Havana is the capital city, largest city, province, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba.
The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of 728.26 km2 (281.18 sq mi) – making it the largest city by area, the most populous city, and the third largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region.
The city is the center of the Cuban government, and home to various ministries, headquarters of businesses and over 90 diplomatic offices.
The city of Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and due to its strategic location it served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the continent becoming a stopping point for the treasure-laden Spanish galleons on the crossing between the New World and the Old World.
The city attracts over a million tourists annually. The historic centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The city is also noted for its history, culture, architecture and monuments.
In May 2015, Havana was officially recognized as one of the New7Wonders Cities together with Vigan, Doha, La Paz, Durban, Beirut, and Kuala Lumpur.
|POPULATION :||City: 2,106,146|
|FOUNDED :||1515 , City status 1592|
|TIME ZONE :||UTC−05:00 (UTC-5) Summer: UTC−04:00 (UTC-4)|
|RELIGION :||85% Roman Catholic, Others 15% (Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, and Santeria)|
|AREA :||728.26 km2 (281.18 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||59 m (194 ft)|
|COORDINATES :||23°08′N 82°23′W|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 50.27%
• Female: 49.73%
|ETHNIC :||White:63.4%, (Galician, Asturian and Canarian were the most common Spanish immigrants), mulatto: 20.4% (White/black mixed race), Black:16.4%, (brought by Spanish colonists from Sub-Saharan Africa), Asian:0.2% (reflecting immigration from China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries)|
|AREA CODE :||7|
|POSTAL CODE :||10xxx–19xxx|
|DIALING CODE :||(+53) 07|
Havana attracts over a million tourists annually, the Official Census for Havana reports that in 2010 the city was visited by 1,176,627 international tourists, a +20.0% increase from 2005.
The city has long been a popular attraction for tourists. Between 1915 and 1930, Havana hosted more tourists than any other location in the Caribbean. The influx was due in large part to Cuba's proximity to the United States, where restrictive prohibition on alcohol and other pastimes stood in stark contrast to the island's traditionally relaxed attitude to leisure pursuits. A pamphlet published by E.C. Kropp Co., Milwaukee, WI, between 1921 and 1939 promoting tourism in Havana, Cuba, can be found in the University of Houston Digital Library, Havana, Cuba, The Summer Land of the World, Digital Collection.
With the deterioration of Cuba – United States relations and the imposition of the trade embargo on the island in 1961, tourism dropped drastically and did not return to anything close to its pre-revolution levels until 1989. The revolutionary government in general, and Fidel Castro in particular, initially opposed any considerable development of the tourism industry, linking it to the debauchery and criminal activities of times past. In the late 1970s, however, Castro changed his stance and, in 1982, the Cuban government passed a foreign investment code which opened a number of sectors, tourism included, to foreign capital.
Through the creation of firms open to such foreign investment (such as Cubanacan), Cuba began to attract capital for hotel development, managing to increase the number of tourists from 130,000 (in 1980) to 326,000 (by the end of that decade).
Havana has also been a popular health tourism destination for more than 20 years. Foreign patients travel to Cuba, Havana in particular, for a wide range of treatments including eye-surgery, neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinsons disease, and orthopaedics. Many patients are from Latin America, although medical treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, often known as night blindness, has attracted many patients from Europe and North America.
THINGS TO SEE
The Old Town of Havana, La Habana Vieja is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and strolling along its streets and enjoying the beautiful buildings is a must for any visitor. Some parts of the Old Town are quite dilapidated with crumbling buildings but many others have been restored to their former glory.
An evening walk along the Prado is a great way to sip in the street life and enjoying the hums of numerous cafes and restaurants. The street is however not illuminated at night. Another favorite stroll for tourists and locals alike is along El Malecón, Havanas waterfront with stunning views of the city.
- Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolución), Refugio No 1. Housed in the former presidential palace this iconic museum offers a history tour from pre-Columbian to the revolution in 1959 an on to present day socialist Cuba. Even if there's more than a hint of propaganda among the exhibitions it's still a must on any visit to Havana. Admission CUC$6, use of camera CUC$2 extra.
