Havana is Cuba’s cultural, political, and administrative center, with weathered splendorous structures, chrome flashing Cadillacs, and salsa rhythms. The socialist republic’s capital has had a turbulent past. Havana became a hub for the US Mafia because the “Gateway to the New World” drew sailors and merchants.
The New World’s Entrance
Due to its advantageous location, Havana, which was founded in 1519, quickly became the most significant port city in the Caribbean. The Spanish conquerors’ ships dock in the harbour, loaded with gold, silver, and the treasures of Mexico’s indigenous people. The city becomes Spain’s foothold in Latin America, the “Gateway to the New World.”
It takes over as the capital from Santiago de Cuba, which is located in the south of the island, in 1552. Because of the frequent invasions by English and French warships, the Spanish crown constructs defenses. The stronghold La Punta and the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro are constructed.
The British fleet captures Havana in 1762 during the conflict between Spain and England. During the occupation, a brisk trade between Cuba and North America develops. The British, on the other hand, trade Havana for Florida after 10 months.
Spain maintains its colonial power over the entire island of Cuba. The slave trade, tobacco production, and the sugar boom bring growing affluence to a small ruling class at the end of the 18th century. The majority of individuals are poor.
Mafia and sugar barons
Havana in the nineteenth century is regarded as one of the most magnificent towns on the American continent, with newly constructed palaces, roads, and theaters. Cuba declared a republic on May 20, 1902, but under the control of the United States. Until the revolution, the capital was defined by the “American way of life.” Gambling, drug peddling, and prostitution flourish in Havana’s “filthy beauty” during the Roaring Twenties.
In the 1940s, American mafia bosses competed for the right to build opulent hotels. The “Nacional” and “Capri” hotels are completed, and the demimonde of Havana congregates in their infamous nightclubs.
Meyer-Lanski, the Mafia boss, personally commissions the development of the beautiful hotel “Riviera.” The “Havana Hilton” opens in 1958, towering over the Havana skyline with its 25 floors. Before the revolution in 1959, the famed nightclub “Tropicana” was also established.
Havana in the aftermath of the revolution
On January 1, 1959, the country’s ruler, Fulgencio Batista, fled the island, and Fidel Castro triumphed in Havana. They established their first seat of government in the hotel “Havana Hilton” with Ernesto Guevara (nicknamed “Che” – Argentine for “friend”) and other loyalists. The hotel is nationalized only two years afterwards. It’s now known as “Habana Libre” (“Free Havana”).
Satellite cities like Alamar are being created with massive prefabricated housing estates to address the housing deficit. The working class relocates to casinos and villas. However, following the fall of communist administrations in Eastern bloc countries, there was a lack of construction materials in the 1990s. There is still a housing shortage in Havana today. The metropolis has a population of almost two million people.
Life in the Cuban capital
Havana, Cuba’s capital, is famous for its nightlife, which includes cinemas, theaters, cabarets, and nightclubs. Calle Obispo is the city’s principal commercial thoroughfare. The Giraldilla can be found here. The city’s symbol is a two-meter-high bronze figure bearing the Caravaca cross.
Walking into the alleys, on the other hand, displays Havana beyond tourism, with building sites, collapsed houses’ wreckage, and lines in front of state-run grocery stores.
Everywhere you look, you can feel the influence of the government. However, laws have been reduced in recent years, which can be seen in the cityscape, where some independent merchants sell their items on the streets. There are also an increasing number of “paladares” in Havana, which are small private eateries with only a few tables that are often run out of the owners’ houses.
Architecture – Glorious oblivion
The Moorish culture of Andalusia has affected Spanish colonial architecture. The arcades, which can shade entire streets, and the patio, a typically lushly planted interior courtyard, are both typical of the so-called Mudejar design.
After the Revolution, Havana’s urban magnificence was left to its own devices. With their combination of colonial and Art Nouveau, modern and Art Deco, the city’s people moved into the palaces of Spanish merchants and American mob lords. Under the tropical humid sea air and pollutants, the buildings fell.
Havana is a World Cultural Heritage Site.
It wasn’t until 1982, when Unesco declared Old Havana as a World Heritage Site, that things began to change. In Havana’s old town, Unesco identified over 900 buildings worthy of preservation, some of which date back to the 16th century.
Since then, the squares and buildings have been refurbished and reconstructed, sometimes at great expense – primarily with the help of tourism revenue, but occasionally with foreign assistance. Since 1994, the office of city historian Eusebio Leal Spengler has been in charge of the city’s rehabilitation.
A city’s pulsation
The film “Buena Vista Social Club” made Cuban music famous around the world. The “Son,” an alternate chant between choir and vocalist, is at the center of the composition. It evolved from a mix of Afro-Cuban rhythms and Spanish farmer’s guitar music.
It was brought to Havana by migrant sugar cane workers in the 1920s, and it swiftly conquered the capital. It became a symbol of Creole culture and, eventually, the Cuban national beat.
The tres (a tiny guitar with three pairs of strings), a double bass, bongo drums, rumba balls, and the claves (two rhythm sticks that are struck against each other) were all light and portable instruments. The lyrics signaled a new sense of self-assurance: the Havannas, not the beauties of Spain, were being sung about. To this day, the “Son Cubano” has not vanished.
Salsa, on the other hand, has long ago supplanted it as the nighttime favorite in Havana. It is preferable to dance to a quick blend of Cuban rhythms such as son, rumba, cha-cha-cha, and mambo. A popular Cuban dance is the rumba.