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Alexander von Humboldt: A German Second Discoverer of Cuba

Alexander von Humboldt: A German Second Discoverer of Cuba

The Alejandro de Humboldt House is a museum, designed to rescue, research and promote his historical legacy. Photo: TTC

German naturalist and researcher Alexander von Humboldt (Berlin, 1769-1859) is one of the most important scholars of the 19th century, considered Cuba’s second discoverer, founder of a modern scientific geography and one of the precursors of ecology and sustainability, in addition to his contribution to the development of several sciences.

The highlight of his intense work was the expedition of scientific research he carried out for five years across the American continent, together with the talented French botanist and naturalist Aimé Bonpland. They traveled through rainforests, mountainous areas, coasts and cities of territories of the current nations of Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico and the United States. They took measurements, made drawings and observations, did research in the fields of geography, cultural history, ethnography, philology, economy and politics, and bequeathed an enormous treasure of experiences and knowledge.

Humboldt visited Cuba twice: the first, from December 19, 1800 until March 15, 1801; and the second, in April 1804, for a brief stay. His research made it possible to expand knowledge on geography, agriculture, flora, fauna, topography, population, communications, coastal features, soils, climate; and this represented a great deal for Cuba’s incipient development, since it helped to improve the cultivation of sugarcane and the manufacture of sugar. In addition, he made a map with exact measurements of the latitude of several ports and cities, including that of Havana. The thesis on the formation of the Antilles and the constitution of Cuban geology was another of his essential contributions.

Upon his return to Europe he took the vision of an American continent that was not inferior but historically rich; and recorded the result of his vast and fruitful scientific production. In 1827, he published the Political Essay on the Island of Cuba, a work of extraordinary importance because it makes known, for the first time, Cuba’s nature and society to Europeans and Cubans, based on the fame he already enjoyed for his scientific trips

More than two centuries have elapsed since Humboldt’s visit to Cuba, but his personality, life and work have reached our times and Cuba eternalizes him, using his name in Spanish in various spaces, whose topmost expression is the Alejandro de Humboldt House and the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park.

The Alejandro de Humboldt House is a museum, designed to rescue, research and promote his historical legacy. It is located in the building ?from the 18th century? where during his stay in Cuba Humboldt installed his physical instruments and botanical and mineral collections, and rectified the mathematical calculations of Havana’s meridian.

The current permanent exhibition is the result of collaboration between Germany and the Office of the City of Havana Historian, and was curated by Peter Korneffel and David Blankenstein. The museum features an outlook of Humboldt’s biography and the passages of his childhood that brought him closer to nature; it presents his main studies, especially in the Americas and Cuba, including replicas of instruments he built for his research and his methodologies.

The best tribute to he who with such passion studied Cuban geography and nature, is to immortalize his name in the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, registered in 2001 on the UNESCO World Heritage List in the Natural Site category. It harbors some of the most significant natural habitats for the conservation of terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity in Cuba and is of global importance as one of the most biologically diverse tropical ecosystems in an island setting anywhere on Earth.