Learning Havana’s History

Despite our long day of travel to the cruise ship in Havana, there was no sleeping in the next morning. We met with our City Tour group at 8:00 am, and were soon eagerly aboard the buses.

The Castillo de la Real Fuerza, on the west side of the harbour, is considered the oldest stone fort in the Americas. It was built in the sixteenth century to defend the harbour against pirate attacks. It’s since become a maritime museum.

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Our walking tour started where the city itself started – at the main square. In colonial times, the square was the site of military exercises which led to it being called Plaza de Armas.


In 1923, the square’s official name became Parque Céspedes, after Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. In 1868, the revolutionary hero freed his slaves and encouraged them to join him in the fight for Cuban independence. Céspedes became President of the Republic of Cuba the following year, until his deposition in 1874.


I feel the need, at this point, to sheepishly admit my surprise at how many Cubans are black. I’d assumed they’d have the olive skin, dark hair and eyes of most Hispanic people. This is what I learned about this heritage. When the Spanish ‘discovered’ the Cuban islands in the sixteenth century, they were already populated by the Taino Indigenous people. As part of the often brutal colonization process, the Spanish enslaved and eventually wiped out the Taino. To replenish this slave workforce, over a million Africans were kidnapped and brought to the Cuban territories. Approximately sixty percent of the Cuban population are descendants of those African slaves.

On the east side of the Plaza de Armas is the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the former official residence of Havana’s governors. Today, this impressive limestone building houses the Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City of Havana).

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A stroll down busy, eclectic Calle Obispo.

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Originally a swamp, Plaza de la Catedral became the site of Havana’s grandest 18th-century aristocratic baroque mansions.

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La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada.

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El Floridita Bar, a favourite hangout of Ernest Hemingway.

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It’s never too early to enjoy a Hemingway Daiquiri, not even 10:00 am. Made with grapefruit juice and lime. Yum.


Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.


Parque Central is a large square near the Capital Building, where the locals gather for boisterous discussions.


José Martí statue in Parque Central. I’ll discuss this great Cuban hero a little later.


The National Capital Building, like much of Havana, is undergoing restorations. No longer the seat of government, nowadays El Capitolio houses the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry.

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Across the street from El Capitolio, and facing Parque Central, is the Gran Teatro de la Habana, an architecturally awe-inspiring building.

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Havana’s colourful and diverse streets as viewed from my bus window.

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Many political rallies have been held at Revolution Square. Originally called Plaza Cívica, it was renamed Plaza de la Revolución following the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The Ministry of Interior buildings in the background feature two heroes of the most recent revolution, Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara.

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The massive José Martí Memorial dominates Revolution Square. The tower stands 358 feet tall and the statue is 59 feet tall. José Martí is probably the most revered man in Cuba. A Cuban patriot and freedom fighter, his goal from the time he was a teenager was to see Cuba a free democracy without slavery. Although he never lived to see his country achieve independence from Spain (dying in the 1895 uprising) he is considered a national hero for his dedication to the cause.

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I could’ve spent hours admiring all the old cars congregated at Revolution Square. We saw so many beauties, I plan to dedicate an entire post to them.

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A queue of cute little coco-taxis.


Our last tour stop was at Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro (The Three Morro Kings Fortress), more commonly known as El Morro Castle. It offers one of the finest views of the city.

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The picturesque fortress guarding the entrance to Havana’s bay was built in the last decades of the 16th century and is one of Havana’s most visited places.

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At present El Morro Castle is used as a museum, and there’s a market where local artists sell their wares.


As is the case at so many Havana locales, the fortress is a great place to observe the parade of classic old cars.


Thank you to everyone who hung on to the end. I learned so much on that tour and am excited to share my newfound knowledge. Next week, please join me for a stroll along Havana’s Malecon. I’ll try to be a little less wordy. Click here for next post.

Follow my Cuban posts from the beginning here.


One thought on “Learning Havana’s History

  1. Pingback: A Few Bumps enRoute To Smooth Sailing… | joyceholmes

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