La Habana, a pillar in time
Cuba, a short country name, long and narrow land shape, known as the largest island in the West Indies; is the caiman-shaped land placed in the Caribbean Sea that becomes the guardian at the confluence of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
Its tropical climate and prolonged droughts or intense rains are the images of weather conditions where high humidity is a constant feature during the whole year. Hurricanes, ruthless enemies, severely punish the island almost every year but this not a reason for its inhabitants, whose will remains intact before any every day adversity, to give up.
To talk about what is historically true can promote debate. There is only one reality but it is open to many interpretations. Nothing like Fernando Ortiz Fernández words, “the true history of Cuba is the history of its very intricate transculturation”.
Indigenous population at first, then a mixture of European and Africans people that was enriched years later along with other ethnics and cultural identities, are today the reflection of a complex skein in which different origins find themselves intertwined but, as a result, the formation of a very true identity.
Its capital, Havana, was one of the first villa founded by the Spaniards at the beginning of XVI century. Thanks to its location and the characteristics of its bay, Havana became an important business center, reason why it was attacked and sacked by corsairs and pirates. For its protection, some fortifications were built at the entrance of Havanan bay. These stone-made jewels have been treasured as living relics of colonial age and, therefore, they will make us to go back to those years after visiting them. The Havana architecture as a product of miscegenation, responds to a certain extent to that historic legacy accentuated by the walled city as an urban construction concept. Thus, a city with limited spaces to facilitate its defense flourished, and hence suitable for the construction of houses and buildings. The distance between these two later had to be minimum, wall-wall divisions, patio-patio and their front the larger part would ended in one of the many squares where races, social classes and different religions mixed. It is when the almost natural predisposition to hospitality, the curiosity about the inner world of the neighborhood and the enormous capacity to assimilate heterogeneity grew in Cuban’s social consciousness.
Every night at 21:00 hrs, a loud noise breaks the silence of the night that takes us back in time. It is a military ceremony in the fortress of La Cabaña, the “cañonazo”, a tradition that reminds us the closing of the city walls, which is today one of the special tourist attractions declared Cultural Heritage of Cuba Nation.
The love stories become symbols and Havana proudly reveals its romanticism showing bronze sculptures like La Giraldilla. This metal-made lady looking at sea horizon, is the woman in love, Isabel de Bobadilla, who waited for her husband return in one of the ships. Since XVII century, the story became a legend when the inspiration of a Havanan artist, Gerónimo Martín Pinzón (1607- 1649), struck and carved a little statue to remember the marital fidelity and hope for return.
The saltpeter joins the wind and a walk along the seafront means more than a company of sea and breeze for about five miles. The tour begins in the Paseo del Prado, where some bronze lions, made from metal of the fortresses cannons, are found. They are the eight guardians who guard the first asphalt avenue in Havana since the neocolonial time. Down the avenue, the lighthouse of the Castillo del Morro, also an icon of the city, breaks the horizon line with its vertical position. It reminds us a popular song wrote in the last century that would say: “Havana has three things that Madrid hasn’t... the Morro, La Cabaña and to see the boats come in”. The view follows the concrete wall which is a place of entertainment on those nights when a “blackout” or lack of power supply makes people to go out for a while to get rid of the suffocating heat and sit on it to enjoy the cool breeze, a gift of the Caribbean for all.
The seafront ends at the tunnel that connects with other main arteries, the “Fifth Avenue”, known before as the “Avenue of the Americas” but today labeled Avenue of the Embassies because most of Embassies of the world are located here. The oldest places are grouped in the center of Old Havana that was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982 because of its historic treasures and preservation of architectural and cultural heritage.
Among the narrow streets that are like veins, the Callejón del Templete that could be one of the smallest street of world since it is just 20 m long and 3 m wide, can be found.
The Catedral de la Habana, the Plaza de Armas, the Museo de la Revolución, the Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Capitolio and the Gran Teatro de la Habana, that has been the home to Opera and Classic Ballet, among others, are some of the important monuments in the city.
The Cuban literature and the greatest exponents of it have gave an excellent summary of Havana where a true representation is used for associating Havana with another of its identity symbols: the columns. In one of his essays as a declaration of love to the city where he was born, Alejo Carpentier wrote: “a city that is an emporium of columns, a jungle of columns, an infinite colonnade, the last city to possess columns in such amazing excess, columns that, moreover, having abandoned original patios, began to retrace the columns’ decadence through the ages” (Alejo Carpentier, City of Columns).
Sometimes, the city dweller doesn’t pay attention to the combined Antillean baroque style of its shapes and to the amount of them assembling an army to safeguard inhabitants’ dreams and working as an umbrella to protect people from the sun exposure and rain. They have shown their resistance when a hurricane strikes the city proving they are strong and have survived to building collapses making people wonder if they belong to a new construction or an old one that doesn’t exist anymore duo to deterioration over time or negligence.
Where is Havana? Is it a jealousy city seeking refuge in those centuries that gets past its existence while trying to recover the splendor of its baroque style tarnished by the lack of interest and long waiting times? Its traces go beyond what characterized a glorious past and therefore, any effort to just undertake a makeup restoration of old places in the middle of so much distress shall be rewarded.
The unfinished Havana, just as Carpentiers’ thoughts, still lacks the same old parts and others more modern that were added later. Time is continuously damaging the same columns but this city, with those perfect elements for its construction and development, has lived thanks to its pillars. It is time for those who appreciate the kindness of what “it was” with servile complacency, sit under the shades of these pilasters.