Havana’s oldest convent to begin new chapter as restoration arts school
By Raquel Martori
Havana, Sep 20 (EFE).- The former Convent of Santa Clara of Assisi, the Cuban capital’s largest and oldest, is undergoing an extensive restoration and preservation project that will see that complex transformed into a school of restoration arts.
The project aims to recapture the splendor of that 17th-century building located in Old Havana while also equipping it to serve as an educational establishment.
The work being carried out on the future Santa Clara College of Restoration Arts and Crafts for Cuba and the Caribbean is a tripartite effort involving the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana (OHCH), Unesco’s regional office for culture and the European Union, EU’s ambassador to Cuba, Isabel Brilhante, said recently.
During a guided tour of the building, Brilhante hailed the collaborative effort and expressed confidence that the renovation work can be completed by year’s end.
Wearing helmets and vests, the visitors walked slowly amid the construction material, scaffolding, debris and centuries of history while laborers continued their work on the project.
More than 250 tons of construction material valued at $1.8 million have been imported to date, while more than $2.5 million has been allocated for new purchases through the end of 2023, the project’s promoters say.
The restoration and preservation work is currently centered on the first cloister of the old convent, a space that will house the future classrooms, laboratories and conference hall of the school of restoration arts.
Renovation work has already been completed on the roof of one of the wings of that cloister, as well as the ceilings of the four galleries, said Perla Rosales, OHCH’s assistant general manager.
The project is complex and requires meticulous attention to detail, she explained, adding that “nothing has been demolished” and that all efforts are being made to keep elements of the former convent intact, including its original tiles.
Founded in 1644, the convent was built to house the Poor Clares of Santa Clara, a cloistered order known as the Clarisses, and was the first complex of its type on the island.
Covering an area of 12,300 square meters (132,220 square feet), the two-story, thick-walled complex had three cloisters, a church, a refectory, a kitchen, an infirmary, a garden and sufficient sleeping quarters for a community of 100 nuns during its heyday.
The Clarisses lived there until 1922, when the convent was sold to a real-estate developer and the nuns were relocated to another Havana neighborhood. Three years later, the convent became the headquarters of the Public Works Secretariat.
Following the triumph of the revolution in 1959 the complex proceeded to have a series of different occupants, including the OHCH starting in 2012.
That office’s then-director, Eusebio Leal, a key figure in the recovery of the Cuban capital’s architectural heritage, launched the restoration project at the Convent of Santa Clara of Assisi shortly before his death in 2020.
The convent is a key part of Old Havana, which was inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage List in 1982.