The University of Havana was originally founded in 1728 behind the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales on Calle Obispo. The present Vedado campus was built early in the 19th century and modeled after New York City's Columbia University. Its 100-step Escalinata leads to the Alma Mater, a statue that welcomes students to the halls of higher learning and has been a gathering spot for demonstrations and rallies ever since 1928, when student leader Julio Antonio Mella
led uprisings against the brutal dictator, General Gerardo Machado. (Mella, the founder of Cuba's Communist Party and whose ashes rest in the monumental sculpture at the foot of the Escalinata, was assassinated by Machado agents in Mexico in 1929.) It was here that thousands—including Fidel, who gave a three-hour speech—welcomed the national baseball team back from the United States after their victory over the Baltimore Orioles in May 1999. The courtyard is generally a peaceful place, shaded by luxuriant jagüé trees, which are often referred to as "the trees that walk" or "the trees of a thousand feet," owing to their multiple trunks and roots. The tank at the back of the courtyard was captured (for a while) by students in a pitched battle with Batista forces in the early 1950s.