In houses of suburban Havana, Cuba’s underground antiques dealers hoard artefacts testament to pre-Revolutionary life in Cuba.
Bathtubs full of paintings, rooms filled with silverware and matching china, busts of Stalin thrown in for good measure.
Here’s one Aussies experience of a clandestine antiques market on a nondescript street, in a nondescript house, somewhere in Cuba.
Cuba’s Antiques Markets
Looking at it from the street, the house appeared run down. It bore none of the pomp and fan fare associated with the renovated mansions nearby. It was from the outside just another crumbling Cuban home.
Strewn across the small front yard were old refrigerators, paint tins and rotting wooden cabinets succumbing to Cuba’s constant humidity. From the outside it looked like a junkyard. Somewhere to throw your trash or abandon unwanted household items.
A hoarders paradise with a narrow laneway to the righthand side of the property. A path through the trash. Trash that was piled higher than the average person is tall and which obscured views of the front door.
Navigating the path through and rounding the trash pile, a rack of rusted old typewriters clung to the wall. Marking entry to the house.
Cuban Antiques | Entering
Entering the dimly lit house from the bright Cuban sunshine, it was at first difficult to tell where I’d been led. My Cuban friend darting off through the maze of artefacts that was suddenly coming into view as my eyes adjusted.
Unlike the exterior, the interior was clean, air-conditioned to keep the humidity out and monitored with high tech surveillance cameras. The windows with drawn blinds to keep sunlight from spoiling the hoard.
The house was arranged in rooms and rows by theme and the goods stacked neatly. Or at least as neatly as can be in a house stacked floor to ceiling with antiques.
Beginning to navigate the narrow paths from the front door through the house my first thought was of a domino effect. Of causing a cascading ripple of destruction through the old mansion if I lost my footing.
Treading carefully around the first corner I entered a room filled with dinnerware and my Cuban friend inspecting something. As I moved closer, I realised she’d found an exquisite set of crystal Art Deco cocktail glasses. A slam dunk for her.
Heading Up Stairs
This was by no means a small house. This Cuban house of antiquities was once a large family home. It had no less than 10 rooms across two floors.
Heading upstairs gave space to stand and better see the art that adorned the walls. I’m no artist or historian but a lot of the art did look old. At least pre-revolution and likely once adorned the walls of middle and upperclass suburban mansions.
Most of the antiques themselves would have come from homes and hotels as they remodelled. Or would have been sold by emigres pre departure or by those looking to supplement their modest incomes.
It was hard not to wonder, in such a place, who sold these items and why. Paintings likely hanging in family homes and taking pride of place for generations now adorn a bathtub in suburban Havana.
Cuba’s Antiques | Through the winding corridors
Onward through the narrow paths and winding corridors of the house, room after room revealed new artefacts. Clocks, cabinetry and busts of figures recognisable and not. Each room revealed new treasures to make one wonder about their origin.
It was the constant question of who sold these items and why, that plagues one as they navigate a place such as this. It’s not even as if they were getting top dollar for their goods. As each item resold in places like this one, are traded for small change in CUP.
Cuba’s antiques in Cuba are worth nothing. Cuba’s antiques in shops abroad would be worth far more. With some items likely worth a small fortune.
Winding our way through the house carefully, so as not to knock anything over, room after room filled with figurines, vases and antique clocks, we traipsed on. Reaching one room so filled with clocks and busts that it was a squeeze, even side on, to get through the path laid out.
New mysteries emerged in this tight little corner of the house. One can understand why nobody in this era would want a bust of Stalin, pretty as he was, but why get rid of an urn that likely contains or once contained, a relative. And who would buy such things?
Even a bust of José Martí was up for sale. Something which Martí himself, if he were alive, would likely find perplexing.
Alas, every corner raised more questions that will never be answered and there we were, back at the front door. As we emerged back into the sunlight the questions faded. Replaced by a desire for canchánchara.
Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?
I’ve made a Cuba Frequently Asked Questions Page (FAQ) available on this website. And I would strongly advise you to read it before travelling to Cuba.
My Cuba FAQ page will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the Cuba FAQ Page here.