More than just an inviting beach location and a city with a vibrant night life, Miami is a major commercial centre and has more to offer, particularly for those with cultural interests and a few hours spare, as Kate Kennedy discovered.
1. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Originally built as a winter home for James Deering in the 1910s, Vizcaya was modelled on a centuries-old Italian villa. Deering bought a large number of European antiques, and the building was designed to make sure all of the treasures could be adequately accommodated. At the same time, Deering, a modern businessman, incorporated 20th century building methods and technologies at Vizcaya, and established agricultural facilities significant to his background as a manufacturer of farm equipment.
The mansion was turned into a museum 10 years after his death. It opened in 1935 as a privately-owned seasonal museum by Deering’s family. The opening was short-lived as a hurricane blew through the estate, damaging the building, and later, in 1945, 130 acres of the Vizcaya property, including the Lagoon Gardens, were given to Mercy Hospital and the Catholic Diocese of St Augustine.
It was only in 1953 that the property opened as a museum, with tours by a volunteer group, the Vizcaya Volunteer Guides, offered a year later.
2. Everglades Alligator Farm
South Florida consists of a vast swath of tropical wetlands known as the Everglades, with a sea of sawgrass marshes, which thrive on the shallow, slow-moving water that makes its way from Lake Okeechobee down to Florida Bay. It is a complex system of interdependent ecosystems that include cypress swamps, the estuarine mangrove forests of the Ten Thousand Islands, tropical hardwood hammocks, pine rockland, and the marine environment of Florida Bay.
The area supports a large collection of wildlife, including birds, fish, turtles and alligators, and is best explored by airboat. The Everglades Alligator Farm offers tours to anyone interested in getting a closer look at this ecosystem.
A trip to the Everglades Alligator Farm includes a walking trail around the farm to view alligators, crocodiles, caimans and other wildlife, a display of local and exotic snakes, and informational wildlife shows every hour.
3. Freedom Tower
Visiting the Freedom Tower is like visiting a time capsule of the city. The Mediterranean-style tower, modelled after the Giralda tower in Seville, Spain, is part of Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus. Originally known as the Miami News Tower, the building was completed in 1925, as the headquarters for The Miami News newspaper. From 1925 to 1928 it was the tallest building in Florida. In 1962 the tower became an impromptu processing centre for Cubans escaping Fidel Castro’s regime.
Today the tower houses the Miami Dade College Museum and Galleries of Art and Design, and serves as a memorial to Cuban political refugees, as well as an educational and cultural centre. The building was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2008.
4. Coral Castle
From 1923 to 1951 Latvian-born Edward Leedskalnin single-handedly carved over 1,100 tons of coral rock as a monument to the fiancé who left him the day before they were to be married. Because he wouldn’t let anyone see him working, it was speculated that Leedskalnin possessed supernatural powers. When he ushered visitors around his sculpture garden and explained the significance of each piece, all he would say on the matter was that he knew the secrets used to build the ancient pyramids.
Not only did he cut and transport huge blocks of limestone without any help from machines, he also spent three years moving the structures nearly 20 kilometres to their current location, when he discovered the land nearby was destined for subdivision – Leedskalnin was a very private person and disliked the idea of having too many other people too close to his property.
The stones are fastened together without mortar. Neither time nor a direct hit by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 shifted the stones. They fit together so well that no light filtered through the joints – a testament to Leedskalnin’s skilful craftsmanship.
5. Wolfsonian-Florida International University
The Wolfsonian was founded in 1986 to exhibit, document, and preserve the vast collection of objects of Mitchell Wolfson Junior’s collection. Located in the heart of the Art Deco District, the museum showcases American and European decorative and fine arts produced between 1885 and 1945. From propaganda posters to World’s Fair memorabilia, the array of objects offers a thought-provoking journey through the modern age. In 1997 the museum became a division of Florida International University, when Wolfson donated his collection and museum facility to the university.
The Dynamo Museum Shop and Café on the premises offers a selection of unconventional gifts, books and films inspired by the museum’s collection. The café has a sophisticated menu in a casual and artfully designed setting, also inspired by and reflecting the themes of the museum’s collection.