The passage of time has stood so still in Havana that, even today, age old pirates, explorers and conquistadores would not feel lost wandering her narrow, cobbled streets and alleys. Habana Vieja (Old Havana), founded in 1519, is packed with colonial buildings of great architectural and historical significance. The red clay roofs, original Spanish ceramic tiles, the decorated patios and arched porticos, all speak softly to passersby of an era long past.
The streets that run the length and breadth of Old Havana contain over 3,000 buildings with not less than 144 dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. Inside the former walls of the old city there is a wonderful range of structures from large stone mansions, churches and palaces to humble wooden homes and lodgings. Old Havana is so extraordinary that in 1982 UNESCO designated it a Class One World Heritage site. The fact that very few modern buildings have been constructed within the UNESCO zone makes Habana Vieja unique. Architecturally speaking, it surpasses the most impressive cities of Europe where old buildings are greatly mixed with new and modern architecture. Havana is a street photographers’ dream destination.
Over the past twenty years, the Cuban government has made incredible inroads with the restoration of its heritage buildings and the results are truly awe-inspiring. Over 300 landmark buildings have undergone amazing facelifts while other more historically significant structures have been authentically restored with dazzling results. Many of the reconstructed buildings are now hotels, bars, restaurants and museums. Also refurbished were some of the more famous 1950’s nightclubs and hotels. The heart of the restoration, however, has been the buildings around Havana Vieja’s five main squares: Plaza de Armas; Plaza de la Catedral; Plaza Vieja; Plaza de San Francisco; Plaza del Cristo. The fortresses, too, have been restored as well as Drogeria Sarrá, the oldest pharmacy in the Americas.