Central Havana and Prado Centro Habana
Centro Habana and Prado have much to offer intrepid visitors. There are six historic buildings that are worth a visit including the stunning Capitolio building. Four historic streets and plazas are also good places to spend some time, as each have their own unique attraction ranging from well preserved cars from the 50's to statues commemorating historical events.Not as well preserved as Habana Vieja, Centro Habana and Prado have a bit of a down at the heel feeling about it, but crime is rare and the locals are proud and friendly. Museum buffs will be pleased to note that there are three major museums in Centro Habana and Prado including the spectacular Museo de la Revolution.
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Havana's Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes contains three main collections and includes a large number of individual pieces. The first section is dedicated to Cuban Art from the 17th Century to present and includes over four thousand paintings, almost thirteen thousand prints, and 285 sculptures. The second section, Art from European Masters, contains over sixteen hundred paintings and 126 sculptures, the third collection, Ancient Art from the Egyptian to Roman ages contains close to 600 works.The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is spread across two buildings, the Palacio del Centro Asturiano and the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The former building designed in the 1920s by Manuel Bustos has recently been restored to its former glory. The second building is of the Rationalist design and was built in 1959.One of the highlights of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes collection is the unique marble sculpture "Form Space and Light". It is located at the museum entrance.
Paseo del Prado
Considered by many to be the most beautiful street in Havana, the Paseo del Prado should be on every visitor's list of things to see. The street is lined by many historical buildings carefully restored to their 19th and 20th Century glory. The Paseo del Prado is a popular place for the people of Havana to stroll at all times of the day and a good spot to gain a better understanding of the real life of Cubans outside of the sterility of an all inclusive beach resort.Several highlights of the Paseo del Prado are the Hotel Sevilla with its mudejar styling, the home of Dr. Carlos Finlay, the man who discovered that mosquitoes spread yellow fever, and finally, and Havana's most famous wedding chapel, the Palacio de los Matrimonios.Although the area containing the highlights of the Paseo del Prado is not terribly long, if visitors find their legs tiring, there are a multitude of benches to rest upon and people watch.
Visitors to Havana who have been to Washington, DC, may do a double take when they see the Capitolio building. A close approximation to the American Capitol building, the Capitolio was the seat of government until 1959. Nowadays, the building houses the ministries of Technology, Environment, and Science. The Capitolio building makes a good landmark for those wandering around Havana, its 92m / 300ft is visible from almost anywhere in the city.The Capitolio, inaugurated in 1929, is done up in an interesting combination of neo-Classical and Art Deco styles. Tours are available and some of the key sights are a copy of a 25 carat diamond inlaid in the floor, the acoustically unique Salon de los Pasos Peridos, and the gold covered Statue of the Republic, reputed to be the largest bronze statue of Pallas Athena in the world.
Museum of the Revolution
For travelers interested in visiting museums while on vacation, most will be suitably impressed by the Museo de la Revolucion in Havana. It is not every museum that gets a former presidential palace as its home.The old presidential palace was designed by the Belgian architect Paul Belau and was built in the early part of the 20th Century. Done up in a sumptuous version of neo-Classical architecture, the Museo de la Revolucion is worth a visit even if you don't go inside.Those who do venture inside are treated to a multitude of displays on Cuba's struggle for independence. Of note are the life size wax figures of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.Behind the museum is an interesting display of the yacht Granma. It was this boat that brought Fidel Castro and his gang to Cuba from Mexico. Also on display is a plane shot down during the ill fated Bay of Pigs invasion.
National Museum of Music
Havana's Museo Nacional de la Musica has a collection of music almost as eclectic as the building it is housed in. Some of the highlights include the world's largest collection of African drums along with antique phonographs, gramophones, works of art and other curious instruments.Described by some as eclectic 20th Century architecture, the building housing the Museo Nacional de la Musica is a feast for the senses. It is an odd mix of several styles and an entire afternoon could be whiled away at a pleasant Cuban coffee shop trying to figure out the rationale behind some of the design.Over the years and prior to the museum's establishment in 1971, the building was a private home and many famous opera stars and poets spent time in residence. Some of the most famous included Federico Garcia Lorca, Vicente Blasco Ibañez, Eduardo Zamacois, Maria Guerrero and Rene Dumesnil.
Parque de la Fraternidad
For those interested in the ingenuity of Cuba's mechanics, Havana's Parque de la Fraternidad is the place to go. Filled with American cars dating from the 1950s and a delightful cieba tree planted in 1920, this park is filled with an unusual assortment of history. There are usually a multitude of taxi drivers who will be more than proud to tell you all about their historic machines and, of course, be willing to take you for a ride.Originally laid out in 1892 as a parade ground for the Capitol building, the Parque de la Fraternidad is festooned with several interesting monuments. The first is a gate and a plaque dedicated to the Cuban hero Joes Marti. Read the quote on the plaque for inspiration. Second is the Fuente de la India, a white marble fountain designed and sculpted in 1831 by Giuseppe Gaggini. The fountain is dedicated to the city of Havana.
Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas
Across the street from the massive Capitol building in Havana is one of Cuba's oldest cigar factories. The Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas is housed in a well preserved industrial building dating from 1845. The building stands out amongst its peers because of the ornate colorful maroon and cream exterior.Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas was started by Jaime Partagas but foundered after his mysterious death. Ramon Cifuentes took over and the business grew under his stewardship. Today the Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas is a fascinating place to visit while in Havana, even if you are not a cigar smoker. The sweet smells in the air and the craftsmanship that goes into each cigar makes a visit worthwhile. For those who truly quest after the best cigars available, a sampling room and sales shop are located adjacent.
Callejon de Hammel
For the snap happy tourist touring the sights of Havana, the scenes on the Callejon de Hammel, will burn through your stocks of film or memory chip space at an alarming rate. Visitors are treated to a kaleidoscope of music, art, strange sights, and friendly people. The street, really an alleyway, is the spot in Havana to find everything related to the cults and religions of Africa, buildings painted in wild and varied designs, and a 200m / 656ft mural created by Salvador Gonzalez.Music resonates from comparsas (carnival street bands) that set up and play in the Callejon de Hammel and spontaneous rumba dance parties sometime erupt. There are a multitude of eclectic art galleries and shops selling some very strange items. Callejon de Hammel is a sight not to be missed when visiting Havana.
Gran Teatro de La Habana
One may not expect to find one of the world's largest opera houses in the middle of the Caribbean, but this is in fact, the case. The Gran Teatro de La Habana is part of a larger complex, the Palacio del Centro Gallego and is located in the central part of Havana.The Gran Teatro de La Habana was built as part of the larger complex in 1915 and was designed by Belgian architect Paul Belau. Those visitors interested in sculpture will be pleasantly surprised by the façade of the Gran Teatro de La Habana. Contained within the façade are four stunning sculpture masterpieces created by the master Giuseppe Moretti.Over the years the Gran Teatro de La Habana has hosted a wide variety of performances by some of the most famous celebrities in the world. Today the theater is home to Cuba's National Ballet and Opera.
Iglesia del Angel Custodio
For those visitors interested in churches and looking for something a little different, put on your sunglasses and look upwards to the blindingly white Iglesia del Angel Custodio. First built in 1689, this church was converted to its present form in 1788. The Iglesia del Angel Custodio is a neo-Gothic style and has been extensively restored.Havana's Iglesia del Angel Custodio has conducted several famous Cubans baptisms, including the revolutionary hero Jose Marti and the writer Felix Varela. In front of the Iglesia del Angel Custodio is a little square where a scene from the famous romantic novel Cecilia Valdes took place. The author of the novel, Cirilo Villaverde, is remembered by a carving on the front of the church.
Although not a large area of Havana, Chinatown (Bario China) is a gift from above for those travelers suffering the rigors of eating at the state run restaurants. It comes as quite a shock when your meal arrives, fresh, fast, and tasty compared to the offerings at state run establishments.Havana's Chinatown is not unlike most of these areas found in any major city throughout the world, with a multitude of restaurants all tightly packed together with fruit, meat, and vegetable sellers nearby. The Bario China is found in the area bordered by Calles Dragones Zanja, Rayo, and San Nicolás and a large ornate gate marks the entrance.
Iglesia del Sagrado Corazon
The Iglesia del Sagrado Corazon stands out in Havana for several reasons. The first is that the church is one of a very few neo-Gothic designed churches in Cuba. The second is that the Iglesia del Sagrado Corazon has one of the highest bell towers in the entire city. This prominent feature at 77m / 253ft can be useful when trying to orient oneself after wandering around the crooked streets of old Havana. The Iglesia del Sagrado Corazon was built in the early 20th Century and consecrated in 1923.Of note inside the Iglesia del Sagrado Corazon are fantastic stained glass windows detailing the life of Christ.
Real Fabrica de Tabacos La Corona
Aficionados of cigars, bow down to this shrine of cigars before entering! One of Cuba's most famous cigar factories, the Real Fabrica de Tabacos La Corona has legions of devoted fans. Visitors are treated to a tour of the factory where they can see the craftsmanship and care that goes into each hand rolled cigar. It is fascinating to watch the highly skilled torcedores create their works of art.For those not particularly interested in cigars, the Real Fabrica de Tabacos La Corona is still worth a visit in order to see Cuba's first building built of metal, a real innovation at the turn of the 19th Century when the building was constructed.
Parque Central in Centro Havana lies near the edge of the Havana Vieja, near the Capitolio. The park was designed in the 1870s. In the middle of the square stands a statue of Jose Marti where a statue of Isabella II used to be located. It is a nice area to relax during the day and also worth a visit in the evening when locals gather here to talk. There are a couple of large hotels and 19th and 20th Century buildings that line Parque Central.
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