Plaza De Armas: Where Tourism, History and Art Come Together
Like most Spanish settlements in the Colonial era, the Plaza de Armas was designed as a designated square or block in the new settlements around which government buildings were constructed. The Plaza de Armas or Plaza Mayor, was the safety net of last resort where residents could retreat in the threat of danger. The design scheme was actually borrowed from Roman Empire city planners.
In Havana’s rich history, the Plaza de Armas has played an important role since the 16th century. Aside from being an inner city fortress and central storage area for the most modern weaponry, the Plaza was the site of Cuba’s most ceremonial parades and other military events. The Plaza de Armas has been a central gathering location form Havana and Cuba since its creation.
After an ambitious renovation project by government, the Plaza de Armas has been restored to its past glory. The magnificent architecture of the surrounding buildings makes this center a tourist haven where days could be spent marveling the architecture or the work of some of Cuba’s most promising artists.
It has been estimated that more than 1 million tourists visit the Plaza de Armas every year. Fueled by the many works of art that can be purchased in open-air booths and lively coffee shops and restaurants, Plaza de Armas buzzes with energy and optimism. As artists carefully display their work, tourists can spend hours mulling over their options and chatting with all sorts of creative masters.
In the Plaza and on the side streets leading to the plaza, there are fascinating buildings, museums and sites steeped in history. The Calle Oficidos offers a collection of vintage cars while the Calle Obispo focuses on Cuba’s and Havana’s historic architecture. The Palacio de los Capitanes and the Museo de la Ciudad are tourist and native favorites where history buffs can trace Havana’s development from its relocation from the south to its present site and its phenomenal growth.
One of the main attractions at Plaza de Armas is the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, originally built in the 16th century. Designed to defend Havana, the elaborate fortress was strategically in the wrong place. Rather than an imposing fortress, the Castillo served as a central storage location and provided housing to Cuba’s upper echelon officers.
Though the Castillo de la Real Fuerza may have suffered from poor siting, it remains and architectural wonder. With 10 meter high walls that are 6 meters thick and surrounded by an imposing moat with drawbridge, the fortress makes quite an impression.
The Museo Nacional de la Ceramica Cubana is located within the fortress and ranks high on Havana’s list of 50 plus museums. The museum holds the works of some of Cuba’s most respected artists as well as works by promising new talent.
Designed by Antonion Fernandez de Trebajops y Zalvidar, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is a stunning example of colonial largesse. Today, the central courtyard is home to large concerts but the structure’s architecture give reason to pause. The limestone façade and stained glass windows give testimony to the renovation project. Fittingly, a statue of Christopher Columbus presides from the center of the courtyard.
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