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Havana’s oldest square, Plaza de Armas

Our trip down yet another colonial style alleyway led us from Plaza Viejo to Plaza de Armas (Square of Arms or Weapons).

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Along the route, we passed by Hotel Ambos Mundos. This hotel once welcomed actors, actresses, writers and many American tourists. It is highlighted on the tour, as it was home to author Ernest Hemingway for seven years. That’s right; he rented a room on the fifth floor for $1.50 per night.

Just think, if you were to visit Havana in the 1930’s, you probably could have spotted Ernest Hemingway stumbling down this alleyway after one too many mojitos.

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The tour continued to Plaza de Armas, the oldest and most important square in Old Havana.  In Colonial Days it was the center of political power.

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Tacón Street is the only remaining road in Havana with wood bricks. Originally the Governor’s home was located in  Plaza de Armas, and since the Governor and his wife were quite fond of their afternoon naps, wood was used to repave the original brick to dull the sound of passing horses and cart traffic.

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At the center of the square is a beautiful lush garden area, perfect for escaping the hot summer sun and people watch.

A white marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes stands in the middle of the garden. He was a Cuban patriot, initiator of the Ten Years War against Spanish colonial rule in 1868 and ‘Father of the Nation.’

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That bird seems quite at home on Carlos’ head. 

Across the road, we got a glimpse of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, built in the 16th century as a way to defend the city from pirate attacks. It’s said to be the oldest stone fort built in the New World.

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The iron statue on top of the watch tower is known as La Giraldilla. It’s said to honor Havana’s only woman governor, who would spend hours watching the horizon waiting for her husband to return from an expedition to Florida.

img_7618That same statue is now the symbol of Havana and can be found on the Havana Club rum labels.

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We’ll get to try this rum a little later in the tour, but first, let’s go to church.  Plaza de la Catedral is the next stop.

 

 

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History comes alive in Plaza Vieja, Cuba

Our tour continued from San Francisco Square through the alleyway below to Plaza Vieja (Old Square).

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Before reaching the square, we passed by Havana’s oldest aqueduct, constructed in the 16th century. It was built to supply water to the city residents and harbor.

We continued down the path to Plaza Vieja, which ironically is quite new due to a recent restoration bringing it back to its former glory. It was one of my favorite squares because of the vibrant colors and detailed stain glass, architecture and iron work.

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The square was once home to some of the richest families in Havana. From their balconies they would watch various processions, bullfights and festivals held in the square, sometimes even executions.

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It has gone through several name changes, in fact, it was once called Plaza Nueva (New Square), but was changed to Plaza del Mercado (Market Square) when it became a popular market. It was eventually renamed to Plaza Vieja (Old Square) when a new market square opened.

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It now houses museums, art galleries, and several art installations.

While our guide mentioned there was some controversy surrounding the bronze rooster statue above, it’s still unclear the meaning behind it. (trust me, I’ve googled it and nothing…)

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The restoration project began after Old Havana was declared a World Heritage Site in the 1980’s.

Follow me this way, to Plaza de Armas; we may even pass by a bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway.

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Havana, Cuba Square One

As I began to write this post, I realized the wealth of information (and photos) I walked away with, so I decided to break up my Cuban adventure into various blog posts. I’ll begin at square one, Plaza de San Francisco Asís, the first of four historic squares we visited on our city tour.

I still cannot believe it has already been a week since I set sail for Cuba on Empress of the Seas.

Sail Away!

It was an unforgettable experience. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when we docked in Havana at sunrise, but I was ready to explore and learn as much as I could, despite it being the crack of dawn.  I’m not a morning person.

We booked a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean, the Old Havana Walking tour. At first, I was concerned about not having a chance to explore on my own, but our guide generously gave us time to wander and take photos–even shop.

The tour began right outside of the cruise port, in Plaza de San Francisco Asís  (San Francisco Square).  The name comes from the convent built in the square during the 16th century, Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asís.

San Francisco Square

We stepped off the ship and into a time warp. The streets were relatively quiet as we crossed from the cruise terminal to the square. Later in the day, classic cars and horse and buggies line these streets offering tours. Highly recommended experience.

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First glimpse of the classic cars which the Cubans simply call “American cars.”

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Lonja del Comercio, served as a stock exchange until 1959. It is now an office building housing various media outlets.

At the center of the square lies a beautiful white marble fountain, the Lion Fountain.

Fuente de los Leones (Lion Fountain) built in 1800’s

I was instantly amazed by the vibrant colors and stunning architecture. Part of me was expecting the city to be run-down and dirty. It was far from that. In fact, some areas of the city were so clean and well maintained, I felt as though I was on a movie set.

We’ll continue down this alleyway in my next post.

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