Situated in Havana’s Vedado district, Universidad de La Habana, or the University of Havana is the oldest university in the island nation. Founded in 1728, it also holds the distinction of being one of the first universities to be founded in the Americas.
The school was originally known as Real y Pontifica Universidad de San Geronimo de La Habana, or the Royal Pontifical University of Saint Jerome of Havana, a name that was authorized by Pope Innocent XIII as well as Spain’s King Philip V.
It was considered a religious institution until 1842, when it was designated as a secular institution. When Cuba was declared to be a free republic at the beginning of the 20th century, the name was changed once again to Universidad Nacional, or National University.
When the university was first founded, it was located in Old Havana’s Villa de San Cristobal. It was moved to Vedado in 1902. Inside the main building are seven frescoes created by Armando Menocal y Menocal. Each of the seven frescoes represents an area of study, with the subjects being Liberal Arts, Thought, Law, Literature, Science, Art, and Medicine.
Another impressive feature of the school is the bronze Alma Mater (or nourishing mother) statue that is found at the main entrance. There have been many notable alumni of the university, although perhaps none more famous than Fidel Castro himself, who studied Law at the university in the 1940’s.
The school was briefly closed in 1952 after becoming the center of protests against the Batista regime, but it was reopened in 1959 after Castro’s Revolution was successful.
Even before the revolution, most of the students of the University of Havana joined organizations that reflected their political ideologies. The FEU, the University Students Federation, was the most popular of these organizations and was founded by Julio Antonio Mella, who was one of the founders of Cuba’s Communist Party. The organization played a significant role in overthrowing President Gerardo Machado, who arranged Mella’s death at the hands of assassins while exiled in Mexico.
The closing of the school in 1952 was the result of significant violence between students of the university and Cuban police, including an attack on the Moncada barracks arranged by recent graduate Fidel Castro. When Castro came to power within the nation, he worked to end student political demonstrations and reopened the university to students.
The history of the University of Havana is certainly a storied one, making the building an incredibly important part of the city’s historical landscape. This history, combined with absolutely incredible architecture, helps make the University an excellent destination for visitors to the city.
Havana has much to offer those who are able to visit the island, and the university should definitely rank near the top of the list for academic, historical, and architectural scholars alike.
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With Cuba travel restrictions from the United States currently more lenient than they have been in more than half a century , now is the perfect time for American professionals to join Cuba Education Tours and to take advantage of the opportunity to see this amazing island in person.