UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From metropolis to necropolis : cuban architecture and the politics of place in the Cristóbal Colón Cemetery, 1868-1898 Wade, Bethany Marie


This thesis presents a cultural history of the Cementerio Cristóbal Colón, focusing on the material and visual culture of the site. Designed and constructed during a thirty year period of nationalist insurgency in Cuba, the site presents a remarkable source of data on the adoption of a national identity in Havana, the political and economic center of the island. As a public graveyard, this site was used by the entire social strata of Havana. The negotiated use of space is revelatory of shifting ideologies, brought about by the Cuban independence movement. I contextualize the architecture and geography of the Cementerio Cristóbal Colón within the fluctuating landscape of power in Havana during the years 1868-1898, revealing the tensions and fractures that persisted in the structure of Cuban nationalism. This thesis is broken into four sections. First, I look at the cemetery within the context of the nineteenth century urban cemetery reform movement. The evolving visual language of the cemetery created a powerful tool for cities to articulate new identities. I problematize the absence of Latin American and Caribbean reform cemeteries from the literature, and position the Havana design as a locale of distinct cultural creation. Second, I look at three levels at which the cemetery intersected with the nationalist movement: on the international stage, on the social level, and within the individual. Drawing on primary sources from the Cuban Heritage Collection (Miami), the Cuban National Archives (Havana), and the Colón Cemetery Archives (Havana), I present how the cemetery documented the complexity of the nationalist movement in Cuba. Ultimately, the cemetery acts as a valuable source document, revealing the conflicted attitudes towards nationalism and change that existed in Havana during the nineteenth century. The infrastructure and monuments, along with the regulation of movement and use, act to perpetuate colonial social forms in an era of political and cultural change. The conflict between conservative and progressive segments of society, the persistence of racial discord, and the increasingly fragile social position of the working poor reflect an evolving construct of nation within the walls of the Cementerio Cristóbal Colón.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada