Plaza De La Catedral
A baroque 18th century cathedral rises from the ground, its walls crafted of ocean coral still home to the fossilized remains of marine animals. A soft breeze drifts from one of the many alleyways, rustling the leaves of the nearby palms and providing a pleasant respite from the warm afternoon. You sit on a balcony, mojito in hand, taking it all in.
Welcome to Old Havana’s Plaza de la Catedral. The square’s namesake is of course the Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Cristobal de la Habana which encompasses the entire island of Cuba as well as its nearly 3,000,000 registered Catholics.
It’s a truly mesmerizing building, perhaps the island’s best example of baroque architecture with a number of Tuscan elements thrown in for good measure. The cathedral, however, is just the beginning of what the square has to offer.
Let’s take a look at some of the other particularly attractive spots on the plaza and in its vicinity:
On the Plaza
Directly on the square itself, one can find a number of institutions of interest to tourists in additional to the cathedral.
Dominating the centre of the plaza are tables belonging to El Patio Colonial, a restaurant based out of the Casa de los Marqueses de Aguas Claras which was once home to the descendants of Juan de Ponce de León, the first European to discover Florida. The atmosphere is the selling point here, and it’s a fine place to sit down and enjoy a few drinks.
Across the square from El Patio sits the Casa de Lombillo, home to Cuba’s first post office for national mail and for letters being sent back to Spain. Nowadays, the building is home to a museum honouring a 1961 post-revolutionary literacy campaign.
Fans of art should also rejoice — the Plaza de la Catedral is home to two artistic institutions of note. The first is the Museo de Arte Colonial (Colonial Art Museum), which is found directly opposite the cathedral. The second is the Wifredo Lam Centre of Contemporary Art, a cultural institution dedicated to promoting visual artists from around the developing world. This spot is worth a visit year round, but especially if you happen to be visiting during the Havana Biennial Art Exhibition.
Just off the Plaza
The immediate vicinity of the Plaza de la Catedral is home to the Castillo de la Fuerza and the Plaza de Armas, two attractions we discuss in more detail on other pages.
The Plaza de la Catedral area is also home to two of Havana’s most famous restaurants. One is the Bodeguita del Medio — located less than 100 metres off the square, this bar/restaurant claims to have invented the mojito and was a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Neruda, among others. The second is the Paladar Dona Eutimia, regularly cited as one of Latin America’s best dining experience by such illustrious publications as the New York Times.
Finally, this area is also home to the newer but soon-to-be classic Dulceria Bianchini, perhaps the finest spot for a self-made sweets party in all of Old Havana. The place is especially renowned for its individual-size quiches and also offers a wide variety of coffees, pastries, and other treats.
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