Havana developed from east to west.
The architecture therefore evolves significantly along the way, reflecting different periods and styles.
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Habana Vieja north
Endowed with a very rich history, the old city, the entire Habana Vieja, has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982.
It is home to countless monuments and buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
A considerable effort has been undertaken to restore the entire area and is continuing unabated.
It will therefore be particularly enjoyable for you to wander the streets of Habana Vieja, discover its superb monuments and visit its museums.
You will not stop admiring the beauty of its buildings and your digital camera may be saturated from the very first hours of your visit, because you will want to take pictures of everything! The northern part of Habana Vieja (Old Havana) stretches from the port where the Castillo del Morro fortress stands guard to the north of the bay to the picturesque Plaza de la Catedral and Plaza de Armas further south.
On its western slope, this area is bounded by the mythical Museum of the Revolution, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Granma Memorial.
La Habana Vieja south
The south of Old Havana is bounded by the Plaza de San Francisco de Asís and the Plaza Vieja to the north, by the Central Station to the south and by the Zulueta Avenue to the west.
As in the northern part of Habana Vieja, there is no lack of monuments and museums.
This area, however, concentrates a greater number of churches and convents, which are a reminder of the importance of the religious power that was omnipresent for several centuries in Havana.
It is also in this neighborhood that the illustrious Cuban historical figure José Martí was born; one can visit his birth house which has been turned into a museum.
Another national monument is the Havana Club Rum, whose headquarters are based in the Museo del Ron Havana Club.
You will enjoy discovering this museum if only for the tasting of old rum that closes the visit.
The delimitation of this district is not always well defined, but it is accepted that Centro Habana includes everything west of the old walls, as far as Infanta Street, the border with the Vedado district.
To the north, it can be considered to extend as far as the Malecón and to the south as far as the train station.
This neighborhood is an essential stop for all those who want to immerse themselves in the daily life and realities of the Habaneros.
Superb colonial buildings, mostly decayed, welcome the most popular families.
Few tourist sites in itself, except for the Chino barrio, which is only Chinese by name (apart from its arch and its few Chinese restaurants), and the Malecón, a famous waterfront running 8 km along the north of the city.
The Vedado was a neighborhood of well-to-do families in Havana at the beginning of the revolution and is now a modern district of Havana.
It is essentially residential, although there is a lot of activity, day and night.
Calle 23, also known as the Rampa, has become one of the most lively avenues in the capital: bars, cabarets and nightclubs abound.
The urban plan of the Vedado, designed in a checkerboard pattern and articulated around vast orthogonal arteries, is directly inspired by the North American model.
The Vedado’s openness to the ocean and the Malecón, which runs for several kilometres along its northern edge, gives the Vedado more perspective and ventilation.
Further south, beyond Calzada de Zapata, is the “Nuevo Vedado” where many of Havana’s monuments and museums are concentrated, including the Plaza de la Revolución, the José Martí Memorial and the Colón Cemetery.
From the Vedado, it is very easy to reach Old Havana, which is only 5 km along the Malecón.
The casas particulares are legion there, especially in front of the university or on Calle 21 between Calle J and Calle O.
The Miramar is the most posh neighbourhood in Havana and therefore in Cuba.
It is characteristic of the period of the neocolonial republic (1902-1958).
As for the Vedado, the architecture of its streets is very close to that of the streets of North America, because they all intersect at right angles and are not named but numbered.
The embassies and residences there make it a very chic area outside the downtown core.
Geographically, the Miramar is bordered to the east by the Almendares River, to the west by the Palacio de Congresos and to the north by the coast.
To the south, the Miramar is more or less bordered by Avenida 7ma and Avenida 19.
As far as rooms in the Miramar are concerned, the prices are the highest in the whole island, although this area is mainly residential: count 35 CUC minimum.
Not to mention the large taxi budget you will need to get to the centre of Havana.
You won’t find any local shops either.
Toponymy of the streets of Havana
The first survey of the town was carried out by decree in 1763 by the Count of Ricla, who then delimited four districts. At the same time, the streets were named and the houses numbered. In Havana, as elsewhere, most of the names have been borrowed from illustrious people. See below for details on the origin of some of the names.
w Aguacate (lawyer). There grew a generous avocado tree with tasty fruit, unfortunately shot down in 1837.
w Aguiar. From Don Luis José de Aguiar, Royal Councillor and illustrious citizen of the city.
w Amargura (bitterness). During Lent, the Passion procession left the Franciscan residence every evening and went to the Church of Cristo, where the faithful did penance.
w Avenida de los Presidentes (Avenue of the Presidents), or Calle G, one of the main arteries of the Vedado district. All along the avenue, statues of the presidents of the Republic were erected by them and then unblocked after the victory of the revolution.
w Baratillo (flea market). This is where the first retail outlets were located.
w Callejón de Justiz. This alley owes nothing to justice, but to the residence of the Marquis de Justiz y Santa María, at the corner of Baratillo.
