Out of the five central plazas in Old Havana, one of my favorites for her beauty and elegance is Plaza Vieja or “Old Square”. Built in 1559 as a public square after the construction of the Plaza des Armas and Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, Plaza Vieja was originally called Plaza Nueva (New Square). Only six years earlier, Havana had been declared the capital of Cuba (being moved from Santiago) and the Spaniards were ready to use their newly found wealth to begin creating colonial Havana.
Unfortunately, Plaza Vieja has a rather sad past much like a lot of Cuba. Plaza Vieja was where the wealthy watched bullfights, executions and slave trading from the luxury of their balconies above. Like many parts of the world, slavery was entrenched in Cuba’s success and the wealthy sugar and tobacco plantation owners greed can be found in the beautiful buildings left behind.
You can see lovely examples of traditional Cuban architecture from colonial times found within the brilliantly colored glass windows, the beautiful balconies and the brightly hued buildings.
Nowadays, Plaza Vieja remains a beautiful square filled with traditional Cuban architecture and a few outdoor cafes. It is a picturesque area to walk around along the cobblestone streets and sweeping views of Havana’s historical past. What I enjoyed most about the square: The people. Here are some photos in which I tried to capture daily Cuban life.
I could have spent the entire afternoon sitting outside at this wonderful outdoor cafe watching the world go by but of course since I was on my walking tour of Old Havana there wasn’t time. What a shame! But I did manage to snap a few more interesting photos from Plaza Vieja and her surroundings which give a feel of Cuban life.
As we were leaving the square, I saw these “entrepreneurs“: a new lifestyle and way of living in Communist Cuba that is slowly but surely being permitted by the government and is improving people’s lives.
Old Havana is a lovely place yet it is so encrusted in tumultuous history. Today, over 2.2 million out of Cuba’s estimated 11 million people are crunched together living in Havana creating a lot of problems with overcrowding. Life in Cuba is hard with little money, little space, long lines, slow internet, empty stores and little freedom. I look forward to exploring these issues in more depth as I continue on my series on Cuba.