Architecture and Faces of Old Havana

A city with the largest Spanish fort built around it is sure to have remarkable architecture and colonial charm. Settled in 1519, Havana is full of Neoclassical and Baroque splendor. Romantic and magical, Old Havana is the priceless gem in the center of Havana’s tiara. Four squares, cathedrals, canons, cannonballs and details galore make up the charm of this architectural wonder.

With narrow alleyways between buildings purposely built close together for shade, Old Havana’s buildings “spoke” to each other with all the flair and personality each one displayed. Columns, scrolled metal, balconies, grand windows, shutters and a range of pastels and vibrant colors decorated the ornate buildings. Pilasters, balustrades, cornices, intricate moldings, columns, wrought-iron work and Spanish tile are just some of the architectural details of the buildings and homes. The muted color hues of the buildings, once vibrant with lustre, had romantic, faded tones and peeling plaster. 

Looking up so as not to miss any detail from any angle, the frames and arches of the windows varied in details. What was most alluring was to see how the people used their balconies. The balconies came to life with activity. As  the balconies were the prettiest rooms of the houses, possibly, the people not only went out there for space but to be part of the action on the streets below. Cathedral-sized doors were also imposing and stately details we noticed on our walks.

We learned about the symbolism of the placement of cannons and cannon balls on the various squares. The position of cannons and cannon balls within the concrete represents peace or war time. Pirates and buccaneers attacked Havana for its trading port, regularly, which makes the endurance of the architecture even more impressive. The spirt of Havana is unfading.

Leaving Old Havana to go back to our casa in Vedado, we passed the seawall and gorgeous landscape. At night, the seawall was packed with people socializing and enjoying the night. While we were at jazz cafes and art galleries, there were still crowds of people enjoying the nightlife in the streets.

As much as I was enriched by the entertainment, art, and people of Havana, the architecture definitely ranked high as one of the most powerful images of our trip. Its endurance through economic and political conditions is impressive. I was impressed that people lived in the upper quarters while markets and cafes took up the lower quarters. Compared to other capital cities, it was refreshing to see that these buildings were not destroyed. Scaffolding and murals might be holding up the facades of many buildings, but we did see alot of restoration, too. In the new few  years, it will be interesting to see how things will develop. Nevertheless, I am grateful to have seen Cuba in July 2017 between two major travel restrictions decisions. Our trip program format was perfect for our needs and definitely embodied the statement, “timing is everything!’

Venture off to Old Havana, and you’ll think you are going to experience the architecture, history and traditions of this capital city founded in 1519. What I didn’t expect was to peer mostly into the faces of the charming people walking among the cobbled streets of Old Havana.

Whether they were working, relaxing, observing, etc…..the alluring faces showed the Cuban spirit. I asked permission to take their photos and the reactions ranged from enthusiasm, engaging behaviors or quiet acquiescence.

The friendliness of the waiter enticing us to eat at his restaurant, the artists explaining their art and the musicians serenading us was part of the immense charm of Old Havana.

Other  people approached us with their questions. “Do you have lotion? soaps? etc…” We offered pens, candy, and other items that we knew were desired. Out of the blue, performance artists entertained us with their talent. We were drawn into the joy and rhythm of Cuba! We participated when we could which is always more fun that just being a spectator.

The faces of Havana were as vibrant and lovely as the architecture and the people had a contagious spirit that they exuded. We chatted while we strolled. We asked to pose for photos. We questioned the artists about their inspirations, their process, their hopes. My friends and I analyzed with each other what we thought was a good summary of our Cuba experience and our interpretation of the island. We came up with this; “brilliance was contained within scaffolding.” No matter what the conditions were of the buildings the art galleries or markets were in, the brilliance shined, endured and was on display within the crumble. The joy was shared and expressed in their dance and the vibrance was expressed in their art. The spirt and soul was expressed in their jazz and Cuban salsa beats and rhythms.

Cuba was an enigma. By the end of our trip, we still could not describe it or identify it. When I returned home, I saw a program on a travel channel about Cuba. They stated the same enigmatic perspective—you cannot define Cuba and you’ll go crazy trying. There was one word every tourist commonly used to describe the country, however. VIBRANT.

all photos by Gina Kingsley

For those interested in other trip formats  to Cuba through a travel agent, (cruises, etc) click on the following link:

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