By- Ricardo Chavira
City tours don’t usually include visits to cemeteries. However, the Cemetery of the Queen, or Cementerio de la Reina, in Cienfuegos is a must-see attraction while visiting Pearl of the South in Cuba.
The cemetery, built between 1836 and 1839, has a neoclassical architectural style, which emphasizes clean and uncluttered lines. The Cemetery of the Queen is about two kilometers away from the center of the city.
One of the main attractions in the Cemetery of the Queen are the graves of rich and powerful people from the city. It looks like a competition among the elite of who has the most impressive resting place. Though it’s not exactly known how the cemetery got its name, many believe it has to do with the elegance of the marble statuary used to mark several graves. Also, its namesake could be inspired by Queen Isabella II from Spain.
La Bella Durmiente, or Sleeping Beauty, at The Queen’s Cemetery in Cienfuegos, Photo by Ricardo Chavira
The inner courtyard has walls with three rows of burial niches each. This was a common burial mode during the Cuban colonial era in the 19th century. The monuments are distinguished by their fine finishes. Experts compare them to those used in the Italian cemeteries of that time.
The Cemetery of the Queen was declared a national monument on January 30, 1990, by the National Monuments Commission. This form of burial in niche walls is the only one preserved in Cuba from the colonial era after burials in the temples were abolished.
One tomb that caught people’s attention is the one of Sleeping Beauty. Crafted in white marble, it is the resting place of the young Maria Josefa Álvarez Miró, who died on July 16, 1907, at the age of 24.
Some say she died of cholera, while my guide insists she died of a broken heart when her fiancé did not return from a trip abroad. Other versions maintain that she died giving birth. The truth has been totally lost in history.
The young woman’s mother commissioned a craftsman, reportedly an Italian sculptor, to honor of Maria Josefa. He created and built the figure of a maiden, not dead, but in a delicate nightgown, dreamily leaning on a cross. In her left hand, resting on her lap, she holds a bouquet of poppies as a symbol of life. Her right hand gently crushes a serpent, as an allusion to death. Her face looks out toward visitors.
People can find several other elegant statues on graves around the cemetery, some with an angelic aspect. Those of a lower economic background are buried under plain stone slabs in a separate section.
Hostal Palacio Azul, photo by Ricardo Chavira
On the way toward the city center The Hostal Palacio Azul, built in 1921 and painted bright powder blue, caught people’s attention. It is classified as an example of eclectic architecture and was designed by famed Italian architect, Alfredo Fontana. For years, it was the home of a wealthy tobacco grower.
The mansion was refurbished and opened as a seven-room hotel in 2007. The hotel remains intact with its 1920’s design and décor.
In Cienfuegos, when arriving at Parque Jose Marti, you will enjoy plenty of architectural treasures. Among them is Colegio San Lorenzo, a fine example of the neoclassical style. Nicolas Jacinto Aceo, a champion of accessible education and prominent academics, donated the funds for the school’s construction.
Cienfuegos Municipal Palace, photo by Ricardo Chavira
Parque Jose Marti, also known as Plaza de Armas, was and is the heart of Cienfuegos. Soon after French immigrants arrived in the city in 1819, the Municipal Palace was built. The building has undergone several renovations and today its imposing neoclassical style dominates the square. Cienfuegos has a well-deserved reputation for architectural splendor.
Victory Cruise Lines is your first choice for immersive and all-inclusive coastal cruising. Our Cuban shore excursions are led by knowledgeable local guides and provide meaningful opportunities to uncover the rich history and fascinating cultures. We go all out to give you the opportunity to see and experience Cuba, at a pace that suits your needs and tastes. For more, visit victorycruiselines.com or give us a call at 1-888 -907-2636.