Urban Space as Heritage in Late Colonial Cuba

Urban Space as Heritage in Late Colonial Cuba: Classicism and Dissonance on the Plaza de Armas of Havana, 1754-1828

Copyright Date: 2015
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    Urban Space as Heritage in Late Colonial Cuba
    Book Description:

    According to national legend, Havana, Cuba, was founded under the shade of a ceiba tree whose branches sheltered the island's first Catholic mass and meeting of the town council (cabildo) in 1519. The founding site was first memorialized in 1754 by the erection of a baroque monument in Havana's central Plaza de Armas, which was reconfigured in 1828 by the addition of a neoclassical work, El Templete. Viewing the transformation of the Plaza de Armas from the new perspective of heritage studies, this book investigates how late colonial Cuban society narrated Havana's founding to valorize Spanish imperial power and used the monuments to underpin a local sense of place and cultural authenticity, civic achievement, and social order.Paul Niell analyzes how Cubans produced heritage at the site of the symbolic ceiba tree by endowing the collective urban space of the plaza with a cultural authority that used the past to validate various place identities in the present. Niell's close examination of the extant forms of the 1754 and 1828 civic monuments, which include academic history paintings, neoclassical architecture, and idealized sculpture in tandem with period documents and printed texts, reveals a "dissonance of heritage"—in other words, a lack of agreement as to the works' significance and use. He considers the implications of this dissonance with respect to a wide array of interests in late colonial Havana, showing how heritage as a dominant cultural discourse was used to manage and even disinherit certain sectors of the colonial population.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-76660-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    (pp. 1-24)

    In November 2010, Joe Hartman, a graduate student studying with me at the University of North Texas, visited Havana, Cuba, to conduct fieldwork for his thesis and to observe the city’s November 16 birthday celebration on the main plaza. This annual event occurs at El Templete (The Little Temple, completed 1828), a civic monument on the Plaza de Armas, where, as legend has it, Spanish conquistadors founded the city under a ceiba tree in the early sixteenth century, an event the structure commemorates. According to the story, the conquerors conducted the first Catholic Mass and meeting of thecabildo(town...

  6. ONE The Plaza de Armas and Spatial Reform
    (pp. 25-54)

    On August 14, 1762, Havana came under British control and occupation near the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763).¹ After eleven months, the administration of Spain’s King Charles III (r. 1759–1788) had brokered a deal with the English to accept the Spanish territory of Florida in exchange for the return of Cuba. The near loss of the island to a rival European power exposed the geopolitical vulnerabilities of the Spanish Empire. Havana had served as a military outpost since the sixteenth century for control of the Florida Straits and played a central role in the machinations of...

  7. TWO Classicism and Reformed Subjectivity
    (pp. 55-99)

    The Bourbon promotion of a more severe and functional classicism in the late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Spanish world belonged to a large-scale heritage process, that is, the use of an imagined past to support agendas in the present. It also coincided with and related to important epistemological and subjective transformations throughout various parts of the empire. As the historian Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra has demonstrated, while intellectuals and “enlightened” ideologues in eighteenth-century Northern Europe attempted to paint Iberia as the antithesis of the Enlightenment, Spain underwent its own process of rational reform in this era.¹ Bureaucratic reorganization, intensified record keeping, scientific classification, the...

  8. THREE Fashioning Heritage on the Colonial Plaza de Armas
    (pp. 100-164)

    Historians have named Bishop Espada as the driving force behind El Templete, the monument commemorating the site where, according to tradition, the Spanish conquistadors founded Havana under a ceiba tree in 1519. The Basque president in 1943, José Antonio de Aguirre, framed the work as ajugarreta(dirty trick) on Captain General Francisco Dionisio Vives. He suggested that in a subversive move, the bishop erected a reproduction of the legendary tree of Guernica in the Basque Country—a sign of regional liberty—to express his support for constitutionalism in Havana and his contempt for the absolutist rule of Ferdinand VII....

    (pp. None)
  10. FOUR The Dissonance of Colonial Heritage
    (pp. 165-203)

    The role of the Plaza de Armas in shaping views of normative authority, the contested nature of colonial society, and various threats to Spanish imperial rule in Cuba compel us to ask questions regarding El Templete’s range of meanings for disparate audiences and the ambivalence of these audiences toward its myriad signs. While certain particular identities of church, state, and elite may have been underwritten by the work, it is important to consider El Templete as operating in the production of colonial ideology in general. The constructs of imperial versus local power and identity existed in complicated relationships to one...

  11. FIVE Sugar, Slavery, and Disinheritance
    (pp. 204-236)

    The heritage process to which the foundational ceiba tree site in Havana belonged employed neoclassical architecture, history painting, and ideal sculpture to reify both the imperial status quo and a sense of Cuban place. Yet these forms operated within colonial society and could function in the establishment of normative social relations. The social ideologies constructed by the imagery and architectural space of El Templete in 1828 merit consideration for how heritage, constructed by the fine arts, became a cultural tool of hegemonic groups. The social context of “high” cultural production during and after the so-called Enlightenment and the role of...

    (pp. 237-240)

    In the preceding epigraph, the Cuban poet José Martí (1853–1895) employs arboreal and antique metaphors to negotiate a strategy of making Cuban if not Pan-American national heritage. In this passage written just years before the end of Spanish rule on the island, Martí seems to advance and develop the heritage work begun by the monuments to Havana’s foundational ceiba. Yet in this case, he distances the nation from Greco-Roman antiquity and its classicism and offers a powerful alternative. El Templete suddenly appears passé, but perhaps still relevant, as it could be said to begin a process of spatializing nascent...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 241-276)
    (pp. 277-304)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 305-326)