Map of the old walled city in 1882.

As with any city, the best thing to do is simply walk the streets. We weren't exactly free to go anywhere we wanted, but on the other hand we didn't feel like we were being watched every minute either. Centro Habana was a poor part of the city, and we were warned that it was not safe. Sure enough, the only time we ventured over there (to go to La Guarida), a guy on a scooter tried, unsuccessfully, to snatch Cathi's purse. But what they wanted most was our shoes, since they were in notoriously short supply, and somebody was always checking them out. Several of us left shoes in the hotel when we checked out.

Walking the streets of La Habana Vieja was the best, since much of the rest of the city we saw in bus tours, with several stops, which is never my favorite mode for touring. Although there is not a lot of automobile traffic anywhere, at least when compared to the madness on our streets and highways, cars have been banned from many of the old city streets so you could stroll along and gawk and not have to worry too much about getting run over. La Habana Vieja, which was encompassed by massive masonry walls until they were mostly demolished beginning in 1863, and its several colonial fortifications are the basis for the city's inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List. A few hours walking its streets is a journey through four centuries of architecture, ranging from vernacular Spanish colonial, to Baroque, Neo-Classical, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Moderne, and Modernist, and since the depressed economy since the Revolution, made worse by the U. S. trade embargo, many of these structures have not been altered (or maintained) for the last fifty years. And it is all free of the billboards and gaudy signs that often make it difficult to appreciate the architecture of our own cities.


La Plaza Vieja

Laid out in 1587, Plaza Vieja was a little unsettling in its emptiness the day we were there. It was a vibrant neighborhood until recently when it was decided that the sight of residents washing their laundry at the fountain (c. 1796) did not show the square to best advantage for the tourists and the fountain was fenced off. In addition, the government was in the process of slowly rehabilitating the buildings around the square, and the residents were forced to relocate while that was going on. Most were ensured of being back in their homes when the work was done. In this country, such rehabilitation of buildings and infrastructure almost inevitable leads to gentrification, but in communist Cuba, the goal was not to change the socio-economics of the nieghborhood but rather to reduce the terrible slum-like density of residents in some buildings.


La Catedral de San Cristóbal

Constructed between 1748 and 1777, the cathedral is considered the finest expression of Cuban Baroque architecture, even if the asymmetry of the two towers drives architectural stylists crazy. The small square that it fronts is closed to vehicular traffic at all times.

Statue of Cervantes placed in Plazuela de San Juan de Dios in 1906.

Plaza de Armas and a street paved in the 19th-century with creosoted wooden blocks that remain intact.

Demolition of the old city walls began in the 1860s. This tower near the Presidential Place if part of the few remnants that survive.

An old-fashioned apothecary without all the CVS crapola.

Iglesia del Santo Angel Custodio (1690, 1866) with a vintage Russian army truck in the foreground.



Las Puertas


Las Calles