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An invitation to visit the Old Square.
On your tour of Old Havana, you must not miss the Old Square. History, culture, arbitrariness and misunderstanding understand the existence of this public space that was new and then old and at the same time remains old and renewed.
There the person can feel the human warmth of the inhabitants of this part of the island, enjoy the colonial atmosphere even when centuries have passed since its construction and listen to stories of ghosts appearing wandering very close to this square, declared a World Heritage Site.
It is located in an irregular quadrant made up of Muralla, San Ignacio, Teniente Rey and Mercaderes streets. It is the third oldest plaza in the Villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana and is also the only one not associated with a religious temple.
While passing through Havana, it is my greatest wish that you do visit this piece of history alive within the city.
The square, its history.
The Old Square was the first planned attempt to expand the city to respond to the urban and commercial development of Havana and has undergone transformations to date.
It is located in the Old Havana area and was originally called New Square. First it was an open space in 1559, then it became the Arms´Square and San Francisco Square, respectively, although there are some authors who point out that it was the second existing square in Havana. It also constituted a residential area for the Creole aristocracy in colonial times.
Historical data indicates that in 1559 the Havana chapter decided to locate a new square to be used for public festivals and to sell merchandise and thus replace the original square, whose space had been occupied by the construction of the Royal Force Castle started in the year previous.
It was conceived in a rectangular shape, but in the end it turned out to be a trapezoid-shaped space and kept the proportions set. Another characteristic that would differentiate it from the others was that it would have neither a council nor a church.
But two decades passed and nothing was built. The space remained abandoned and the authorities decided to divide the land into parcels and rent them.
However, due to the need for spaces, the council recovered the land that was the object of improvement works as it was flooded in rainy weather.
Also in its final construction was the fact that the Franciscan fathers complained about the noise in San Francisco Square that hindered the masses and demanded a new space for vendors and town criers, a square for commercial purposes.
It is the story of a square that took a long time to appear. It was not until the 17th century that what was then identified as New Square flourished almost spontaneously.
In the 18th century it turned into a popular market and exactly in 1814 it was renamed Old Square to differentiate it. It has also been known by other names: Real, Mayor, Mercado, Fernando VII, de la Constitución, Parque Juan Bruno Zayas and Parque Julián Grimau.
Old Square or New Square?
The square has existed since 1559, although we already know the vicissitudes it went through for many years. They called it “New Square”, a place for proclamations, aristocratic walks, theatrical performances, bullfights, carnivals, civic celebrations, religious processions, military exercises and public executions.
After it adopted other functions, it became an open-air market with wooden stalls that was called Reina Cristina, it was there that the first fishmongers in Havana existed.
It ceased to be the New Square with the creation of the Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje Square back in 1640. Beautiful colonial palaces, owned by powerful peninsular families and, later, creoles appeared around them and some still exist to attest to this statement. .
Around the square you can hear old ghost stories that have appeared. Such is the case of the residence of the Counts of Jaruco, where the “La Casona” art gallery now resides, where the romantic writer who later would be well known in Cuba and France as the Countess of Merlin lived. Neighbors and caretakers of the compound claim to have seen her wandering around rooms and lounges.
In 1952 this cultural space itself was transformed into a public park and in an amphitheater over underground parking and added buildings for companies, homes and businesses. This was the case until the nineties of the last century when the Office of the City Historian maintained the firm intention of rescuing the space and restoring its original 19th century appearance.
Completely rejuvenated with added touches. It was filled, paved and protected with a perimeter fence. A fountain was replaced, this time a Carrara marble replica of the stone fountain that has housed it since the 18th century.
It is twelve meters in diameter in the shape of a cup, it is supported by two steps and from the center stands a furrowed column, topped by a glass.
Bordering the vertical, we see a rectangular hollow prism that culminates in a magnificent four-shell cornice, hinting at femininity.
Also on the north side is the work «Natura», a huge flower that sprouts from the cobblestones. And to the south is a bronze sculpture of a woman armed with a fork, riding on a huge rooster, the work of Cuban artist Roberto Fabelo.
He has stated that it is a metaphor for the preponderance of the woman over the man represented by the male bird, the supposed head of the pen, especially if she is naked.
Of the Old Square, its architecture.
In the Old Square we can find different styles united in harmony and that tell us about the baroque style of the colony, art noveau and modernism, all evidenced by the stone constructions, the cantilevered balconies, the ceilings, the windows of turned wood, wall paintings, stained glass windows, facades and in the wide arched portals.
What do we find today in La Plaza Vieja?
Architecture coexists at the same time with new spaces that demand the attention of visitors, both foreign and national. There are the Planetarium, the Cuban Photo Library, the Camera Obscura, the Vitrina de Valonia Cultural Center, the Visual Arts Development Center, the Playing Card Museum, the Paul and Shark store, a massage parlor, an elementary school, Santo Ángel and La Vitrola restaurants, as well as private houses that rent rooms.
However, there are two spaces that attract attention: the Maltas and Beer Square Factories and the El Escorial Café. At the Plaza Vieja Malts and Beer factory you can have a refreshing malt or a beer. They also offer self-service with three-liter dispensers for taking outdoors or indoors, on furniture in the style of old taverns.
On the opposite side of the square, Café El Escorial offers varieties and combinations of the so-called dark nectar of the gods, with the option of taking home a sample of the local “Serrano” brand bean, roasted whole or ground in front of the customer.
The Old Square continues to be one of the most popular and important sites in the Historic Center of Havana, thousands of people pass through it every day, many make a stop to socialize, suffocate the heat and please the palate. On your way through Havana, Plaza Vieja must be a must-see destination.