- National Capitol Building (El Capitolio), Paseo de Martí, 422, Completed in 1929, this neoclassical building which resembles the U.S. Capitol housed the Cuban congress prior to the revolution. The building is currently being restored and will within a few years once again house the National Assembly.
- Partagás Cigar factory (Fábrica de Tabaco Partagas), Calle Industria 520 (Behind the Capitol Building), A guided visit to the orignal Partagás factory gives a wealth of information about production and cultivation of tobacco and cigars. It is also theplace for buying authentic Cuban cigars, more expensive than on the street but with fantastic quality. CUC$10 for a guided tour, no photography allowed.
- Havana Club Rum Museum (Museo del Ron Havana Club), Avenida del Puerto 262. Go on a guided tour of Havana Club, one of Cuba's most famous rums. Most of the exhibits are subtitled in English and are fairly self-explanatory.
- Plaza de la Revolución. Huge square dominated by a statue and monument of Jose Marti and the iconic image of Che Guevara adorning the Ministry of the Interior. Arrive either early or late, as it is often swamped by tourists and gets very hot during the day.
- Lennon Park (Parque Lennon), Calle 8 (In Vedado). Features the only statue of a western musician in Havana. Notable for the regularly stolen (and replaced) eyeglasses.
- US Special Interests building, Calle Calzada (In Vedado, just off El Malecón). In the absence of a United States embassy in Cuba, this heavily fortified and guarded building is where Cuban citizens go to apply for US Visas. It was notable for displaying news which is unfiltered and not censored by the Cuban government on electronic billboards situated behind the windows of one of the floors, but these were switched off in 2009. It is also the focus for regularly staged protests.
- Hotel Habana Libre in Vedado. The hotel housed Castro's soldiers for several days after they took Havana. It has an excellent selection of photos in the lobby along with one of the only 24 hour fast food restaurants in the city.
- Enjoy extraordinary 360-degree views of the city using the large Cámara Oscura in the old town.
- Havana Cathedral (Catedral de La Habana) (In Old Havana). Originally built in the 18th century but redesigned in the 1940s this church is a prime example of Baroque architecture in Cuba. Houses the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Cuba.
- Plaza de Armas. Spacious and elegant, the square is surrounded by baroque constructions that give it an authentic colonial milieu. It was laid out during the 1600s, replacing an old plaza which acted as the center of religious, administrative and military activity. Until the mid-18th century, it was used for military exercises and parades. After its remodeling between the years 1771-1838, it became a favored meeting spot for the city's wealthy. Today it is also known as Céspedes Park, in honor of the country´s Founding Father, whose monument stands at its center. This square is one of the most outstanding in the city, enlivened by vendors of antiques and classical books on Latin American and world literature. Attractions of remarkable historical value lay around the square such as the capok tree (Ceiba) under which the first mass for the city´s founding was officiated in 1519.
- The Royal Force Castle (Castillo de la Real Fuerza), Plaza des Armas. The oldest bastioned fortress in the New World, completed 1577. It now houses Cuba's premier maritime museum with excellent exhibits of Cuba’s maritime past, from pre-Columbian days through to the 18th Century with the Royal Shipyard of Havana, one of the largest in the world which built nearly 200 ships for the Spanish Crown. The museum includes a huge model of Santisima Trinidad, one of the largest ships in the world during the 18th Century. The fort is also a great location for viewing the harbour and city skyline.
- Museo Nacional the Bellas Artes, Trocadero, btwn Agraminte and Av de las Misiones.This museum consits of two parts: international and cuban art. In the part of Arte Cubano art-lovers can spend hours admiring the works of the last centuries exhibited on three floors.CUC 8.
Havana lies on the northern coast of Cuba, south of the Florida Keys, where the Gulf of Mexico joins the Atlantic Ocean. The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbours: Marimelena, Guanabacoa, and Atarés. The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay.
The low hills on which the city lies rise gently from the deep blue waters of the straits. A noteworthy elevation is the 200-foot-high (60-metre) limestone ridge that slopes up from the east and culminates in the heights of La Cabaña and El Morro, the sites of colonial fortifications overlooking the eastern bay. Another notable rise is the hill to the west that is occupied by the University of Havana and the Prince's Castle. Outside the city, higher hills rise on the west and east.
