Majestically set in historic Old Habana, Plaza Vieja, the Old Square, is a timeless reminder of both the grandiose architectural style of the Colonial era and the compelling largesse of Old Habana. The plaza’s open-air cobbled walking and strolling walks encircle a romantic marble fountain whose history parallels that of Old Vieja and Havana itself.
The colonial residences were once populated by Cuba’s wealthiest citizens who gathered on balconies of lavish townhomes to witness bullfights, political executions and the buzzing commerce from local mercantile shops and restaurants that lined the perimeter.
Originally, the plaza was originally known as Plaza Nueva (New Square) and served as a bustling open-air market. The construction of the stunning townhomes, completion of the intricate cobblestone walkways and erection of the hand-crafted fountain quickly elevated Plaza Nueva to prominence in the mid-16h century. Habana’s Creole plutocracy quickly migrated to the fashionable center of Habana. The impressive plaza served as a residential alternative to Habana’s imposing Plaza de Armas, a military and governmental center.
During the 18th century, Plaza Nueva came to be known as Plaza del Mercado (Market Square). With the construction of a new market square (Mercado Nuevo) in the Plaza del Santo Cristo in 1814, Plaza Nueva was renamed Plaza Vieja (Old Square).
In its storied 500-year tenure, the plaza has been known by several other names including, Plaza Real, Mayor, Mercado, Fernando VII, Plaza of the Constitution, Park Juan Bruno Zaya and Park Julian Grimau.
20th Century Change
The events that unfolded in the 20th century in Plaza Vieja reflect many of the seemingly inexplicable decisions and self-serving actions by politicians, aristocrats and national leaders in Cuba during the century. In 1930, President Gerardo Machado ordered construction of an underground parking lot beneath the plaza. In 1953, Cuba’s dictator, Fulgencio Batista, demolished the fountain and ordered construction of a new car in the area under the fountain.
When Old Habana was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in the 1980’s, architects and construction companies set about reconstructing Plaza Vieja. Today, Plaza Vieja is the most picturesque and historic plaza in Havana.
Much like in the 16th century, the cobbled square comes alive with children, shoppers and couples admiring the rebuilt marble fountain. With a population of more than 17,000, Plaza Vieja and surrounds comprise one of seven consejos populares that in Old Habana.
Cuba’s only microbrewery, the vivacious Taberna de la Muralla, is located on the square that is overseen by the spectacular Camara Oscura tower where tourists and natives regularly gather to enjoy a panoramic 360 degree view of Old Habana. Quiet sidewalk cafes are eager to please and offer a pleasant venue from which the timeless magic of Plaza Vieja takes place before your eyes.