Cuba is the safest tourist destination anyone could hope to find, according to professionals at the 38th International Tourism Fair held in Spain this year who awarded the island an Excellence award.
But the island country is more than secure. Its cities harbor so much history that travelers want to visit them all. Havana is one of the most popular, chosen a Wonder City of the modern world by thousands of people participating in the third contest organized by the Swiss foundation New7Wonders.
Some say it is known as the City of Columns because of an essay with this title written by Alejo Carpentier, 1977 Cervantes Prize winner, as the following excerpt from 1964 indicates.
“One of the most singular constants of the Havana style: the incredible proliferation of columns in a city that is an emporium of columns, a jungle of columns, infinite colonnades, the last city to have so many columns in such abundance, columns that have expanded beyond the original patios, and traced the history of decadence of columns over the ages.”
Thus, strolling through Havana’s historical sites, looking for something undiscovered but full of stories, is an exercise to be conducted regularly. Although we all know the usual tourist destinations in the city, I found a few that perhaps haven’t attracted so much attention, but are worth visiting.
I began my walk and found the city’s oldest mailbox, sculpted into the stone façade’s stone of what was the home of the Marquis of Arcos, in the Plaza de la Catedral.
On the same Plaza, close to the mailbox, is a plaque from 1592 noting that once located at the site was the Zanja Real, Havana’s first aqueduct, constructed under the direction of architect Francisco de Caloma. The plaque is a large shield featuring what could be either a cross or a sword, with a caption reading “This water was brought by the country teacher Juan de Tejeda.” The short alley off the plaza where it is located is known the Callejón del Chorro (Stream Alley).
I walked a bit more toward the recently restored site called the Templete, visited by many sightseers, both domestic and international, given its important history as the place where the city’s first mass was celebrated and the first town council held. Every November 16, the date San Cristóbal de La Habana was founded, many people arrive to circle the kapok tree growing here and make a wish - a longstanding tradition.
Although the short street on its side is also popular, few know that it has the distinction of being the city’s smallest - 20 meters long and only three wide.
My excursion continued and I found myself admiring the many and varied statues along the way. Some represent important people, and others may surprise you with a gesture if you stare too long, since they are “living statues.”
Finally, I reached the Capitol, the emblematic building currently undergoing restoration. It is one meter taller, wider, and longer, than that of the United States and was completed in 1929 under the direction of architect Eugenio Raynieri Piedra, during the Presidency of Gerardo Machado.
The location had previously been home to the city’s Botanical Garden and the
Villanueva Train Station, which had been constructed on what was only a swamp and a garbage dump.
The restored Capitol is now a historic site attracting crowds of visitors, awed by its monumental dimensions and elegant design which have made the building the city’s architectural crown jewel.