Portal de la Cultura de América Latina y el Caribe
Santa Clara College for Restoration: Eusebio Leal's dream for Cuban and Caribbean Heritage
Eusebio Leal checking every detail of his masterpiece. He is accompanied, from left to right, by Perla Rosales, Norma Pérez-Trujillo and Onedys Calvo, from the team of the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana. Photo courtesy of Norma Pérez-Truji
1 August 2020/ UNESCO Havana

The ceiba tree, the cross alongside the anchor embedded on a wall, the great wooden beams used to close doors and windows… That afternoon, on Sunday, 8 September 2019, Eusebio Leal gave visitors a detailed and poetic description of each feature of the former Santa Clara Convent in Old Havana.

Bringing the former monastery back to life has long been Eusebio’s dream, one to which he personally dedicated his time and effort, even at the cost of his health.

Restoring that miniature city became a constant, feverish wish. It would decidedly begin to be fulfilled with the firm backing of the Cuban State and the technical expertise of the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana, spurred by the birth of the Transcultura Programme: Integrating Cuba, the Caribbean and the European Union, implemented by the UNESCO Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean, together with several national institutions in Cuba and the Caribbean, and funded by the European Union (EU).

“It is a small 17th century city locked inside these walls (…). The archaeological finds that have been obtained here are spectacular. There was no public hygiene service at the time, so everything was burned. However, the majolica pottery and other objects were not lost in the flames. We have found them and they provide a rather graphic explanation of the monastery’s history,” Eusebio observed during the visit made by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Katherine Muller-Marin, Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the context of the Transcultura Programme, the Convent will become a College for Restoration, serving Cuba, the Caribbean and, in the future, the Latin American region.

On that day, Eusebio stated, “The college we are going to create here is to be an academic branch of the San Gerónimo de La Habana University College. It forms professionals in line with Fidel’s wishes when he said, “We are going to teach here what is not taught anywhere else.” Because here we are going to be teaching at the same time Archaeology, the Fine Arts, Ancient Languages, Indo-American Languages, Lancscape Architecture. The ruins of the Santa Clara Convent will become the site of the Santa Clara College, which is to be a great workshop, with the financial backing of the EU.”

Gladys Collazo, Director of the future institution, recently indicated, “Thanks to the Transcultura Programme, the restoration process will be turning the property into a space for training specialists not only in trades, not only in immovable property, but also in movable property, with all sorts of support: metal, decorative stones, mural painting.”

The training provided will reflect the experience in restoration work gathered, for decades by the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana.

When young people begin to fill the classrooms of the former Santa Clara Convent, Eusebio’s dream will be multiplied, transformed into knowledge and skills that will turn cities, immovable property and other heritage works into spaces for learning, exchanges and cultural integration.

Eusebio’s deep-seated pedagogical vocation, mentoring young people throughout his life, gains strength in the community and embraces Caribbean brothers and sisters who are interested in the value of culture and heritage for local development.

And so, the Santa Clara Convent, with its history, restored beauty and services, will radiate to the surrounding community, with its academic activity, artists’ meetings, entrepreneurship opportunities, the appreciation of a treasure that awaited, half asleep, half alert, for Eusebio’s heart and energy to bring it back to life.

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