Miami has more to offer than just beaches and a great nightlife. There are a lot of historical and old places in Miami you should check out during your visit. Here two I can highly recommend to visit.
1. The Ancient Spanish Monastery
Building of the Monastery begun in the year 1133 AD and was completed eight years later in 1141 AD in Sacramenia, in the province of Segovia in northern Spain. Cistercian monks occupied the Monastery for nearly 700 years. After a social revolution in the 1830’s, the Monastery’s Cloisters were seized, sold, and converted into a granary and stable.
William Randolph Hearst purchased the Cloisters and the Monastery’s outbuildings in 1925. The structures were dismantled stone by stone and packed in over 11.000 wooden crates protected with hay, numbered for identification and shipped of to the United States.
About that time, hoof and mouth disease had broken out in Segovia, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fearing possible contagion, quarantined the shipment upon its arrival, broke open the crates and burned the hay, a possible carrier of the disease. Unfortunately, they workmen failed to replace the stones in the same numbered boxes before moving them to a warehouse. Soon after the arrival of the stones Hearst faced some financial problems and most of his collection got sold at an auction. The stones remained in a warehouse for 26 years in Brooklyn, New York. One year after Hearst’s death the stones were bought by two entrepreneurs to become a tourist attraction.
It took 19 month and about $20 Million Dollars of todays currency to rebuild the Monastery. Some of the unmatched stones still remain in the backlot and others were used in the construction of the present Church’s Parish Hall.
The Monastery is now residing in North Miami Beach were over 50.000 people visit it each year. The Monastery is also used for weddings and other social events as well as for backdrops in movies and music videos.
Come here and stroll through the gardens outside of the cloister and explore the Monastery. It’s a beautiful place and you should really check it out. This is also the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere. The location is near U.S. Highway 1 which leads all the way down to Key West.
Today the parish Church of St. Bernard de Clairvaux is an active and growing congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida. Services are held on Sundays and weekdays in both English and Spanish.
The Monastery is open Monday thru Saturday from 10 am until 4:30 pm and Sundays from 11 am until 4:30 pm. I recommend you to call ahead, because the location might be closed for weddings or photo-/ videoshoots. Also check their website for more information.
Here a small and quick virtual tour with 3 stops throughout the monastery. Navigation is the same like on Google Street View.
A big Thank You to Father Gregory for hosting this visit and giving me the opportunity to visit this place.
2. Vizcaya Museums and Gardens
Another beautiful place to visit is Vizcaya. Now it’s a Museum and Garden but it used to be a mansion for one man – James Deering. Hard to believe that only one man lived in here – no wife and no kids, just a big staff to keep the house going. Vizcaya was his winter residence and the name came from a spanish province, from where a spanish explorer came to explore the area now known as Florida. You can read more about the naming of this place at Vizcayas homepage.
A very interesting fact to me is, that the interior was not designed to fit in the rooms – the house was built around the rooms. How that? James Deering and Paul Chalfin traveled in the same year the started the project (1910) for this estate to Italy and started buying “whole” rooms and artwork to be later displayed in the house. In 1912 Deering bought an additional 130 acres from Mary Brickell, bringing the total size up to 180 acres.
In 1914 the construction of the Main House begun. Deering even built a railroad track to connect with the Florida East Coast Railway and dredged out a channel in Biscayne Bay to have ships bringing guests and supplies to built this mansion. The Main House was completed after about three years at the end of 1916 and over 1000 individuals may have been involved building Vizcaya. Construction of the gardens and the Village continued until 1922.
In 1925 James Deering dies on a cruise ship returning from France and the ownership of Vizcaya is passed on to Deering’s brother, Charles. Charles died in 1927 and ownership was passed on to the Deering’s heirs. In 1945 130 acres, including the lagoon gardens, were sold to build Mercy Hospital and residential homes known now as Bay Heights. In 1955 Deering’s heirs convey the property to Dade County to support the ambience and operation of Vizcaya as a museum.
Today you can visit this amazing place, which is only a fraction of the original size but still impressive. The Main House has now a skylight and air condition which was first installed in 1986. Unfortunately photography inside the building is prohibited so I can’t show you pictures, but the courtyard inside the Main House is amazing. You can take a glimpse inside with a virtual tour featuring some of the rooms and the gardens.
Below a small virtual tour I created with 5 stops throughout Vizcaya. You can navigate through it like on Google Street View.
Vizcaya is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except Tuesdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. From July 15, 2015 until October 15, 2015 some restoration will take place at the loggias inside the Main House. You will get a discount during that period but no other discounts will be accepted. I recommend you to wait until renovation is completed.
Admission for an adult is $18 ($16 during restoration) and for childs (6-12) $6 ($5 during restoration). There are some coupons in hotels, giving you $2 off. However this coupons won’t be accepted during the renovation period. The current hours and admissions rates are available online.
You can explore the house and gardens either on your own, buy an audio tour, buy a book about Vizcaya and explore on your own or do as I did and book the guided tour. The tour only takes you through all the rooms at the 1st floor, upstairs is self-guided again. There are little information signs in every room, but with the tour guide you get more in-deep knowledge.
The entrance to the parking lot driveway is easy to miss. I passed it the first time, since it didn’t looked like a official driveway, but yes it is. If you arrive by bus, bike or on foot, there is a nature path to Vizcaya. This is a separate entrance located half-way between the car entrance and exit.
- Get early to either one of the locations to avoid a big crows. If you want to do both in one day, go first to Vizcaya and then to the monastery.
- Especially check with the monastery if It’s open. They have a lot of events and for some the close the whole place down.
- The Ancient Spanisch Monastery and Vizcaya Museums and Gardens are perfect for photo shoots, especially with models.