Photo by Chana Guy
“The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”
The City of Havana is awash with romanticism, an adage to the vision of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
In the second of this two part series on 2 nights in Havana, I look at what do to outside Havana’s ‘old city’ in order to learn more about the Cuban Revolution and the fascinating and extensive history of this vibrant city.
The Cuban Revolution Museum is located inside the former Cuban Presidential Palace and can be found in the centre of Havana.
Inside the museum, a multitude of artifacts and exhibitions give a timeline of the events that shaped the Cuban Revolution starting with the landing of Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1957 and his overthrow of the government of Fulgencio Batista that was in power at the time. The outside of the building is marked with bullet holes from this overthrow which makes the building in itself, an important historical location in Cuba’s history.
The museum charts the many decades of Castro’s rule looking at his life and activities as well as those of his notable fellow revolutionary Che Guevara.
In the grounds of the Museum stand numerous vehicles that have played an important part in shaping Cuba’s history, information boards beside each providing a detailed explanation of the specific role that each of these played.
The most notable of these vehicles is the Granma Yatch, which stands encased in glass. As the boat in which Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries traversed the Gulf of Mexico to Cuba, it is extremely important in playing a huge part in marking the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.
Plaza de la Revolucion is a notable spot in Havana as the location in which many past political rallies, state functions and political speeches have taken place.
In the centre of the square stands the Jose Marti Memorial, comprised of a memorial tower and a statue of Marti himself. These large and grandiose statues highlight the importance that Jose Marti played in Cuba’s history as one of the symbols of Cuba’s bid for Independence from the Spanish in the 1800s.
Around the plaza stands the National Library, the Palace of the Revolution and many governmental ministries and embassies.
Two of the most prominent ministries are The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Communications. Both have steel structures emblazoned on their facades, the former featuring Che Guevara with the quotation “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until Victory, Always) and the latter featuring Camilo Cienfuegos with the quotation “Vas bien, Fidel” (You’re doing fine, Fidel.)
A guided tour of the Romeo y Julieta Cigar Factory will see you witness the production of some of the most famous brands of Cuban cigar including H.Upman, Romeo and Juliet and Montecristo.
The tour starts from the top of the factory, the first stop demonstrating the end-to-end process of cigar rolling. The process is fascinating and awash with multiple production components all of which are intricate and thorough. The wrapper binding and gluing agent used to keep the cigars together for example, are made from tobacco grown in the same field so as to keep the blend and strength of the cigar as uniform as possible.
The middle floor is where the wrappers for the cigars are prepared, mostly by the women that work at the factory due to their ‘delicate hands’ and the ground floor is where the cigars are packaged into cedar boxes and where visitors have the option to purchase cigars at discounted prices should they wish.
El Malecon is a pedestrian walkway that runs along the sea front of Havana and features a large seawall to separate Havana from the Gulf of Mexico.
Once the symbol of Havana, this majestic promenade still plays host to fantastic views in which the history of Havana shines through however, the majority of buildings that surround the walkway now lie in disrepair.
A walk down the sea front will see you pass a host of musicians, painters and photographers all of whom have their works on show amongst a lively and buzzing atmosphere.
The walkway leads from Old Havana down to the Port of Havana and Havana’s New Town, so those traversing its path are able to get a sense of the huge contrast between the old and the new which is so prevalent within Havana.
Completed in 1646, the Torreón de la Chorrera served as a defensive fortress to protect the Port of Havana from pirates and corsairs.
The fortress was an important stronghold in the city’s defence against British attack in the 18th Century however, it was captured in 1762 by the British Navy who also seized Morro Castle and the high land of Havana.
The views from Torreón de la Chorrera are stunning, overlooking old Havana and the Gulf of Mexico, and visitors can take a seat at the medieval style restaurant and bar that are housed within the walls of the fortress and play host to a lively and energetic atmosphere.
El Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro stands at the entrance to Havana harbour.
Designed by Italian engineer Battista Antonelli, the castle was finished in 1630 and created from local rocks that were extracted from the surrounding area. Built to defend the city of Havana from pirates, the Castle was believed to be invincible until it was captured by the British in 1762.
El Morro Castle is perched on an elevated rock overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and features a deep protective moat, intricate underground tunnels and its own prison. Visitors can opt for a guided tour of the castle or can peruse its walls independently.
The Castillo’s famous lighthouse Faro Castillo del Morro, was added to the fort in 1845 and has become a symbol of Havana offering mesmerising views over the old city of Havana.
El Cristo de la Habana stands on the dock of Havana overlooking its old city. This beautiful marble sculpture was carved in 1953 by Cuban sculptor Jilma Madera.
The walk from the ferry port on the dock of Havana to the statue itself is wonderful, passing the Fortress de San Carlos de La Cabana as well as many local houses along the way giving a real sense into the daily life of the local Cubans.
The view from the top of the statue is breathtaking, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and the city of Havana.
Callejon de Hamel is situated in Central Havana. This narrow two-block alley has become a shrine to Afro-Cubanism, and is awash with vibrant paintings, murals and sculptures that depict various rituals and deities from the Afro-Cuban culture.
Cuban artist, Salvador Gonzalez began the transformation of this area in 1990 creating art from reclaimed materials. As such, visitors can see art made from a wonderful variety of goods from bathtubs and piano keys to bicycle frames and car wheels.
As well as the fantastic display of unique art on show, the area plays host to a wonderful array of music with modern Rumba performances as well as more traditional Afro-Cuban drum performances which are frequently staged.
Fabrica de Arte is a wonderful multi level art space that is hosted within a converted oil factory. Each level within the building is awash with art exhibitions, photography exhibitions, live music performances, dance performances and film performances, every turn within the building allowing for another fantastic discovery.
Every style of art on show gives a contemporary look at Havana’s modern art scene and performance spaces are well laid out allowing guests to sit and observe the many and varied presentations on show.
The concept of Fabrica is fantastic with bars throughout offering guests the chance to indulge in a drink whilst perusing the huge artistic space. As such the atmosphere inside the building is electric.
Additionally, there is a quaint restaurant at the top of the venue allowing visitors to enjoy dinner before entering the warehouse itself.
Check out my guide to 2 nights in Havana, Part I for a detailed look into what to do in Old Havana!
Anything missing that you would like to see added to the list above?
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