Plaza de Armas, Havana
This square is located in the city centre close to Havana Cathedral and the sea. Surrounded by plants, it is lined on all sides by marble benches. Curiously, the numerous lamps that light the square are not powered by electricity but rather gas, just like in times long past. During the day the square is frequented by second-hand booksellers and at night by a whole host of people, many of them attracted by the surrounding restaurants and bars.
This is the oldest square in Old Havana, dating back to 1519. There is a market here Wednesday through Saturday which is a great place to find old books.
We saw an absolutely beautiful hostel in this square - it looked like it used to be a private mansion. Unfortunately I was so tired by this time I forget the name of the hostel.... sorry. :(
An excellent place to start a tour of Havana is old Havana and where better to begin than the place where the city is said to have been founded?
Plaza de Armas, dominated by the museo de la Ciudad , which is set in the old Palacio de los Capitanes Generales that once was home of the highest colonial authority in Cuba and a former Presidential Palace. The oldest building in this square is the i Castillo de le Real Fuerza, a 16th century colonial fortress surrounded by a moat, today home to the Museo de la Ceramica Artistica. Nearby the square there is a market with some handicrafts and many many jineteros trying to sell cigars.
A short stroll heading south east of Plaza de la Catedral brings you to the picturesque Plaza de Armas. Here under the shade of lush tropical trees you can browse the stalls of the second hand book market for Revolutionary literature and books on Che or Fidel. Alternately you can just sit out of the sun for a few moments, relaxing and taking in the atmosphere.
Dating back to the 17th century, the Plaza de Armas is located between the Plaza de la Catedral and La Plaza Vieja. At its center you will see the statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, involved in the first war of Independence (1868). Huge buildings surround the Plaza, including el Castillo de la Real Fuerza (on top of which sits the statue of La Giraldilla, the symbol of Havana, which also appears on bottles of Havana Club rum), el palacio de los Capitanes Generales (home to the city museum), and the natural history museum, a not-so-great looking building that used to be the siege of the American Embassy in Cuba. Apparently there's a nice terrace on top of the building but we were told that the elevator could only take two people up at a time - by then we had already had our fair share of adventures in Cuba and decided to pass.
You can also take a look at (or visit) El Templete. It was built in 1828 to mark the spot was the city was founded in 1519. There's not much to see inside the building, but you get the chance to make a wish by going around the "lucky tree" three times and making a small donation. Finally, on most sunny days, booksellers gather around the Plaza de Armas to sell second-hand books. Most books deal with Fidel Castro, Jose Marti, Che Guevara and other national figures, but I did find a copy of "El Principito" by Saint-Exupere.
Museo de la Ciudad dominates la Plaza de Armas and occupies the magnificent old Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, once home of the highest colonial authority in Cuba and a former Presidential Palace. This popular museum gives an overview of the history of Havana from its founding until the present day.
The oldest building in this square is actually just to the side – the impressive Castillo de le Real Fuerza, a 16th-century colonial fortress surrounded by a moat, today home to the Museo de la Ceramica Artistica.
For visitors wishing to deviate from a cultural tour, the nearby market is the best place in Havana for local arts and crafts.
First urban center in the San Cristobal de la Habana Villa. El Templete is in its limits, and indicates the site in which, according to the tradition, the first mass and town council meeting were held.
Plaza de Armas was the center of city life and the seat of authority and power for centuries. The present plaza existed for more than 200 years. Prior to that, the plaza was laid out for military purposes. The center of the plaza has a marble statue of the 19th century revolutionary leader Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, and surrounding it is a park with tall palm trees and bird baths. Just outside the park, there are lots of vendors with racks and racks of used books.
There are benches around the park, and it is a great place to rest for both Cubans and toursits under the shades of the palm trees.