Plaza de Armas, Havana
For a real slice of Cuban life be sure to visit the Plaza de Armas in Havana. This is where locals and visitors alike stroll, sit, and watch the activity of the plaza take place. There are many cafés and restaurants where visitors can relax and have a cool drink or pleasant meal. For those feeling the heat, the Plaza is blessed with many large trees and lawns and is a good spot to escape the intense tropical sun.
Housed in the spectacular Cuban baroque Palacio de los Capitanes, the Museo de la Ciudad should be on every visitor's must see list. The museum provides an excellent overview of the history of the city of Havana from its humble beginnings to the vibrant city it is today.There are many displays in the Museo de la Ciudad and it takes a while to tour. Be sure to check out the Hall of Heroic Cuba for a fascinating display of objects from the revolution. Art history buffs will want to visit the Espada Cemetery Room to view the tomb of famous French artist Vermay.In the Throne Room, visitors can view a sumptuous chair that was built for the visit of a Spanish monarch but was never used. The highlight of a visit to the Museo de la Ciudad is the Salon de los Esperjos. This room has beautiful 19th Century mirrors and was where the official end of Spanish rule was proclaimed in 1899.Other items of interest in the museum are the Cenotaph from the Parroquial Mayor Church, La Giraldilla, the oldest bronze statue in Cuba, and the busts in the gallery overlooking the wonderful courtyard.
Castillo De La Real Fuerza
Location, location, location real estate agents always say, well, the folks who built the Castillo de la Real Fuerza should have listened. This fortress, built in the mid 16th Century, was never used in the defense of Havana. It was built too far inside the bay rendering it all but useless.Despite the fact it was never used as a fortress, it was put to good use as a store house of valuables and a residence for members of the military and gentry. Designed and built by Francisco de Calona, the Castillo de la Real Fuerza was is an engineering marvel with walls that are 6m / 19 ft thick and 10m / 33ft high, a moat, and even a drawbridge.Today visitors will find one of Havana's fifty museums, the Museo Nacional de la Ceramica Cubana, securely housed in the thick walls of the fortress. As the name suggests, the museum has a collection of works by Cuban artists in several different mediums including ceramics, pottery, and mosaics.
Palacio de los Capitanes Generales
This beautiful Palacio de los Capitanes was built in the late 18th Century and now houses the Museo de la Ciudad, Havana's City Museum. The Palacio de los Capitanes has been in constant use since its inception providing a residence to no less than 60 Spanish capitanes generals along with the US governor prior to the revolution in 1898.Designed by Antonio Fernandez de Trebejos y Zaldivar this palace is a stunning example of the unique architectural style of Cuban baroque. The building has a limestone façade with an arcade below and stained glass windows above. The central courtyard is an oasis of green and quiet with many beautiful flowering trees and plants. Frequent concerts are held in the central courtyard, be sure to check in with the main desk to find out when the next one is scheduled. A statue of Christopher Columbus stands in the middle of the courtyard.
If you are in Havana on November 16th, be sure to stop in at El Templete. It is on this date that the inhabitants of Havana celebrate the first mass and town council of San Cristobal de la Habana, which took place in 1599.El Templete was started in the middle of the 18th Century and it was not until 1828 that it was finished. The style of architecture is neo-Classical and the building is in terrific shape due to the ambitious renovation and restoration program undertaken by the government.Be sure to check out the interior of the building and the three large canvases by Jean Baptiste Vermay. It is easy to find El Templete, just look for the beautiful and exotic ceiba tree standing out front. Most tours of Havana leave from this point.
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