History of Havana

Mother Earth Travel > Cuba > Havana > History

If you wish to get to know a little more about the history of Havana by visiting its museums and historically important places, you ought to start in the historical heart of Old Havana. Here you will find a web of narrow streets stretching from the sea to the modern part of the city. The port town was originally known as the Carenas port until 1519, when the Villa de San Cristóbal, founded by Diego Velásquez in 1514, was brought to Havana, where it was to remain. Afterwards, it would become famous by the name of Havana. The Templete is a tiny temple on one of the sides of the Plaza de las Armas, very popular with tourists and locals.

The Plaza de las Armas is surrounded by important palaces and buildings, among which are the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, a wonderful colonial building, and the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, which is today an interesting museum standing on the only street in the city which still preserves its wooden tiles. In the centre of the square stands the statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. You will also notice a curious and unique establishment, La Casa del Agua, where fresh water is sold.

Very close to the Plaza de Armas is the Catedral, a highly unusual construction given its asymmetry, in contrast to most other Cathedrals in the continent. Its towers are of different sizes, but perhaps the biggest surprise is the gothic architecture inside. The Jesuits started its construction, but they stopped when they were forced to leave, and thus left the baroque construction unfinished for many decades. This construction forms the foundations of the cathedral we see today.

The constant attacks from the pirates forced the Spaniards to protect the city. To one side of the Templete, you will see the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, built in the times of piracy in Havana, and an example of what was once one of the most fortified cities in the Old World. A drawbridge takes us inside the castle, which is now a Weapon Museum and also has a room where collections of the work of local artists are exhibited. On the top floor of the castle, on a terrace overlooking the bay, you will find a Spanish restaurant. At the top of the castle there is a watch tower with a weather-vane of great value, La Giraldilla, which is a replica of the famous Giralda in Seville, Spain.

Quite nearby is San Salvador de la Punta Fort. Making your way along the Malecón you will come across another important fortification, the Chorrera Tower, named after the river which opens out to the sea, and which is now known as the Almendares river. Across the bay, you will see other important forts such as the castles of Morro and San Carlos de la Cabaña. On your way you will no doubt notice what is left of what was once the Muralla, Havana Wall, knocked down at the beginning of the 20th century due to the rapid expansion of the city. Every day at nine o'clock a cannon would fire a shot from the San Carlos de la Cabaña castle to announce that the city gates were closing. This has remained a tradition in Havana, and it is still carried out every day, by soldiers dressed in Spanish 18th century uniform.

If we now start walking away from the bay, we arrive at Havana city centre. The Capitolio, a replica of the one in Washington, and currently the building of the Cuban Academy of the Sciences is definitely worth visiting. You should also take the opportunity to visit the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts), which is right next to Granma, the yacht museum, and very near the Museo de la Revolución, the former Presidential Palace.

To continue the tour, we recommend a walk along the Malecón towards the Vedado area, where you will have the chance to visit the Plaza de la Revolución and the José Martí Memorial (which is 142 metres high!). This is the place where people get together and most of the national celebrations take place. Very near the Plaza is the Teatro Nacional, a good example of Cuban modern architecture and home to this important theatre.

If you like architecture, a visit to the Cementerio Colón, with its wonderful sculptures and marble-work will be an unforgettable experience. If you like tropical fruit ice-creams then you might want to stop at the Coppelia ice-cream parlour, which is near Havana University.

After this tour, visitors ought to have a reasonable idea of what the city is like, as well as what it was like so many years ago.

Mother Earth Travel > Cuba > Havana > History