Long ranked among the world’s finest hotels, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba had been a playground for the upper crust of society when life was golden, and survived wars both real and threatened – with relics to prove it.
Built in 1930 and operated by Americans until the Cuban Revolution of 1959, its eclectic architectural mishmash of Art Deco, Moorish, and neo-colonial styles distinguised the hotel from its Caribbean contemporaries. Glamorous guests arrived immediately and haven’t stopped since. Its guestbook reads like a who’s-who of superstars from all walks of culture; few places on Earth can claim to have hosted Mickey Mantle, Ernest Hemingway, Yuri Gagarin, Jean Paul Sartre, Naomi Campbell, and Jesse Ventura. Perhaps most notorious of all, the hotel played host to a mob summit of the Cosa Nostra families in 1946, which Francis Ford Coppola would later dramatize in The Godfather: Part II.
Glamor and mafia aside, the Hotel Nacional had always been chased by a darker reality that remains palpable to this day. From colonial powers, unaffiliated pirates, and nuclear terror, the hotel seemed destined to be under siege.
Two giant cannons used in costal defense remain on prominent display, reminding visitors that the hotel was constructed atop the site of the 18th century Santa Clara Battery. Daily historic tours of the hotel touch on more delicate, recent history in the form of broad mentions of a nuclear bunker on premises, dating back to 1962 when Hotel Nacional served as Fidel Castro’s headquarters for aerial defense during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Around this time, anti-aircraft machinery was installed on the lawn and reinforced trenches were dug beneath the gardens, traces of which still dot the grounds.
With over eighty years of the good life and skirmishes under its belt, the Hotel Nacional is now a state-sanctioned national monument where people from all walks of life can book a night or two to commune with the giants of history, no matter which version you prefer.