Havana has a diversified economy, with traditional sectors, such as manufacturing, construction, transportation and communications, and new or revived ones such as biotechnology and tourism.
The city's economy first developed on the basis of its location, which made it one of the early great trade centres in the New World. Sugar and a flourishing slave trade first brought riches to the city, and later, after independence, it became a renowned resort. Despite efforts by Fidel Castro's government to spread Cuba's industrial activity to all parts of the island, Havana remains the centre of much of the nation's industry.
The traditional sugar industry, upon which the island's economy has been based for three centuries, is centred elsewhere on the island and controls some three-fourths of the export economy. But light manufacturing facilities, meat-packing plants, and chemical and pharmaceutical operations are concentrated in Havana. Other food-processing industries are also important, along with shipbuilding, vehicle manufacturing, production of alcoholic beverages (particularly rum), textiles, and tobacco products, particularly the world-famous Habanos cigars.
Although the harbours of Cienfuegos and Matanzas, in particular, have been developed under the revolutionary government, Havana remains Cuba's primary port facility; 50% of Cuban imports and exports pass through Havana. The port also supports a considerable fishing industry.
In 2000, nearly 89% of the city's officially recorded labour force worked for government-run agencies, institutions or enterprises. Havana, on average, has the country's highest incomes and human development indicators. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba re-emphasized tourism as a major industry leading to its recovery. Tourism is now Havana and Cuba's primary economic source.
Havana's economy is still in flux, despite Raul Castro's embrace of free enterprise in 2011. Though there was an uptick in small businesses in 2011, many have since gone out of business, due to lack of business and income on the part of the local residents, whose salaries average $20 per month.
In the late 1990s Vedado, located along the atlantic waterfront, started to represent the principal commercial area. It was developed extensively between 1930 and 1960, when Havana developed as a major destination for U.S. tourists; high-rise hotels, casinos, restaurants, and upscale commercial establishments, many reflecting the art deco style.
Vedado is today Havana's financial district, the main banks, airline companies offices, shops, most businesses headquarters, numerous high-rise apartments and hotels, are located in the area. The University of Havana is located in Vedado.
Conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar founded Havana on August 25, 1515 or 1514, on the southern coast of the island, near the present town of Surgidero de Batabanó, or more likely on the banks of the Mayabeque River close to Playa Mayabeque. All attempts to found a city on Cuba's south coast failed. However, an early map of Cuba drawn in 1514 places the town at the mouth of this river.
Between 1514 and 1519 the Spanish established at least two different settlements on the north coast, one of them in La Chorrera, today in the neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar, next to the Almendares River. The town that became Havana finally originated adjacent to what was then called Puerto de Carenas (literally, "Careening Bay"), in 1519. The quality of this natural bay, which now hosts Havana's harbor, warranted this change of location.
Pánfilo de Narváez gave Havana — the sixth town founded by the Spanish on Cuba — its name: San Cristóbal de la Habana. The name combines San Cristóbal, patron saint of Havana. Shortly after the founding of Cuba's first cities, the island served as little more than a base for the Conquista of other lands.
Havana began as a trading port, and suffered regular attacks by buccaneers, pirates, and French corsairs. The first attack and resultant burning of the city was by the French corsair Jacques de Sores in 1555. Such attacks convinced the Spanish Crown to fund the construction of the first fortresses in the main cities — not only to counteract the pirates and corsairs, but also to exert more control over commerce with the West Indies, and to limit the extensive contrabando (black market) that had arisen due to the trade restrictions imposed by the Casa de Contratación of Seville (the crown-controlled trading house that held a monopoly on New World trade).
Ships from all over the New World carried products first to Havana, in order to be taken by the fleet to Spain. The thousands of ships gathered in the city's bay also fueled Havana's agriculture and manufacture, since they had to be supplied with food, water, and other products needed to traverse the ocean.
On December 20, 1592, King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City. Later on, the city would be officially designated as "Key to the New World and Rampart of the West Indies" by the Spanish Crown. In the meantime, efforts to build or improve the defensive infrastructures of the city continued.
Havana expanded greatly in the 17th century. New buildings were constructed from the most abundant materials of the island, mainly wood, combining various Iberian architectural styles, as well as borrowing profusely from Canarian characteristics.
