Happy 500th Birthday Havana

                   This post is a week after the big event but better late than never. Anyone that knows me knows the love I have for this country and especially this city. Those that don’t know me need only to go through my Blog to get a sense of my fondness. It took just one visit for me to feel at home in this charming city. I love it with all it’s defects….and it has plenty. The noise, the dirt, the animated inhabitants, it made me feel alive. I’ve been coming to Havana since 2003 and it has changed dramatically thanks to the restoration program of the Office of the City Historian lead by Eusebio Leal. It seems to me like more and more construction is going on every year I visit Havana. I compare pictures from my early visits and can see the changes in the buildings through the years. Mr. Eusebio Leal and his crews have done and are doing a wonderful job in bringing the city back to it’s original splendor.
                  The most likely origin of the city’s name, according to Eusebio Leal Spengler, comes from a Cacique (an indigenous chieftain) called Habaguanex. He was the ruler of this area of the island during the time of Spain’s discovery. On November 16, 1519, under a ceiba tree in today’s Plaza de Armas, the Villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana was officially founded. Havana was originally the area that we today call ‘La Habana Vieja’ when it first started out. Today Havana has a population of over 2 million people and has expanded way beyond what anyone could have imagined at the time of it’s establishment. What started out as La Habana Vieja, through the centuries, has grown to 15 municipalities or boroughs spanning a total of 781.58 square kilometers. However, when people living in the outskirts of the city say, “I’m going to Havana”, they mean they’re going to Habana Vieja or Centro Habana which had been established after the demolition of the city wall in 1863.
                  There is so much to see and do in Havana and every municipality is different, from the fortresses, government buildings, mansions, churches & squares in Habana Vieja to the tall buildings, offices, grand cinemas, nightclubs & restaurants of the cosmopolitan part of the city in the El Vedado district, farther outward to Playa with it’s now Embassy Row and massive mansions and out to the Habana del Este to Cojimar, Guanabo, Alamar and the Eastern Beaches….and much more.
                  I can give you a history lesson but that’s not what this post is about. Below I have listed the most visited, or most photographed, or personal favourite spots in Havana. You may agree, or not, or you may have a few of your own you may consider. The fact is that the list is long and I couldn’t possibly include them all in one post.

The Bacardi Building (Edificio Bacardi) is an Art Deco landmark designed by the architects Esteban Rodríguez-Castells and Rafael Fernández Ruenes completed in 1930. It’s located on the corner of Calles Montserrate and San Juan de Dios.

Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña known simply as ‘La Cabaña’, is an 18th-century fortress complex, the third-largest in the Americas, located on the elevated eastern side of the harbor entrance in Havana.

The José Martí Memorial (above) is a memorial to Cuba’s national hero. It’s located on the northern side of the Plaza de la Revolución (below). The 109 m (358 ft) tower, is the highlight of the Square and where tourists come by the busloads. The Plaza is 31st largest city square in the world, measuring 72,000 square meters.

El Floridita is a historic restaurant and cocktail bar in Habana Vieja. It sits at one end of Calle Obispo at the corner of Calle Monserrate. The bar is famous for its daiquiris and for having been one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite hangouts. The bar has a life size bronze statue of Hemingway at one end of the bar & a small plaque with Hemingway’s signed quote: “My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita”. This place is almost always packed with tourists.

El Capitolio, is a public building & one of the most visited sites in Havana, or will be once again after having been closed for a number of years due to renovations. It was built between 1926 to 1929 and housed congress until the 1959 Revolution. It is located on the Paseo del Prado, Dragones, Industria, and San José streets in the exact center of Havana. It contains the world’s third largest indoor statue.

The Napoleon Museum houses one of the most important collections from the 18th and 19th centuries preserved in the Western hemisphere. Located on San Miguel Street, between Ronda and Mazón, on one side of the University of Havana. It reopened in March 2011 after a three-year restoration by the City Historian’s Office. It was founded in 1961, with the collection of Julio Lobo. It’s housed in a 1929 Florentine Renaissance style mansion called “La Dolce Dimora”, it was originally the home of Italian-Cuban politician, Orestes Ferrara. 

Morro Castle (Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro) named after the three biblical Magi, is a fortress guarding the entrance to Havana bay.

The Gran Teatro de La Habana (renamed the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso) is the former Centro Gallego & was paid for by the Galician immigrants of Havana to serve as a their community- social center. Located in the Paseo del Prado, the theatre has been home to the Cuban National Ballet and to the International Ballet Festival of Havana.

The Hotel Ambos Mundos is a five floor hotel built in 1924 on a site that previously had been occupied by an old family house on the corner of Calle Obispo and Mercaderes in Habana Vieja. It is a frequent tourist destination because it was home to Ernest Hemingway for seven years in the 1930s.

The Havana Club Rum Museum, created on March 31, 2000, is located on Ave. del Puerto #262 in a renovated 18th-century colonial townhouse. It’s a frequent stop on the tourist trail. Tours are available in English, Spanish, French, Italian & German.

