Plaza Vieja, Havana
When the Plaza de Armas was taken over for military exercises and later as the seat of the Cuban government, the people of Havana stood up and requested a new public square where the average person could relax and take in the afternoon in peace. Though the process was fraught with delays, their demand was finally met in 1587 — nearly 30 years after the square was initially proposed!
The “Old Square” was actually first called the Plaza Nueva — or the “New Square” — but time of course had its way with the name eventually. During the colonial era, the square and the blocks immediately surrounding it were home to some of Cuba’s richest and most socially-prominent residents. This led to the square’s eclectic architectural mix, as Havana’s upper-class struggled to outdo each other building mansions in the newest and most fashionable architectural styles.
However, the square’s fortunes began to deteriorate a bit as the 20th century rolled around. By the 1950s, the Plaza Vieja had become home to none other than a parking garage, while many of the buildings surrounding it slowly continued to deteriorate. But this all changed when Havana Vieja was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an ambitious and largely successful restoration project began.
Nowadays, the Plaza Vieja is once again buzzing with life — from galleries and restaurants of interest to tourists to a local primary school whose children use the public space during their physical education classes, there’ always something going on here!
Art and Architecture
If Havana Vieja’s visual arts scene is of interest of you, the Plaza Vieja might very well be the best place to start your exploration.
The square’s southwestern corner is home to the Casa de los Condes de Jaruco, a building which nowadays is home to a mixture of different art galleries. Ranging from Cuban to international and from colonial to contemporary, there’s something for every taste here — and that’s not to mention the sheer architectural beauty of the early 18th century building itself.
The western side of the square is home to the Casa de Juan Rico de Mata, now a gallery of contemporary photography showcasing artists from Cuba and abroad. Finally, on the opposite side of the square, one will find the Casa de las Hermanas Cárdenas, home to the city’s Center for the Development of Visual Arts.
Dining and Drinking
The Plaza Vieja is also one of Havana Vieja’s prime destinations for visitors looking to enjoy a variety of food and drink. The square is home to a number of cafes and restaurants, including the Café el Escorial, Café Bohemia and the fantastic new tapas restaurant Azúcar. Perhaps most surprising among the square’s offerings is the Taberna de la Muralla, home to Havana’s (and Cuba’s) only microbrewery! Without a doubt serving the island’s finest beers, this spot is also popular for its decent Cuban cuisine and awesome live music.
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