necrópolis, captured more than two hundred photographs of the mausoleum architecture and layout of the Necrópolis, collaborated with Catalan filmmakers on-site and worked intimately with the museologist. City conservation archaeologists and published and unpublished documents available exclusively in Cuba were also consulted.
August 2003 the Center began aggregating field data into tenable texts
for publication in a scholarly journal.
We are currently transforming the photographs and video data into
presentations which will accompany the written text. Thus, the expected
outcome will be a succinct text and an accompanying visual work that
will serve to elucidate Nowist concepts of urban space, including the
Nowist vision of haptical cartography.