SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba – Visitors have been lining up all week to get a look at the tomb, which consists of a single boulder with a small opening covered by a metal plaque that says simply “Fidel.”
Fidel Castro’s tomb has become an instant attraction in this city, the island’s second largest, drawing Cubans and curious foreigners alike.
After the private funeral of the leader of the Cuban revolution on Sunday, people began lining up outside the closed gates of Santa Ifigenia Cemetery despite having to walk about a mile from perimeter blockades that had closed off surrounding roads. They were rewarded when guards opened the gates late Sunday afternoon and they were allowed to file past.
Cuba’s leader, Raúl Castro, placed a cedar box containing his brother’s ashes in the tomb and the niche was sealed after a ceremony that included a military band and a 21-gun salute. Castro’s death was announced on Nov. 25, although the cause of his death hasn’t been disclosed.
On Monday morning, five tour buses were parked near the entrance to the cemetery. Santa Ifigenia is already a tourist attraction because of the towering mausoleum of 19th-century Cuban independence hero José Martí and other elaborate statues and tombs of revolutionary and independence heroes. But the cemetery visitors were all crowded around “la piedra de Fidel” (Fidel’s stone), as some are calling it.
The boulder came from the Sierra Maestra, the stronghold of Castro and other rebels during their fight to oust Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, according to Granma, the newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party. The mountain range that figured so prominently in the Cuban revolution can be seen on the horizon from Castro’s tomb.
The inspiration for the shape of the tomb was a line from a Martí poem: “All the glory of the world fits in a single kernel of corn.” Corn has long been a foundation of Mesoamerican cultures and many indigenous groups in Latin America regarded corn as sacred.
But some Cubans are struggling to see the resemblance of the solid boulder to a corn kernel. “I don’t like it. It looks like an oven,” said one woman.
An honor guard is posted 24 hours a day, and every 30 minutes there is a changing of the guard in front of the tombs of both Castro and Martí.
Castro’s tomb stands next to the 85-foot-tall Martí mausoleum but it is placed ahead of it. Linking Martí and Castro in death, say some analysts, is an effort to reinforce the idea that Castro’s and Martí’s goals for liberating Cuba were the same.