Declared World Heritage Site since December 1982 and by far the largest historical and cultural attraction of the city, The Historical Center of Old Havana and its fortifications now display a renewed image as a result of the efforts to rehabilitate the historic center; the most important of the Caribbean area and one of the most remarkable in the Americas.
Old Havana is one of 15 municipalities in the province of Havana and has an area of 4.32 km. Located at its heart is the Historic Center of the City with a small area of 2.14 km and consisting of two distinct areas: the old walled city and the surrounding strip urbanized after the demolition of the walls: Villa de San Cristobal de La Habana which owes its name to the unification of Catholic tradition and the aboriginal name of the region that, as informed by Diego Velázquez, was ruled by Chief Habaguanex.
To protect the town from enemy raids and surprise entry of illicit goods, Havana was surrounded by a wall of about 1.40 meters thick, 10 of height and an extension of 4892. The doors of the wall remained open during the day until, at night, shaken by the sign of a cannon battery of the Queen coming from the fortress of San Carlos de La Cabaña, they were closed. Several fragments of the wall of Havana today are preserved.
In 1540 it was ordered to build the first Havana fortress which was destroyed 15 years later by the French pirate Jacques de Sores. On its ruins the Real Fuerza ( Royal Force ) was erected and concluded by 1577, very close to it was the parish church and, between the two edifications, the Church Square, later reserved by the governor as the Plaza de Armas or Arms Square.
As part of a wide plan of fortifications of the city, the construction of the Fortress of the Three Kings of Morro followed, then the San Salvador de la Punta which, together with the Royal Force, formed the first defensive maritime triangle of the city. Around 1630 the new military constructions concluded and the Giraldilla, a unique bronze sculpture of a weathervane, was placed on top of the Royal Force building.
The defensive system was later enhanced by including the fort of La Chorrera, the tower of San Lazaro, the castle of La Punta (the point), the fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña and the castles of The Prince and Atarés.
A group of plazas also define the space of the historic center: The “Plaza de Armas”, “San Francisco”, the one by the Cathedral, the “Old Plaza” and the “Cristo del Buen Viaje”. All but the Plaza Vieja ( Old Plaza) are related to the presence of a Church. The first one that was built was the Plaza de Armas, followed by San Francisco square. These spaces in turn gradually were complemented by the most important neighbor houses, including the houses of the governor and the mayor as well as valuable buildings, markets etc.
In the XVIII century, after the short English domination of the City and with the return of Spain, the General Captaincy, the City Hall, the Municipality of Finance and Mail, and the most opulent houses were built, like the house of the Counts of Jaruco, the house of Obra Pia, the one owned by the Countess of the Meeting, and the houses of the Marquis de Aguas Claras, the Marquis de Arcos and the one of the Count of Lombillo.
The XIX century also witnessed memorable accomplishments like the construction of the watercourse in 1835, the inauguration of the first railway stretch Havana – Bejucal in 1837, the opening of the Tacón Theatre in 1838 as well as the creation of big market spaces and the propagation of jewelers, French perfumeries, silverware, printers, and drug stores among many others.
The city greeted the twentieth century with several new well-defined urban structures without impeding its growth into other areas. The health system was improved as well as education, public works, communications and the construction of the first section of the Malecón Habanero ( seaside walk). The city acquired new monumental forms with the rise of banking and financial institutions such as the National Bank of Cuba, the Royal Bank of Canada and the Trust Company of Cuba. These times were also accountable for the creation of magnificent constructions like the “Lonja del Comercio” in the Plaza de San Francisco and the Galician and Asturian cultural centers in Havana.
It is impossible to resume on a simple website page the vast variety of cultural, historical and architectural details of the old town so, we invite you to discover with the aid of a good guide and the services available in the area.