Plaza Del Cristo
Towards the western edge of Old Havana, not far from El Capitolio, sits the Plaza del Cristo, the least famous of the bunch but one of the city’s five historic public squares nonetheless. A variety of factors have conspired to make this square less renowned than, say, the Plaza Vieja, but that doesn’t mean that the Plaza del Cristo shouldn’t be on your “to see” list!
A Brief History of Plaza del Cristo
The Plaza del Cristo (Christ’s Square) was created in March of 1640, and it was originally known as the Plaza Nueva (New Square). It was at this point that the square now known as the Plaza Vieja (Old Square) found its name! Along with the square came the construction of a small hermitage that instantly became the final destination of a Stations of the Cross Catholic religious procession that took place annually throughout Havana in those days.
It was on the site of this hermitage that the Iglesia del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje (Church of the Holy Christ of the Good Trip) was constructed in 1732. The name of this church comes from the fact that sailors would pray here before heading out to sea; the name of the square in turn comes from this church. For a time in its history the Plaza del Cristo was also known as the Plaza de las Lavanderas (Washerwomen’s Square), as the church was where many of the Afro-Cuban women who worked in the city’s laundries would attend mass.
In more recent times the Plaza del Cristo had been neglected, looked over mostly in favour of its more centric Old Havana cousins. Recognising the historic importance of the square and in hopes of halting further dilapidation, the Havana City Historian’s Office began a major renovation of the plaza and its surrounding buildings just recently in 2014. The project continues today, and most of the historic buildings in the area are now fully stabilised.
Plaza del Cristo’s Main Attractions
Though less famous than Old Havana’s other historic squares, the Plaza del Cristo still offers a number of things to see and do.
The primary draw on the square is the Iglesia del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje, though like much of the area’s surrounding buildings it too is undergoing quite a renovation. Regardless, it’s still worth dropping by for a look at its lovely stained glass windows and its cheerily-painted wood ceiling.
Additionally, the southern side of the Plaza del Cristo is home to one of Havana’s hottest new paladares—the happening tapas bar known as El Chanchullero. The shrimp dishes here are perennial favourites, but you can’t really go wrong with any of their small but varied menu.
Facing the church’s main entrance (to the east of the square) there’s a building in ruins where an old sign that reads “La Maravilla” still hangs; seeing that this translates as “The Wonder” it makes for quite the visual contradiction and contrast that’s worthy of a few snaps with your camera.
The fact of the matter remains that Plaza del Cristo is still an under-the-radar tourist destination but herein lies its unique value and charm. It’s a square in Old Havana where you can witness plenty of authentic local life taking its usual daily course. It offers a great opportunity to sit in one of its benches to observe the day-to-day grind of a city just as it is, without the make-up that tourist-trodden sites often have. But as renovations on the site continue this may be changing soon. During your time in Havana, why not stop by? That way you can say you were one of the first to appreciate both the square’s historic and modern attractions before its complete overhaul and transformation see it crowded with tourists.
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