1st Havana Bimble
Our First Havana, Cuba Bimble
Last night we went for post shower drinks aboard our English neighbours to the girls rear. Dick and Jennifer and crew / friends Alan and Helen. Chatting about options to get in to Havana, Alan and Helen offered to be our guides. We were ready to walk to the hotel and board the guest bus at ten. We are supposed to be inmates wearing purple wristbands but the driver closes his eyes to that for a Cuc, there is no problem for space on this Chinese donated bus as the four of us made up half the passengers (last week the hotel had nine guests). One lady from Canada was covered in mozzie bites, said she was having an awful time and couldn’t wait to leave, how very sad. The bus set off for the twenty minute journey. We went past a couple of villages, a fine looking all inclusive hotel complex, past residential areas and finally along the five mile stretch of the bay. Bear’s trigger finger itched as soon as he saw the noble cannon along the front.
At the end of the bay we turned by the river and the bus pulled in at the start of our first Havana bimble.
Our guides stride forth
Havana is the capital city, province, major port and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of 280.60 square miles - making it the largest city by area, the most populous city, and the fourth largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region. The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbours: Marimelena, Guanabacoa and Atarés. The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay.
History: In 1514 San Cristobal de La Havana was founded on the south coast of Cuba near the mouth of the Rio Mayabeque by Spanish conquistador Panifilo de Narvaez. Named after the daughter of a famous Taino Indian chief, the city was moved twice during its first five years due to mosquito infestations and wasn’t permanently established on its present site until the 17th of December 1519. The new Havana was a strategic location and served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the continent becoming a stopping point for the treasure laden Spanish Galleons on the crossing between the New World and the Old World. According to local legend, the first Mass was said beneath a ceiba tree in present-day Plaza de Armas. Walls as well as forts were built to protect the old city.
Havana was originally a trading port, and suffered regular attacks by buccaneers, pirates, and French corsairs. The first attack and resultant burning of the city was by the French corsair Jacques de Sores in 1555. Such attacks convinced the Spanish Crown to fund the construction of the first fortresses in the main cities — not only to counteract the pirates and corsairs, but also to exert more control over commerce with the West Indies, and to limit the extensive contrabando (black market) that had arisen due to the trade restrictions imposed by the Casa de Contratación of Seville (the crown-controlled trading house that held a monopoly on New World trade).
Ships from all over the New World carried products first to Havana, in order to be taken by the fleet to Spain. The thousands of ships gathered in the city's bay also fueled Havana's agriculture and manufacture, since they had to be supplied with food, water, and other products needed to traverse the ocean.
On the 20th of December 1592, King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City. Later on, the city would be officially designated as "Key to the New World and Rampart of the West Indies" by the Spanish crown. In the meantime, efforts to build or improve the defensive infrastructures of the city continued.
Havana expanded greatly in the 17th century. New buildings were constructed from the most abundant materials of the island, mainly wood, combining various Iberian architectural styles, as well as borrowing profusely from Canarian characteristics.
17th century Havana
In 1649 a fatal epidemic of yellow fever brought by ship from Cartagena in Colombia, affected a third of the population of Havana. By the middle of the 18th century Havana had more than seventy thousand inhabitants, and was the third-largest city in the Americas, ranking behind Lima and Mexico City but ahead of Boston and New York.
The city was captured by the British during the Seven Years' War. The episode began on the 6th of June 1762, when at dawn, a British fleet, comprising more than 50 ships and a combined force of over 11,000 men of the Royal Navy and Army, sailed into Cuban waters and made an amphibious landing east of Havana. The British immediately opened up trade with their North American and Caribbean colonies, causing a rapid transformation of Cuban society. Less than a year after Havana was seized, the Peace of Paris was signed by the three warring powers thus ending the Seven Years' War. The treaty gave Britain Florida in exchange for the city of Havana on the recommendation of the French, who advised that declining the offer could result in Spain losing Mexico and much of the South American mainland to the British.
After regaining the city, the Spanish transformed Havana into the most heavily fortified city in the Americas. Construction began on what was to become the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña, the biggest Spanish fortification in the New World. On the 15th of January 1796, the remains of Christopher Columbus were transported to the island from Santo Domingo. They rested here until 1898, when they were transferred to Seville's Cathedral, after Spain's loss of Cuba.
As trade between Caribbean and North American states increased in the early 19th century, Havana became a flourishing and fashionable city. Havana's theaters featured the most distinguished actors of the age, and prosperity amongst the burgeoning middle-class led to expensive new classical mansions being erected. During this period Havana became known as the Paris of the Antilles.
