Impressions from Cuba
Cuba is an island of majestic royal palm trees, of dazzling sugar cane fields and of fine textures. A country of revolution, obsessing music and magical charms. This vaporous and romantic, chimerical and captivating island is filled with mystery and contradictions; a place where Communism is dressed in the light clothes of the tropics. The visitors are thrilled by Cuba’s complexity and its astounding dualism, by its inclination towards serenity, by its rum and delicious rhythms, by the vividness and natural spontaneity of the Cuban people.
Impressions from Havana
Splendid and inciting, the history-impregnated capital of Cuba is remarkable through its fortresses and colonial-style cathedrals and through the vast variety of XXth century architectural styles. Among other fascinating attractions one can find the cigar factories, a museum dedicated to the revolution and bars still roamed by Hemingway’s spirit.
Havana is a city adventurous and suffocating, stupefying and irresistible that stretches around a long gulf in the shape of a Spanish fan. Much of this gigantic metropolis, with its 2.2 million inhabitants, has suffered from decades of carelessness; the run-down buildings and the pot-hole filled streets stand proof to the difficult times the city has crossed. Notwithstanding, this monumental place is as majestic and romantic as any other that can be visited in either Europe or the New World. Its famous historic center seems a charmed collar, with its intricate net of quaint and friendly streets guarded by baroque churches, palaces, castles and mansions – eloquent testimony to the formidable clout of Spain.
Places to visit in Havana
Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
Brimming with cultural and historic attractions, Habana Vieja is an amalgamation of some 350 acres that are bound to charm the visitors for days on end. The main four plazas are adorned with palaces, castles and mansions of exceptional architectural styles, many of which have been fashioned in restaurants, very chic hotels, art galleries and eclectic museums. Much of Habana Vieja – where some 74,000 inhabitants are tightly packed together – is a live museum: truth to tell, a museum in ruins, with walls still in need of reinforcing, but at the same time fascinating through its old-fashioned and unsophisticated joy-de-vivre, lived in the nebulous times of Cuba’s past. While in Habana Vieja, tourists will necessarily visit:
Plaza de Armas
Initially projected as parade grounds, the oldest plaza in Havana became center of city life and governmental seat of power for the duration of the 383 years of Spanish rule. At its core there is a tinny park, contoured by tall palm-trees that lay a refreshing shade over the statue of the XIXth century revolutionary, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes.
Plaza de la Catedral
The most intimate and newest of the main plazas in Habana Vieja, this crowded place was originally swamp land. The marsh was drained and rebuilt in the XVIIth century. After a rather modest start, aristocratic mansions were raised along with the splendid baroque cathedral of Havana. Nowadays the plaza is populated with troubadours and native mulattas in traditional costumes which add color to the general feeling of temp perdu
Plaza de San Francisco
This open plaza – stretching from the Calle Oficios to the end of the Calle Amargura – has changed very little from the times innumerable galleons were being loaded with riches bound for Spain. Today the port is hidden by Aduana, the customs building, raised in 1914 and recently transformed in the elegant terminal Sierra Maestra where cruise-ships anchor. On the newly remade pavement horse-pulled chariots go to and from and the surrounding streets delimited by old commerce houses, sparkle like a precious jewel.
The historic center of Habana Vieja
This circuit consists of streets that are still reverberating with the steps of History and it goes directly through the heart of classical Havana – a compact diamond-shaped assembly of rebuilt premises, encompassing a 2 x 7 mile area, in the four corners of which are placed the main markets of Havana. The stroll will take the tourist through the most ravishing architectural wonders of the Habana Vieja, wonders that are spread along well organized and newly resurfaced streets. Some of these streets are passengers-only. The best time to take this stroll is between 8 o’clock and noon, afterwards the heat becoming quite unpleasant.
Plaza Vieja (the Old Plaza)
Originally it was a place for slave commerce and fiestas. Until few years ago the spacious plaza was in a destitute state, not least because of the architectural degradation caused by the building here of a sizable parking area in the ’30s. Today, the place has regained its initial luster thanks to the renovation process that is fast coming to an end.
The Ecclesiastic Center
Oftentimes ignored by tourists, the southern half of the Habana Vieja – bordered to the south and East by the Avenida San Pedro and to the West by the Avenida de Belgica – is a paradise of coquette churches and breathtaking monasteries, the oldest of them dating back to 1700.
Parque Central and the surroundings
Bustling with people and placed at the very center, Parque Central opens up to the tourist entering the Habana Vieja walking down the Calle Obispo. Focal meeting point for Cubans as well as for visiting foreigners, the park is brimmed by resplendent buildings, baroque, art deco and art nouveau, many of which are hotels, important museums, theaters, cigar factories and manufactures and large taxi stations.
Parque de la Fraternidad
Positioned to the south-west of the Parque Central, this green stretch of land, cut by alleyways that blend in a single thoroughfare, was rebuild in its current form for the sixth Pan-American Conference, hosted by Havana in 1928; beforetime here used to be the city’s train station and even farther in history it was the parade grounds for the armed forces. The park is dominated by a capoc tree – el Arbol de la fraternidad Americana (the Tree of the American Fraternity) – and by bust statues of continental heroes, Abraham Lincoln among them. The marble fountain at the end of the Prado Boulevard – Fuente de la India de la Bella Habana (the beautiful Havana’s Fountain of India) sculpted in 1837, represents an Indian queen carrying a shield adorned with the seal of Cuba.
The El Morro Castel and the La Cabaña fortress
Dominating the rocky peninsula that guards the port of Havana, the el Morro castle and the La Cabaña fortress form the ultimate Spanish military complex of the Americas. Nowadays part of the Parque Historico Militar Morro-Cabaña (Morro- Cabaña Military Historic Park), the history-rich buildings still resound with the booted steps of soldiers donning old-fashioned uniforms, and its cinematic past is completed by museums and a cannon that shots warning fires every night.
Centro Habana and Cerro
Predominantly residential, Centro Habana (Central Havana) is laid out in an irregular net that retreats towards the interior from the Malecón, the famous boulevard winding graciously along the shore, that links Habana Vieja with Vedado. The Cerro (Hill) neighborhood stretches towards south. Here everything is effervescent, constituting a welcomed preamble to the fascinating cosmos of the city life. However, tourists need be especially careful in these areas as street criminality is endemic.
Features sending back to the luxuriant mafioso world of the ’50s are still present on the streets of Vedado, strewn with high-rise hotels and commercial dealerships. Wide, palm tree-shaded, the streets are bordered by de rich ornate villas of the former mafia bosses, offering venues for most pleasant promenades. To the south, in Plaza or Nuevo Vedado, there are the seats of the ministries, along with museums and other tourist attractions.
The sinuous thoroughfare on the Havana shore was built in 1901 by the American governor, gen. Leonard Woods; it winds for 7 kilometers, from the end of the Prado to the Río Almendares. The dam is a famous rendezvous place for the inhabitants of Habana, especially for lovers as well as for the children who come here to swim in the cubic basins dug in the rocky shore. During storms, the furious waves break against the dam; the colonial buildings that over-watch the ocean, once landmarks of high taste and class, have not withstood the corrosion. Happily, many are being restored.
Miramar and Cubanacan
To the east of Río Almendares lays the vast municipality of Playa, a region of unique architectural charm, split in two neighborhoods that consist of the chic part on the shore, full of grandiose villas fronted by neatly manicured lawns – and, to the west, at the feet of green hills, Cubanacan with the exclusivist residences of the now disappeared rich class. The two make for ideal driving grounds for tourists.