Lonely Planet Writer

The faded grandeur of Cuba's old movie theatres documented in pictures

In 1953, Cuba had 694 cinemas and theatres. Havana alone had 134, more than the combined number of movie theatres in New York and Paris at the time. Most of the theatres were built and managed by American companies such as 20th Century Fox and MGM. They functioned as important cultural and social meeting places within communities. However, since the Cuban Revolution they have slowly fallen into decline due to lack of funding and changing social habits.

Today, only 19 of these theatres still function as cinemas. Others have been repurposed as rehearsal and performance spaces for local dance and theatre groups but the majority have been abandoned. Italian photographer Carolina Sandretto spent four years travelling through Cuba to document more than 300 theatres for her book Cines de Cuba, capturing the faded grandeur of the golden era of cinema in Cuba.

By 1958 Cuba had more movie theatres than the cities of Paris and New York combined.
By 1958 Cuba had more movie theatres than the cities of Paris and New York combined.
Over time, most of the movie theatres have either been transformed or abandoned.
Over time, most of the movie theatres have either been transformed or abandoned.
Most of the buildings retain traces of their former beauty, despite the decay.
Most of the buildings retain traces of their former beauty, despite the decay.
Today, only 19 of these movie theatres are equipped to show digital film.
Today, only 19 of these movie theatres are equipped to show digital film.
Some have been repurposed as dance or theatre spaces, while others have been left to decay.
Some have been repurposed as dance or theatre spaces, while others have been left to decay.
Others like the Karl Marx are still operating as cinemas today.
Others like the Karl Marx are still operating as cinemas today.
Cine Riviera opened in Havana in 1946 and still screens movies today.
Cine Riviera opened in Havana in 1946 and still screens movies today.
The Yara is another popular movie theatre.
The Yara is another popular movie theatre.
Carolina Sandretto spent four years travelling through Cuba, documenting more than 300 movie theatres.
Carolina Sandretto spent four years travelling through Cuba, documenting more than 300 movie theatres.
Initially some of the theatres were difficult to locate but Carolina was eventually directed to the right places by locals, especially elderly people who had fond memories of Cuba's golden age of cinema.
Initially some of the theatres were difficult to locate but Carolina was eventually directed to the right places by locals, especially elderly people who had fond memories of Cuba's golden age of cinema.