The 20th century began with Havana, and therefore Cuba, under occupation by the United States. The US occupation officially ended when Tomás Estrada Palma, first president of Cuba, took office on the 20th of May 1902.
During the Republican Period, from 1902 to 1959, the city saw a new era of development. Cuba recovered from the devastation of war to become a well-off country, with the third largest middle class in the hemisphere. Apartment buildings to accommodate the new middle class, as well as mansions for the Cuban tycoons, were built at a fast pace.
Numerous luxury hotels, casinos and nightclubs were constructed during the 1930’s to serve Havana's burgeoning tourist industry. In the 1930s, organized crime characters were not unaware of Havana's nightclub and casino life, and they made their inroads in the city. Santo Trafficante, Jr. took the roulette wheel at the Sans Souci Casino, Meyer Lansky directed the Hotel Habana Riviera, with Lucky Luciano at the Hotel Nacional Casino. At the time, Havana became an exotic capital of appeal and numerous activities ranging from marinas, grand prix car racing, musical shows and parks.
Havana achieved the title of being the Latin American city with the biggest middle class population per-capita, simultaneously accompanied by gambling and corruption where gangsters and stars were known to mix socially. During this era, Havana was generally producing more revenue than Las Vegas, Nevada. In 1958, about 300,000 American tourists visited the city.
After the revolution of 1959, the new regime promised to improve social services, public housing, and official buildings; nevertheless, shortages that affected Cuba after Castro's abrupt expropriation of all private property and industry under a strong communist model backed by the Soviet Union followed by the U.S. embargo, hit Havana especially hard. By 1966-68, the Cuban government had nationalised all privately owned business entities in Cuba, down to "certain kinds of small retail forms of commerce" (law No. 1076).
There was a severe economic downturn after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. With it, subsidies ended, losing billions of dollars which the Soviet Union gave the Cuban government, with many believing Havana's Soviet-backed regime would soon vanish, as happened to the Soviet satellite states of Eastern Europe. However, contrary to the Soviet satellite states of Eastern Europe, Havana's communist regime prevailed during the 1990s.
After many years of prohibition, the communist government increasingly turned to tourism for new financial revenue, and has allowed foreign investors to build new hotels and develop hospitality industry. In Old Havana, effort has also gone into rebuilding for tourist purposes, and a number of streets and squares have been rehabilitated. But Old Havana is a large city, and the restoration efforts concentrate in all but less than 10% of its area.
Contemporary Havana can essentially be described as three cities in one: Old Havana, Vedado, and the newer suburban districts. The city is the center of the Cuban Government, and home to various ministries, headquarters of businesses and over 90 diplomatic offices. The current mayor is Marta Hernández from the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). In 2009, the city/province had the 3rd highest income in the country.
The Official Census for Havana reports that in 2010 the city was visited by 1,176,627 international tourists, a +20.0% increase from 2005. The historic centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and monuments.
The Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana (fancy saying that every time you answer the phone adding good morning), in English The Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, (not a whole lot better) is a Roman Catholic Cathedral and is the seat of Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, the Cardinal Archbishop of Havana, Cuba. It is also dedicated to Saint Christopher (San Cristóbal), thus it is sometimes dubbed as Cathedral of Saint Christopher.
The construction of the cathedral was started by Jesuits in 1748 on the site of an earlier church and finished by Havana City in 1777. The cathedral is set in the former Plaza de La Ciénaga or Swamp Plaza, in a site where was gathered the runoff from the city.
The Cathedral is said to be the only example of a Baroque facade that was designed with asymmetrical features - one of the towers is wider than the other. This particular feature was conceived in order to allow the water that tended to accumulate on the plaza to freely flow through the streets during the colonial period, when it was built.
Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier famously described the Cathedral as "music set in stone". It is the most prominent building on the Plaza de la Catedral, in Old Havana. Mass was just beginning so we didn’t step inside.
We wandered along the narrow streets enjoying people watching, the wonderful food
aromas, the tourists bartering
We wandered along the narrow streets enjoying people watching, the wonderful food aromas, the tourists bartering
We walked past the Military Museum and the Museum of Art, Bear still a bit museumed out.
The central plaza reminded us of Barcelona, just as thought all that was missing were some living statues, there they were. The art scene was interesting, many would be Picasso’s and some beautiful scenes in oil. Many groups of children were having lessons; a dozen were huddling over their tutor who was showing them how to clay mold an ear, another sea of keen faces were drawing thumbs, lovely to stand and watch for a while. Everyone looked happy which was a joy and we saw very few beggars.
Some of the buildings were exquisite and would look just right overlooking Central Park in New York. We saw so much I will put on a blog of just pictures after this one.
ALL IN ALL A FINE START TO HAVANA