The Plaza de Armas
of Old Havana, also known as Plaza Mayor
(Main Square), is the oldest in the city and takes its name from the various ceremonies and military events taking place in it since the late sixteenth century. At the time of its construction in 1519, the square was smaller, but in 1586 several houses were demolished to allow its expansion. The last renovation dates from 1589 resulting in a place almost identical to the current square.
In colonial times, the Main Square was the administrative center of the city and the site of open town-hall meetings of Havana residents. Here, town criers proclaimed the latest developments and announced the new rules and regulations established by the authorities.
On the east side of the Plaza de Armas
is the Palace of the General Captains (Governors). The building occupies an entire block and is considered one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Latin America. Its construction began in 1776. From 1791 until 1898, the Palace was the seat of 65 General Captains sent from Spain to administer the Cuban colony. Between 1899 and 1902 it was also the base of the United States’ Administrator during the first occupation of Cuba by the United States which took place following the Cuban revolt against Spain and the sinking of the battleship USS Maine
in Havana harbor in February 1898. In 1902, until 1920, the building became the Presidential Palace of the Republic of Cuba. Today, the elegant building houses the Museum of the City
exhibiting artistic and historic artifacts of Havana from its beginnings to the present.
The Plaza Mayor
of Old Havana, is one of the most shaded and pleasant locations in the city. In the center of the square, amid lush vegetation including palms and coral trees (ceibo
), stands the white marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes
(1819-1874), first president of the Republic of Cuba.
De Céspedes was a landowner and Cuban patriot who in 1868, after freeing all his slaves, declared the independence of Cuba from Spain prompting the "Ten-Year War"
, the first of the three liberation wars of Cuba against the Spanish Crown. Among the curious aspects of de Céspedes’ life is his fondness for chess which he practiced until the day of his death. Since 1980, Cuba holds the "Carlos Manuel de Céspedes In Memoriam
Chess Tournament". In 2013, this time with the category of an International Tournament, the event will take place October 16-27 in the city of Bayamo
, de Céspedes birthplace and where chess was played for the first time in Cuba.
The Square and the Palace of the General Captains of Old Havana is frequented by souvenir vendors, sellers of literary, historic, and revolutionary books, and Cuban rhythm's musicians. The video at the end of this report shows the presentation of Elisa, singer of Cuban folksongs and peanut vendor. Elisa’s performance singing “The Peanut Vendor”, complete with a self-introduction, and ending with a charming wink and a kiss, is a precious memento of my visit to Old Havana’s Main Square.