Old Havana (español. La Habana Vieja) contains the core of the original city of Havana. The positions of the original Havana city walls are the modern boundaries of Old Havana.
Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the name also
refers to one of the municipalities of the city of Havana, Cuba, with the
latter's boundaries extending to the south and west beyond the
Havana Vieja was founded by the Spanish in 1519 in
the natural harbor of the Bay of Havana. It became a stopping point
for the treasure laden Spanish Galleons on the crossing between the
New World and the Old World. In the 17th century it was one of the
main ship-building centers. The city was built in baroque and
neoclassic style. Many buildings have fallen in ruin in the later
half of the 20th century, but a number are being restored. The
narrow streets of old Havana contain many buildings, accounting for
perhaps as many as one-third of the approximately 3,000 buildings
found in Old Havana. It is the ancient city formed from the port,
the official center and the Plaza de Armas. Old Havana was
destroyed and burned by the French corsair Jacques de Sores. The
pirate had taken Havana easily, plundering the city and burning
much of it to the ground. After limiting the scarce defenders, De
Sores left without obtaining the enormous wealth that he was hoping
to find in Havana. The city remained devastated and set on fire.
Since the incident, the Spanish brought soldiers and started
building fortresses and walls to protect the city. Castillo
de la Real Fuerza was the first fortress built; initiated in
1558, the construction was overseen by the engineer Bartolomé
Old Havana resembles Cadiz and Tenerife. Alejo Carpentier called
it "de las columnas"(of the columns), but it could also be named
for the gateways, the revoco, the deterioration and the rescue, the
intimacy, the shade, the cool, the courtyards... In her there are
all the big ancient monuments, the forts, the convents and
churches, the palaces, the alleys, the arcade, the human density.
The Cuban State has undertaken enormous efforts to preserve and to
restore Old Havana through the efforts of the Office of the
Historian of the City, directed by Eusebio Leal.
- The Malecón is the avenue that runs along the seawall at the
northern shore of Havana, from Habana Vieja to the Almendares
del Morro, picturesque fortress guarding the entrance to Havana
bay. The construction of the castle Los Tres Reyes del Morro owed
to the step along in Havana of the English pirate Sir Francis
Drake. The king of Spain arranged its construction on a big stone
which was known by the name of El Morro. He sent the field master
Juan de Texeda, accompanied of the military engineer Battista
Antonelli, who came to Havana in 1587 and began the task at
fortress, located on the east side of the Havana Bay. The most
impressive fortress of the Spanish colony was La Cabaña. It
impresses with its XVIIIth century walls, constructed at the same
time as El Morro. Every night at 9 p.m., some soldiers dressed in
suits of the epoch shoot from her the “el cañonazo de las nueve”,
(gunshot of the nine). It went off every day to warn of the closing
of the doors of the wall that surrounded the city.
Salvador de la Punta Fortress, In the shore opposite to the
Castle of El Morro, at the beginning of the curve of El Malecon,
there rises the fortress of San Salvador de la Punta, of minor
architectural dimensions. It was constructed in 1590, and in 1629
the Chapter of Havana decided, to defend better the port, to join
her in the night with the El Morro by using a thick chain that
prevented the entry of enemy ships.
de la Real Fuerza, The fortress or (lit.) Castle of the Royal
Army is another big monument that closes the Plaza de las Armas. It
was the first big fortification of the city, initiated in 1558 on
the ruins of an ancient fortress. In the same year, the Crown sent
to Cuba the engineer Bartolomé Sanchez, supervised by 14 official
and main stonemasons in order to reconstruct the castle, which had
been set fire and destroyed by the French corsair Jacques de
- Catedral de San Cristóbal, the most prominent building on the
Plaza de la Catedral. The Cathedral was raised on the chapel
after 1748 by order of the bishop from Salamanca, Jose
Felipe de Trespalacios. It is one of the most beautiful and sober
churches of the American baroque.
- National Capitol, styled after the Panthéon
(Paris), looking similar to the U.S. Capitol.
- Galician Center, Central Park, The Galician Center, of
neobarroque style was establish as a social club of the Galician
emigrants between 1907 and 1914. Built on the Theater Tacon
(nowadays Great Theater of Havana), it was open during the Carnival
of 1838 with five masked dances.
- Plaza de Armas - the main touristic square. The origin of its
name is military, since from the end of the XVIth century the
ceremonies and the military events took place here.
- Gran Teatro de la Habana, the Great Theater of Havana is
famous, particularly for the acclaimed National Ballet of Cuba and
its founder Alicia Alonso. It sometimes performs the National
Opera. The theater is also known as concert hall, Garcia Lorca, the
biggest in Cuba.
- The Museum of
the Revolution, located in the former Presidential Palace, with
the boat Granma on display in front of the museum.
- San Francisco de la Habana Basilica, Habana Vieja, The set of
church and convent of San Francisco de Asis, byline of the year
1608, and it was reconstructed in 1737.
Neglect and Hurricanes
Hurricane Ike battered the Cuban capital, Havana, damaging
historic buildings and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee.
Old Havana is one of the most visited sites in the Caribbean,
attracting thousands of British tourists annually. "It is
heartbreaking that so many years of painstaking restoration work
may be undone in the space of a few hours" says Juliet Barclay,
author of Havana: Portrait of a City.
Source: The Independent, 2008
In 1982, La Habana Vieja was inscribed in the UNESCO World
Heritage List. A safeguarding campaign was launched a year later to
restore the authentic character of the buildings.