Havana is the capital and largest city of Cuba. The city was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century. Old Havana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The city is known for its history, culture, architecture and monuments.
Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) is the city center and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 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 shipbuilding 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 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.
The Plaza Vieja (Old Square) was originally called Plaza Nueva (New Square). It emerged as an open space in 1559, after the Plaza de Armas and San Francisco. In colonial times it was a residential neighborhood of the Criollo plutocracy. Plaza Vieja was the site of executions, processions, bullfights, and fiestas - all witnessed by Havana's wealthiest citizens, who looked on from their balconies. In the 18th century the square was turned into a popular market as Havana's commercial hub. The urban architectural complex of Plaza Vieja is represented by valuable colonial buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th and some examples of the early 20th century.
Completed in 1792, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is the former official residence of the governors (Captains General) of Havana. It is now home to the Museum of the City of Havana (Museo de la Ciudad). It houses exhibitions of art and historical artefacts and many of the rooms are preserved with their original Colonial decoration. The building is in the Cuban Baroque style. It is a thick-walled square building, little altered from the time of its original construction.
It is the city's oldest plaza. Plaza de Armas, literally Weapons Square, is the name for the main square in many Hispanic American cities. Most cities constructed by the Spanish conquistadores were designed in a standard military fashion, based on a grid pattern taken from the Roman castrum, of which one of the blocks would be left vacant to form the Plaza de Armas. It is often surrounded by governmental buildings, churches, and other structures of cultural or political significance. Plaza de Armas in Havana is a great example of this. Today, the square is a popular tourist spot surrounded by restaurants and is host to numerous secondhand book stands.
The Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Castle of the Royal Force) is a star fort originally built to defend against attack by pirates. 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 fort was completed in 1577, with slaves and French prisoners providing most of the labour. Built of limestone quarried from the Havana shoreline, the fortification incorporated thick sloping walls, a moat and drawbridge. Today, the fort is a museum containing excellent exhibits of Cuba’s maritime past from pre-Columbian days through to the 18th century with the Royal Shipyard of Havana, one of the largest in the world, which built nearly 200 ships for the Spanish Crown.
The Havana Cathedral was built in the Baroque architectural style with several Tuscan elements, and is considered one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Cuba. The building is mainly constructed from blocks of coral cut from sources in the Gulf of Mexico's ocean floor. Preserved marine fossils are present in the facade. The cathedral contains a number of paintings and frescoes. Most are copies of original works that can be found in cathedrals around Rome and various museums. Legend has it that the cathedral once held remains of Christopher Columbus.
The Morro Castle, named after the three biblical Magi (Wise Men or Kings), is a fortress guarding the entrance to Havana bay in Havana. The design was drawn up by an Italian engineer; originally under the control of Spain, the fortress was captured by the British in 1762, and was returned to the Spanish under treaty terms a year later. Perched on the promontory on the opposite side of the harbor from Old Havana, it can be viewed from miles around as it dominates the port entrance. Built initially in 1589 in response to raids on Havana harbor, el Morro protected the mouth of the harbor with a chain being strung out across the water to the fort at La Punta. Inside the gates is an exhibition on the lighthouses of Cuba – El Morro once housed a school for lighthouse keepers. The cannons around the fort are now badly rusted, but the walls are well preserved.
La Punta, just like El Morro was designed to protect the entrance to the Havana Bay that became an important and strategic entranceway to the harbor since the settlement of the town. Construction begun in the late 16th-century. In 1762 as a consequence of the fighting during the British expedition against Cuba, the English superiority took its toll on all the fortresses. The safety curtains and bastions of La Punta castle were destroyed during the invasion. In 1997 the castle underwent an intense restoration project that gave it its original position on the rocks. Thanks to this work canons that were engraved in the rocks. The park that surrounds it, paved with striking red ceramic tiles, is a memento of the San Antonio, a Spanish ship foundered in front of the castle with a heavy load.
The Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolución) is a museum 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 former Presidential Palace was inaugurated in 1920 by President Mario García Menocal. It remained the Presidential Palace until 1959. The building has Neo-Classical elements and was decorated by Tiffany Studios of New York City. The museum's Cuban history exhibits are largely devoted to the period of the revolutionary war of the 1950s and to the country's post-1959 history. Behind the building lies the Granma Memorial, a large glass enclosure which houses the Granma, the yacht which took Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba for the revolution.
