Hola, La Habana Vieja

“In terms of beauty, only Venice and Paris surpassed Havana,” penned Ernest Hemingway. He was alluding to Havana’s incredible architecture, arts, and, of course, the joie de vivre the city’s engaging people.

Castillo de la Real Fuerza in Old Havana.
16th-century Castillo de la Real Fuerza, located in Havana’s historic district, was built to ward off private attacks.

Old Havana’s four ancient plazas are full of color and personality, with a mix of stately buildings, monuments, museums, galleries, churches, lively entertainment, restaurants, and bars. Together, the four plazas of Old Havana contain the most extensive Spanish colonial-era architecture in Latin America. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, restoration, and care of Old Havana’s wonders are assigned to the Office of the Historian of Havana – Cuba Explorer’s island sponsor.

Catedral de San Cristobal in Old Havana.
Catedral de San Cristobal is the center piece of Plaza de la Catedral.

You’ll witness Cathedral Square, the most beautiful 18th-century colonial plaza in Latin America. Its centerpiece is the baroque masterpiece Catedral de San Cristóbal de La Habana was erected in 1748 by the Jesuit order.

Hotel Santa Isabel in Plaza de Armas in Old Havana, Cuba.
The former private mansion of the Santovenia Counts, is today Hotel Santa Isabel in Plaza de Armas.

Next, we’ll visit Plaza de Armas [Square of Arms], an ancient military parade ground for Spanish soldiers, surrounded by such impressive buildings as Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the former seat of colonial government. Today the edifice, dating from 1776, houses the Museum of the City.

Fuente de los Leones in Plaza de San Francisco.
Fuente de los Leones sits in the middle of Plaza de San Francisco.

We will continue onto San Francisco Square, one of the oldest plazas in the historical quarter. The plaza is christened after the magnificent Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco de Asís; its construction began in 1608. The basilica is another striking example of Cuban baroque architecture.

Plaza Vieja in Old Havana Cuba.
16th century Plaza Vieja was used for military exercises and later a market. Then it became a public district of private mansions.

And, finally, we’ll visit Plaza Vieja, the only civic square of colonial times. In contrast to the churches and government buildings of the other plazas, only opulent aristocratic 17th-century mansions surround the ‘Old Square.’