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At the end of Obispo Boulevard, between Tacón and O’Relly streets, you will find the oldest colonial square of Old Havana. It is Plaza de Armas, an opened quadrilateral, shaded by trees and with stone benches, fountains and a small marble sculpture at its center. There, it combines the style of medieval squares with the most authentic Cuban modernity. The constant movement of tourists and nationals will show you that this is a space with life.
It was originally built in 1519, shortly after the founding of the city of Havana. Since its inception, the first houses and the main public institutions were placed around it, and it was also a meeting place for the inhabitants of the primitive village. In the late sixteenth century it adopted the name Plaza de Armas, when the colonial governor began using this place to carry out military exercises. Since 1955 the white marble statue of Cuban hero Carlos Manuel de Cespedes occupies the pedestal where the statue of Spanish King Ferdinand VII was placed.
The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales will demand the attention of visitors, This is a majestic baroque building that was the residence of the Spanish General Captains since 1791, later Presidential Palace of the Cuban Republic until 1913 and finally Council of Havana until 1967. Nowadays it is the Museum of the City.
Other interesting buildings are around the monument, such as The Temple, located in the exact place where the first Mass was held to inaugurate the town of Havana in 1519. The Real Force Castle (Castillo de la Real Fuerza), the first fort built in Cuba, is located next to The Temple. The Santa Isabel Hotel, a huge palace of the late eighteenth century, is located on the other side.
Undoubtedly, nowadays the most interesting place of the Plaza de Armas, is the fair of rare items. Interesting second-hand goods are sold in this makeshift market. There you may find old books, cameras rescued from oblivion, bronze plates with images, medals, coins and objects of general interest. Most of these objects have been rescued and restored by lovers of rare and valuable objects for collectors. Objects related to figures like José Martí, Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara are in demand.
Walking through this square in Old Havana, you will have the opportunity to interact with interesting street characters. Some of them offer their art for a living, others simply want to share their experiences with you. And if you dare, a few meters away is the Malecón, a walk along the extensive sea.
For visit: Obispo Boulevard between Tacón and O’Relly streets, Old Havana, La Habana (“23.14021, -82.34954”). Free access daily.
by: Leunam Rodríguez