Tag Archives: old havana

Plaza de la Catedral, Havana

We are now heading to the final square on our Old Havana walking tour.  As we walk through an alleyway, we pass by this mysterious looking face on the wall of Casa del Marqués de Arcos. Once a mansion, it was transformed into Havana’s main post office in the mid-19th century. You’ll spot a few faces along the wall used for mailboxes.

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How can I get a mailbox like that?

Directly across from Casa del Marqués de Arcos is a mural done by a Cuban artist depicting 67 of Cuba’s historical figures. Various colors of sand and stone mixtures were used to create this mural.

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We finally entered Plaza de la Catedral, and as you can see it is a bit more crowded than the previous squares. The streets began to fill with commuters, tourists, and shop keepers as it got later in the day.

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The Havana Cathedral is one of eleven Roman Catholic cathedrals on the island.

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The square was originally named Plaza de la Ciénaga (Swamp Square), but it was eventually drained and paved, and construction on the cathedral began. Thus a new name was needed.

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While the cathedral is the main focal point of the square, you can’t help but notice the stone buildings surrounding it.  The blue accents, columns, and iron work bring these somewhat dull stone buildings to life.

Wealthy families took up residence here after the construction of the cathedral in 1727. These mansions are now some of the best museums, art galleries and dining spots in Old Havana.

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You may also find some stray dogs making themselves at home and playing with tourists in the squares.

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Locals give them these name tags, so they aren’t nameless strays

The Commercial Galería Victor Manuel now occupies the former Casa de Banos (public bath house) which was built over the square’s cistern in the 19th century.

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The door was open, and I’m curious, so I took a peek inside. As our tour guide mentioned, nothing really opens in Old Havana until 10:00 a.m., so the door promptly shut behind me. They weren’t ready for customers just yet.

As a recap, I booked the Old Havana Walking Tour through Royal Caribbean excursions. It consisted of two portions; a walking tour in the morning to the 4 main squares in the city: Plaza de San Francisco Asís, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de Armas, and Plaza de la Catedral.

The second portion of the tour included a bus ride through the more modern parts of Havana. I’ll be sharing more details on that soon, as well as take you for a ride in one of the classic cars (note: the car ride was not part of the excursion).

The actual excursion lasted a little over 4 hours, and I strongly recommend. It was a wonderful way to get our feet wet and get a feel for Cuban history, culture, and lifestyle.

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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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