w Callejón del Chorro (water jet alley). Fountain where the Havanese used to get water.
w Callejón de San Juan de Dios. One of the walls of the Hospital San Juan de Diós overlooked this alley.
w Calzada de San Lázaro (Saint Lazarus Causeway). This paved street led to the Hospital de San Lázaro, built in 1746.
w Camino Militar (Military Way). It linked the city directly to the Castle of Príncipe.
w Capdevila. The name of the Spanish soldier who defended the medical students, who were shot in 1871 by decision of the Council of War.
w Cárcel (prison). One of the walls of the enormous prison that occupied the present Parque de los Mártires overlooked this street.
w Carlos Tercero (Charles III). This wide avenue, built in 1835, was the site of the statue of Carlos III a year later. It kept this name until 1974, when it was renamed Salvador Allende in homage to the assassinated Chilean president.
w Compostela. From Bishop Don Diego Evelino de Compostela, who had his house built there at number 155.
w Cuarteles (barracks). Its two extremities were bounded by the San Telmo barracks and the Artillery barracks.
w Cuba. This homonymous street of the country still gathers a large number of historical buildings, cultural institutions and public services.
w Desamparados (abandoned). It ran along the wall of the southern zone, the loneliest part of the city.
w Empedrado (paved). This is the first cobbled street in Havana, and it is believed to have been paved before 1770. It connects the cathedral to the San Juan de Diós square.
w Galiano. In reference to Don Martín Galiano, the Minister of Fortifications, who had a bridge erected, which was named after him and which was destroyed in 1839.
w Lamparilla. A devotee of souls used to light a lantern there every night, in his room, in the house on the corner of Habana Street… It was on this same street that the vacuum cleaner dealer and his capricious daughter of Our Agent in Havana, Graham Greene, lived.
w Luz (light). No more luminous than any other, but this is where Don José Cipriano de La Luz, General Councillor of the Postal Service and, as such, an illustrious figure in the city, lived. Located between Cuba and Damascus, it is home to beautiful colonial houses with tiled roofs. You can also see the Art Deco buildings and the housing of the médico de la familia (the local family doctor), a post-modern glass construction.
w Mercaderes (merchants). Before the revolution, when private trade was allowed .
w Morro. From this street, before the royal prisons were built, you could see the Morro castle.
w Muralla (wall). The gate of the royal wall was opened here in 1721.
w Neptuno (Neptune). Named after the Neptune fountain, once located on Isabel II’s promenade. Today it is located on the Malecón River, opposite Old Havana.
w Obispo (Bishop). Attended by the bishop of the city at the time the streets were baptized.
w Obrapía (pious work). The most illustrious of its inhabitants, Martín Calvo de Arieta – commander of the cavalry companies – included in his will a sum of 5,000 pesos (in 1679, a colossal fortune!) which was to be used to provide the dowry for five orphan girls each year.
w Oficios (trades). It was in this street that the craftsmen’s stalls were concentrated. In 1584, when Havana had only four streets, this was the main one.
w O’Reilly. General O’Reilly was the first to enter Havana through this street after the English surrendered the city to the Spanish crown in 1763.
w Peña Pobre (poor hill). From here one could see the loma del Angel (Angel Hill), which itself had been named Peña Pobre.
w Refugio (refuge). In the 19th century, Captain General Mariano Rocafort, surprised by a big storm, took refuge in the apartments of a mulatto widow. The sun had long since reappeared while he was still there.
w San Ignacio. This was the name of the Jesuit college and the church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which later became the seminary and the cathedral. It was formerly known as Calle Ciénaga (Swamp).
w Tejadillo (small roof). In this street there was a house with a small tile roof, which was to serve as an example to its neighbours with its (too) modest cow dung covering.
w Teniente Rey (Lieutenant Rey). Nothing to do with the king… At the corner of La Habana, lived the lieutenant of a governor of the island named Felix de Rey.
w Zapata. In homage not to the famous Mexican revolutionary, but to Dr. Salvador José Zapata who donated his property (8 houses) to contribute to the education of Cuban youth.
The Malecón, the backbone of Havana
Havana has a very singular relationship with the ocean. Its Malecón, a seaside avenue and a landmark, has become one of the cult images of the Cuban capital. A place of passage and meetings, it stretches over 8 km between the districts of Centro Habana, Vedado and Miramar. Originally turned towards the open sea, Havana, and the whole island, knows what it owes to the ocean. This long dike seems to pay homage to it. Nothing excessive indeed in this wall of a few meters, which we knew how to make modest. At dawn or at dusk, the sun plays its most beautiful tricks: magic guaranteed. Indeed, it is difficult to resist the charm of such a walk, facing the Florida Strait. The exceptional panorama, the proximity of the waves and the beauty of the old colonial houses and palaces worn out by time are imprinted permanently in the depths of the retina. Continuing eastward towards the Habana Vieja, you will invariably come across the port and its prodigious bay, whose entrance is as narrow as its waters are deep.