By Fabián Flores (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — The Capitolio Nacional, one of the architectural wonders the city of Havana is known for, is currently being refurbished in a major restoration effort which includes all of the building’s wings and interior decor pieces.
Repair work actually began at the end of last year and entered a decisive stage this March, when scaffolding was set up next to the Capitolio’s facade in order to restore the building’s emblematic dome. The work is being executed by the Puerto de Carenas and Grupo de Inversiones Prado contracting companies, subsidiaries of the Office of the City Historian headed by Eusebio Leal Spengler.
Though the sums to be invested in this restoration effort have not been made public, experts estimate that more than 20 million dollars will be spent on the project, which could extend until 2015.
The multi-directional scaffolds that will allow for the restoration of the dome have already been set up. The 91.7-meter-high dome is a prominent architectural reference point which marks Havana’s city center.
Challenging Restoration Work
Restoring the dome’s former splendor is perhaps the most challenging part of the repair work, requiring a special degree of care from those tasked with refurbishing the 43-thousand-square-meter edifice.
But other parts of the buildings are also in urgent need of attention. Years of humidity and water leaks have taken their toll on several of the building’s halls, where the deterioration is evident.
Construction workers are repairing all of the outdoor woodwork, which extends towards the facade and inner courtyards, and are replacing the long thin bricks which line the building’s ceiling.
The old coat of waterproofing that protected the north end of the vault over the Salón de los Pasos Perdidos (Hall of Lost Steps) is being removed. A similar coat is being tried on the south end of the vault. This hall is one of the Capitolio’s most majestic areas, boasting massive bronze lamps, lavish capital stones and columns, and 70 different types of marble.
In addition to this, the contractors have conducted a thorough study of the building’s metallic structures, which, according to civil engineer Osmany Rodríguez, show varying degrees of corrosion and will require painstaking labor. A Diagnostics Team has been tasked with evaluating each and every one of the Capitolio’s building components, be them made of wood, stone or metal.
Lamps and Bronze Figures
Parallel to the construction work, a team of young graduates from the Old Havana Restoration School and Workshop restores, repairs and cleans the lamps, bronze figures and other ornaments that embellish the Capitolio’s halls.
The refurbishing of the Capitolio Nacional is the largest restoration effort undertaken by the Office of the City Historian as part of a long-term strategy which aims at recovering Havana’s heritage buildings and sites, as well as cultural centers and structures of historical significance which are part of the capital’s sightseeing circuit.
The plan envisages the rehabilitation of such historic sites and monuments as the Paseo del Prado (a broad, tree-lined promenade which cuts across the Old Town), currently undergoing major restoration, the Christ of Havana monument, reopened to the public last January, and the renowned Sloppy Joe’s pub, which opened its doors to the public this month following years of careful repair work.
Inaugurated in 1929, the Capitolio Nacional was the seat of Cuba’s Congress until Fidel Castro took power in 1959. The building went on to serve as the headquarters of the Sciences Academy and Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (CITMA) until these government bodies were re-located to undertake the building’s restoration, after years of neglect and deterioration of its outer structures.
The building was declared a National Monument on November 15, 2010. That same year, it was closed to the public, to await restoration efforts now underway.