There can be few places where the Greek word for City of the Dead is more appropriately used than at Necrópolis de Colón, the great cemetery in Vedado, for spread over 5 square kilometres it has enough space to provide over 100 years of service to the citizens of Havana. Laid out with numbered streets, you can with a little patience tour the graves of a number of “celebrities”, and any of the cemetery workers from security guards to gardeners will give you a tour for the right price. Their starting point in vying for your attention is to ensure you have heard of the Buena Vista Social Club, and then offer to take you to see the marker for Ibrahim Ferrer, the band’s singer, though as his portrait smiles at you from behind a glazed cover it is easy to identify if you know where to look.
There are more interesting stories to be told here though. In fact the cemetery can tell the story of Havana in microcosm. Imposing mausoleums show off the wealth of the families interred therein, wealth that is reflected in the lavish decoration and choice materials. Wealth that evaporated after the revolution so that the same families can no longer afford to maintain these great monuments which decay like so much of the city outside the cemetery walls.
There is the slightly incongruous monument which amongst the plethora of weeping angels features a gleaming white representation of a fireman, and serves as monument to those who lost their lives in the city’s great fire in 1890.
And then the famous domino tomb. The legend goes that Doña Juana died of a heart attack while playing her favourite game, brought on by her belief that she had lost the winning domino. The double-three which was needed to win the game was found clutched in her dead hand. She had it all along, a fact that continues to be true given the design of her resting place.