Havana at 500: 440 years of progress and 60 years of neglect
Requiem for a great metropolis at 500
La Habana, Havana for Gringos, is a great city that deserves to be honored and celebrated especially on its 500th anniversary. The Spanish still feel close ties to Havana and Cuba. Remember that for 383 years of its history a Spanish flag flew over Cuba.
On August 25, 1515 Spanish Conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar founded San Cristóbal de La Habana, on the southern coast of Cuba, near what is today the town of Surgidero de Batabanó in Mayabeque province.
Four years later on November 16, 1519, Havana was founded at its present location. Havana would thrive and flourish for centuries. Theodore Dalrymple in a 2002 essay “Why Havana had to die” described in shorthand the evolution of this great metropolis.“No words can do justice to the architectural genius of Havana, a genius that extended from the Renaissance classicism of the sixteenth century, with severe but perfectly proportioned houses containing colonnaded courtyards cooled and softened by tropical trees and shrubs, to the flamboyant art deco of the 1930s and 40s. The Cubans of successive centuries created a harmonious architectural whole almost without equal in the world. There is hardly a building that is wrong, a detail that is superfluous or tasteless. The tiled multi-coloration of the Bacardi building, for example, which might be garish elsewhere, is perfectly adapted—natural, one might say—to the Cuban light, climate, and temper. Cuban architects understood the need for air and shade in a climate such as Cuba’s, and they proportioned buildings and rooms accordingly. They created an urban environment that, with its arcades, columns, verandas, and balconies, was elegant, sophisticated, convenient, and joyful.”
My father who left Cuba during the Batista dictatorship described Havana as a place of music. Walking block by block there were different groups playing live music in different cafes, night clubs and gathering places. The Malecon was the place to people watch.
Havana was a vast place where people of social classes, races, and religions worked and partied together.
The Castro regime and its sympathizers try to portray what existed before in the most unfavorable light possible, but reality has a way of crushing their propaganda campaigns.
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