Old Havana
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Old Havana

Old Havana is the core of the original city of San Cristobal de la Habana, one of the oldest cities founded by Europeans in the western hemisphere. The Spanish established the city in 1519. By the 17th century, it had become one of the Caribbean's main centres for ship-building. Although it is today a sprawling metropolis of 2 million inhabitants, its old centre retains an interesting mix of Baroque and neoclassical monuments, and a homogeneous ensemble of private houses with arcades, balconies, wrought-iron gates and internal courtyards.

Its history spans three principal periods, each of which is clearly reflected in the urban landscape: the Spanish colonial (1519 to 1898), the American neocolonial (1898 to 1959), and the revolutionary (1960 to present). The colonial period, lasting nearly 400 years, gave Havana much of the Spanish colonial architecture that distinguishes it and led the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to designate the colonial core of the city, Old Havana, as a World Heritage Site in 1982.

The city's first settlement was constructed on the western edge of Havana Bay. The channel into Havana Bay is flanked by four imposing colonial forts constructed of coral-limestone. Two of these sit at the entrance to the channel: on the north the Castillo del Morro, which now houses a maritime museum, and on the south the Castillo de la Punta, which contains the Museum of Fortifications and Armaments and is also the site of the nightly canon-firing ceremony. Two other forts are sited on the channel: the massive Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña on the north side, which now houses a museum of ceramic arts, and the Castillo de la Real Fuerza on the south side, which recieved restoration work in the late 1990s.

The original city focused on the central plaza, the Plaza de Armas. This was a typical pattern of settlement of Spanish colonial cities, with important military, political, and religious buildings constructed within close proximity. The imposing colonial fort, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, lies adjacent to the plaza on the north, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, which served as the home of the colony's governors, then later as the presidential palace, the seat of the city's municipal government, and the city museum. The Palacio de Segundo Cabo, originally constructed as a colonial post office in 1772, also sits on the Plaza de Armas.

The Plaza del Catedral just a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas is another important places in Old Havana. Havana's cathedral, known as the Catedral de la Habana or the Catedral de la Concepción Inmaculada, dominates the plaza with its unusual mismatched belfry towers.

The Plaza Vieja, established in 1584, is another major historic landmark of Old Havana. However, in contrast to the other plazas, public and religious architecture are absent. Instead the palatial homes and mansions of the city's colonial elite flank its sides. The Casa de los Condes de Jaruco, has been fully restored and stands as an excellent example of a late colonial mansion.

Like many colonial cities in coastal areas, the Spanish walled the city to protect it from attacks by pirates and foreign powers. Havana's walls were built from 1674 to 1797 and enclosed an area of about 3 sq km (about 1 sq mi). This area defined the extent of Old Havana. The city's walls were torn down in 1863 to accommodate the growing city. The positions of the original Havana city walls are the current boundaries of Old Havana.

Principal attractions in Old Havana:

  • Malecón is the avenue that runs along the seawall at the northern shore of Havana, from Habana Vieja to the Almendares River.
  • Castillo del Morro, picturesque fortress guarding the entrance to Havana bay. The construction of the castle Los Tres Reyes del Morro owed to the step along in Havana of the English pirate Sir Francis Drake. The king of Spain arranged its construction on a big stone which was known by the name of El Morro. He sent the field master Juan de Texeda, accompanied of the military engineer Battista Antonelli, who came to Havana in 1587 and began the task at once.
  • La Cabaña fortress, located on the east side of the Havana Bay. The most impressive fortress of the Spanish colony was La Cabaña. It impresses with its walls of the ends of the XVIIIth century constructed along with El Morro. Every night at 9 p.m., a few soldiers dressed in suits of the epoch shoot from her the “el cañonazo de las nueve”, (gunshot of the nine). It went off every day to warn of the closing of the doors of the wall that surrounded the city.
  • San Salvador de la Punta Fortress, In the shore opposite to the Castle of El Morro, at the beginning of the curve of El Malecon, there rises the fortress of San Salvador de la Punta, of minor architectural dimensions. It was constructed in 1590, and in 1629 the Chapter of Havana decided, to defend better the port, to join her in the night with the El Morro by using a thick chain that prevented the entry of enemy ships.
  • Castillo de la Real Fuerza, The castle or Real Force fortress is another big monument that closes the Plaza de las Armas. It was the first big fortification of the city, initiated in 1558 on the ruins of an ancient fortress. In the same year, the Crown sent to Cuba the engineer Bartolomé Sanchez, supervised by 14 official and main stonemasons in order to reconstruct the castle, which had been set fire and destroyed by the French corsair Jacques de Sores.
  • Catedral de San Cristóbal, the most prominent building on the Plaza de la Catedral. The Cathedral was raised on the chapel after 1748 by order of the bishop from Salamanca, Felipe Jose de Res Palacios. It is one of the most beautiful and sober churches of the American baroque.
  • National Capitol, styled after the U.S. Capitol.
  • Galician Center, Central Park, The Galician Center, of neobarroque style was establish as a social club of the Galician emigrants between 1907 and 1914. Built on the Theater Tacon (nowadays Great Theater of Havana), it was open during the Carnival of 1838 with five masked dances.
  • Plaza de Armas - the main touristic square. The origin of its name is obviously military, since from the end of the XVIth century the ceremonies and the military events took place here.
  • Gran Teatro de la Habana, the Great Theater of Havana is famous, particularly for the acclaimed National Ballet of Cuba and its founder Alicia Alonso. It sometimes performs the National Opera. The theater is also known as concert hall, Garcia Lorca, the biggest in Cuba.
  • The Museum of the Revolution, located in the former Presidential Palace, with the boat Granma on display in front of the museum.
  • San Francisco de la Habana Basilica, Habana Vieja, The set of church and convent of San Francisco de Asis, byline of the year 1608, and it was reconstructed in 1737.
  • Elegant "Gran Cafe el Louvre" is situated in Havana center, in Hotel Inglaterra the Cuba’s oldest and most classic hotel founded in 1875. Tables are decorated by Cuban contemporary artists.
  • The "Bodeguita del Medio" at the side near the Plaza Cathedral, historic quarter. It is famous for its traditional Cuban dishes, unique decor and also for Mojito drink.
  • "El Patio" at the Plaza de la Catedral is well established restaurant in a magnificent colonial mansion with a beautiful inner courtyard.
  • Near the Parque Central, you will find the "El Floridita" one of Hemingway's favourites exclusive bar, the home of “Daiquirí Cocktail”.

Explore Old Havana, discover unique colonial architecture and walk around the squares and narrow streets.   There is countless restaurants & cafes in Old Havana. The best coffee is serve in "Cafe Escorial" at Plaza Vieja.  Discover Camera Obscura - located in Old Havana at the corner of Plaza Vieja on the roof.  Visit Museum of Fine Arts at Trocadero street corner of Zulueta & Monserrate.  Every evening at 9:00pm "Cañonazo" a canon shot, at the "El Morro" fortress across Havana Bay.

Since 1982 Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the name also refers to one of the municipalities of the city of Havana, Cuba, with the latter's boundaries extending to the south and west beyond the original city.

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