Founded in 1913, the National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana) is a museum of Fine Arts that exhibits Cuban art collections from the colonial times up to contemporary generations. Presently, there are two impressive buildings belonging to the Museum, one dedicated to Cuban Arts in the Palacio de Bellas Artes and one dedicated to the Universal Arts, in the Palacio del Centro Asturiano. Spanning the 17th and 19th centuries has rooms devoted to landscape, religious subjects and the Costumbrismo narrative scenes of Cuban life. Gallery devoted to the 1970s is marked by a preponderance of Hyperrealism and the latest generation of Cuban artists whose works all reflect the strong symbolic imagery that has been prevalent in recent decades.
The Central Park of Havana (Parque Central) is one of the most known and central sites of the city. Among the historic buildings of significance surrounding the park are Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso (The Great Theatre of Havana Alicia Alonso), el Hotel Inglaterra (England Hotel), el Hotel Telégrafo. The gardens around the statue of José Martí (a Cuban national hero and important figure in Latin American literature) have a series of paths that intersect and fork. There are 28 royal palms that signify Martí's birth date, as well as 8 coffin-shaped stonework, representing medical students shot by the Spanish Government of the Island during the Ten Years' War in 1871.
The Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso (Great Theatre of Havana Alicia Alonso) is located in a building known as the Galician Centre of Havana, constructed to serve as a social center for Galician immigrants to Havana. The theatre has been home to the Cuban National Ballet and, on its main stage, to the International Ballet Festival of Havana. During the first years of Cuban independence when thousands of immigrants arrived in Cuba from Spain, a new building was constructed around it, preserving the original theatre. Originally known as the Galician Centre of Havana, the building is decorated with a stone and marble statue as well as sculptures representing allegories depicting benevolence, education, music and theatre.
El Capitolio, or National Capitol Building in Havana, was the seat of government in Cuba until after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and is now home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences. El Capitolio has a size of 681 by 300 ft. Its design is compared to that of the United States Capitol, but is not a replica of it. Completed in 1929, it was the tallest building in Havana until the 1950s and houses the world's third largest indoor statue. According to its designer who had studied architecture in the United States, the inspiration for the cupola came from the Panthéon in Paris. Around the building are gardens laid out at the time of the original construction. Based on the designs of some of the beautiful simple European gardens they consist of areas of lawn bordered by paths and highlighted by palms. Four groups of Royal Palms accent the design. The inside of the main hall under the cupola is dominated by the huge Statue of the Republic. As of 2013, the Government of Cuba is restoring the building for use once again as the home of Cuba's National Assembly.
Santa María del Mar is a sandy beach located east of downtown Havana along the Via Blanca highway. It is a segment of a chain of beaches called the Eastern Beaches (Playas del Este) which extend for 24 km along the north coast of municipality of Habana del Este. It is known for its pristine turquoise water, white sand and palm trees.
The Malecón (officially Avenida de Maceo) is a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for 8 km along the coast in Havana. New businesses are appearing on the esplanade due to economic reforms in Cuba that now allow Cubans to own private businesses. Construction of the Malecón began in 1901. The main purpose of building the Malecón was to protect Havana from the water and the so-called Nortes, but in reality, it would end up serving more for nighttime promenades by Habaneros, for lovers and most of all for individual fishermen. Although the houses lining the Malecón are mostly in ruins, the Malecón remains one of the most spectacular and popular destinations in Havana.
The Revolution Square is notable as being where many political rallies take place and Fidel Castro and other political figures address Cubans. Fidel Castro addressed more than a million Cubans on many important occasions, such as 1 May and 26 July each year. The square is dominated by important establishments -- the José Martí Memorial, the National Library, and many government ministries. Located behind the memorial is the Palace of the Revolution, the seat of the Cuban government and Communist Party. Opposite the memorial are the offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Communications, whose facades feature matching steel memorials of the two most important deceased heroes of the Cuban Revolution: Che Guevara, with the quotation "Hasta la Victoria Siempre" (Until the Everlasting Victory, Always) and Camilo Cienfuegos, with the quotation "Vas bien, Fidel" (You're doing fine, Fidel). It is also the site of several cultural institutions.
The José Martí Memorial (Monumento a José Martí) is a memorial to José Martí, a national hero of Cuba. It consists of a star-shaped tower, a statue of Martí surrounded by six columns, and gardens. Housed on the ground floor of the tower which overlooks the city, the memorial features two rooms of correspondence, writings and items from the life of José Martí and displays relating his life story. A third room illustrates the history of the Plaza de la Revolucion. Tourists are able to ascend the memorial and enjoy the best panoramic view of Havana.
Founded in 1876 and named for Christopher Columbus, the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón is noted for its many elaborately sculpted memorials. It is estimated that today the cemetery has more than 500 major mausoleums, chapels, and family vaults. Colon Cemetery is one of the great historical cemeteries of the world, and is generally held to be the most important in Latin America in historical and architectural terms, second only to La Recoleta in Buenos Aires.