Built in 1827, El Templete commemorates the site of the first mass and town council of San Cristóbal de la Habana celebrated on November 16, 1519.

La Bodeguita del Medio is a typical restaurant-bar of Havana. It’s one of the most famous tourist attractions (always packed) because of the personalities which have patronized it. La Bodeguita lays claim to being the birthplace of the Mojito that has been prepared in the bar since its opening in 1942 (the origin of the drink has been disputed). 

El Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón was founded in 1876 in the Vedado distict of Havana. Named after Christopher Columbus, the cemetery is noted for its many elaborately sculpted memorials. It is estimated the cemetery has more than 500 major mausoleums. 

This mansion was built in the 1920’s by the wealthy Catalina Lasa and is located on Paseo street between 17th and 19th streets in Havana’s Vedado district. It’s a perfect example of an early 20th-century residential art deco interior. The house is now known as Casa de la Amistad.

The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is the former official residence of the governors of Havana. Located on the eastern side of the Plaza de Armas in Old Havana, it is home to the Museum of the City of Havana. It houses exhibitions of art and historical artifacts and many of the rooms are preserved with their original Colonial decoration.

Paseo del Prado, is a promenade in Havana on the dividing line between Centro Habana and Old Havana. A wonderful place to take a walk and shoot a few pictures.

The Malecón is a broad esplanade, roadway, and seawall that stretches for 8 km along the coast in Havana from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana, along the north side of the Centro Habana neighborhood and the Vedado neighborhood, ending at the mouth of the Almendares River. Another great place to take a walk and shoot pictures.

The Plaza Vieja is a plaza located in Old Havana and is always teeming with tourists. Filled with restaurants, shops and hotels, it’s easy to spend time here. The plaza was originally called Plaza Nueva & emerged as an open space in 1559, after the Plaza de Armas and San Francisco. 

Plaza de San Francisco de Asís (below) is a public square in Old Havana founded on June 2, 1628. It’s one of the oldest squares in Havana & is named after the nearby Convento de San Francisco de Asís (above), a Franciscan convent built between 1575 and 1591. 

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba (above & below) is a historic Spanish eclectic style hotel in Havana which opened in December 1930. It’s located on the sea front of the Vedado district and is a frequent stop on the tourist trail due mainly to it’s history with the mafia….and to have a cocktail on their patio overlooking the ocean.

Plaza de la Catedral (below) is one of the five main squares in Old Havana and the site of the Cathedral of Havana (above) from which it takes its name. Originally a swamp, it was later drained and used as a naval dockyard. Following the construction of the Cathedral in 1727, it became the site of some of the city’s grandest mansions. It is the site of the Museo del Arte Colonial (Colonial Art Museum) and a number of restaurants.

The Museo de la Revolución is located in Old Havana near the waterfront. The museum is housed in what was the Presidential Palace of all Cuban presidents from Mario García Menocal to Fulgencio Batista. It became the Museum of the Revolution during the years following the Cuban Revolution.

The National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana) in Havana is a museum of Fine Arts that exhibits Cuban art collections from the colonial times up to contemporary generations.

 The Palacio del Segundo Cabo is located in Old Havana next to the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales in the Plaza de Armas. This building is over two hundred years old, its construction beginning in 1772. Closed for a number of years for renovations, it has recently reopened as a must see interactive history museum.

Sloppy Joe’s Bar is a historic establishment located in Old Havana. The bar reopened in 2013 after being closed for 48 years. I know, it’s nothing special but it’s a piece of history and you’ll always find a good deal of tourists inside.

On April 21, 1990 Salvador Gonzáles Escalona started with murals and sculptures in the alleyway Callejón de Hamel, near the University of Havana. Today it’s more famous for the Sunday rumba performances that take place here….many tourists come here.

Hotel Inglaterra is the oldest hotel in Cuba and one of the most classic hotels in Havana. It is located at Paseo del Prado #416 between San Rafael and San Miguel. A great spot to sit on the patio, listen to live music and watch the world go by.

The Castillo de la Real Fuerza is a fortress on the western side of the harbour in Havana set back from the entrance and bordering the Plaza de Armas. The fort is considered to be the oldest stone fort in the Americas, and was listed in 1982 as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of “Old Havana and its Fortifications”.

The Central Park of Havana (Parque Central) is one of the most known and central sites of the city of Havana. It’s located between Prado, Neptuno, Zulueta and San José streets. Among the buildings surrounding the park are Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso, the Hotel Inglaterra, the Hotel Telégrafo, the Hotel Parque Central, the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, the Hotel Plaza & the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Very central location & a perfect spot to start your tours of the city.

The mid-17-century plaza takes its name from the Iglesia del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje. It seems like the last of the city squares that’s getting a face lift. Several restaurants & bars are located here and it’s frequented mostly by locals. Great safe spot to watch locals go about their daily routines.