Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
Old Havana © Byron Howes
Old Havana (Habana Vieja) is a very special area in Cuba which delights travellers and locals alike. This historic section of Cuba's capital was founded in 1519 and for centuries was an important naval port of colonial Spain. Being in such a strategic position, the city was targeted by pirates and fought over on numerous occasions, and the ruins of the defensive walls that surrounded the city can still be seen.
During the years of Prohibition in the United States, Habana Vieja turned into a playground for Americans who flocked here for the cheap liquor, gambling, prostitution and hedonistic lifestyle. One of the district's most famous bars is La Bodeguita Del Medio, which was the favoured haunt of legendary US writer, Ernest Hemingway.
The Old City now also contains museums, hotels, restaurants and shops lining the original cobble-stoned streets. Surrounding the picturesque squares (plazas) are beautiful restored colonial buildings with grand facades, and striking churches that form a magnificent setting for the late afternoon chess and domino games and salsa music. The Plaza de Armas was the seat of power in Cuba for 400 years, being the base of operations for the Spanish Captain's General, US military governors and the Cuban president, and today is home to an interesting book market, among other things.