In 1649 a very fatal epidemic brought from Cartagena in Colombia, affected a third of the population of Havana. By the middle of the 18th century Havana had more than seventy thousand inhabitants, and was the third-largest city in the Americas, ranking behind Lima and Mexico City but ahead of Boston and New York. During the 18th century Havana was the most important of the Spanish ports because it had facilities where ships could be refitted and, by 1740, it had become Spain's largest and most active shipyard and only drydock in the New World.
The city was captured by the British during the Seven Years' War. The episode began on June 6, 1762, when at dawn, a British fleet, comprising more than 50 ships and a combined force of over 11,000 men of the Royal Navy and Army, sailed into Cuban waters and made an amphibious landing east of Havana. The British immediately opened up trade with their North American and Caribbean colonies, causing a rapid transformation of Cuban society. Less than a year after Havana was seized, the Peace of Paris was signed by the three warring powers thus ending the Seven Years' War. The treaty gave Britain Florida in exchange for the return of the city of Havana on to Spain.
After regaining the city, the Spanish transformed Havana into the most heavily fortified city in the Americas. Construction began on what was to become the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña, the third biggest Spanish fortification in the New World after Fort San Cristobal (the biggest) and Fort San Felipe del Morro both in San Juan, Puerto Rico. On January 15, 1796, the remains of Christopher Columbus were transported to the island from Santo Domingo. They rested here until 1898, when they were transferred to Seville's Cathedral, after Spain's loss of Cuba.
As trade between Caribbean and North American states increased in the early 19th century, Havana became a flourishing and fashionable city. Havana's theaters featured the most distinguished actors of the age, and prosperity among the burgeoning middle-class led to expensive new classical mansions being erected. During this period Havana became known as the Paris of the Antilles.
Republican period and Post-revolution
The 20th century began with Havana, and therefore Cuba, under occupation by the United States. The US occupation officially ended when Tomás Estrada Palma, first president of Cuba, took office on 20 May 1902.
During the Republican Period, from 1902 to 1959, the city saw a new era of development. Cuba recovered from the devastation of war to become a well-off country, with the third largest middle class in the hemisphere. Apartment buildings to accommodate the new middle class, as well as mansions for the Cuban tycoons, were built at a fast pace.
Numerous luxury hotels, casinos and nightclubs were constructed during the 1930s to serve Havana's burgeoning tourist industry. In the 1930s, organized crime characters were not unaware of Havana's nightclub and casino life, and they made their inroads in the city. Santo Trafficante, Jr. took the roulette wheel at the Sans Souci Casino, Meyer Lansky directed the Hotel Habana Riviera, with Lucky Luciano at the Hotel Nacional Casino. At the time, Havana became an exotic capital of appeal and numerous activities ranging from marinas, grand prix car racing, musical shows and parks.
Havana achieved the title of being the Latin American city with the biggest middle class population per-capita, simultaneously accompanied by gambling and corruption where gangsters and stars were known to mix socially. During this era, Havana was generally producing more revenue than Las Vegas, Nevada. In 1958, about 300,000 American tourists visited the city.
After the revolution of 1959, the new régime under Fidel Castro promised to improve social services, public housing, and official buildings. Nevertheless, after Castro's abrupt expropriation of all private property and industry (May 1959 onwards) under a strong communist model backed by the Soviet Union followed by the U.S. embargo, shortages that affected Cuba in general hit Havana especially hard. By 1966-1968, the Cuban government had nationalized all privately owned business entities in Cuba, down to "certain kinds of small retail forms of commerce"
A severe economic downturn occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Soviet subsidies ended, representing billions of dollars which the Soviet Union had given the Cuban government. Many believed that Havana's Soviet-backed régime would soon vanish, as happened to the Soviet satellite states of Eastern Europe. However, contrary to events in Europe, Havana's communist régime continued during the 1990s.
After many years of prohibition, the communist government increasingly turned to tourism for new financial revenue, and has allowed foreign investors to build new hotels and develop the hospitality industry. In Old Havana, effort has also gone into rebuilding for tourist purposes, and a number of streets and squares have been rehabilitated. But Old Havana is a large city, and the restoration efforts concentrate in all on less than 10% of its area.