In the Plaza de Armas, which in colonial times was the center of official and public life in Havana, stands a monument called El Templete. On its commemorative column there is an inscription in Latin, which means the following:
Stop the step, traveler, decorate this site with a tree, a lush ceiba, rather a memorable sign of the prudence and ancient religion of the young city, since certainly under its shadow the author of health was solemnly immolated in this city. The meeting of the prudent councilors was held for the first time more than two centuries ago: it was preserved by a perpetual tradition: however, it yielded to time. You will see an image made in the stone today, that is, the last of November in the year 1754.
In that place there was a ceiba tree and in the shade the first mass was celebrated and the Cabildo received the custody and custody of the privileges and privileges of the town of Havana, according to custom and usage of the laws of Castile. The commemorative column of the founding of the city was erected by the governor Don Francisco Cagigal de la Vega in 1754, when the ceiba could no longer be sustained.
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But before the founding of Havana, in its current location, the city had, between 1514 and 1519, at least two different settlements: that of 1514, which in one of the first maps of Cuba, that of Paolo Forlano of 1564, locates the town at the mouth of the Onicaxinal River right on the shores of Mayabeque Beach, on the southern coast of Cuba and another settlement in La Chorrera, which is today in the Vedado neighborhood, next to the Almendares River, which the Indians called Casiguaguas, where the founders tried to dam the waters, currently conserving the retaining walls of this hydraulic work, the oldest in the Caribbean.
And the last settlement, which commemorates the Templete as the sixth town founded by the Kingdom of Spain on the island of Cuba, called San Cristóbal de La Habana by Pánfilo de Narváez.
In some maps and writings from the time of the conquest, a strategic military port for the Spanish Crown called Carenas is mentioned that some historians have wanted to associate with the bay of Havana and that in fact could have been due to its position, security and hidden entrance that went unnoticed by those who did not know it carefully. Later, Havana became a very important shipyard and famous for the quality of the woods it used and the skill of its craftsmen and shore carpenters, building here La Santísima Trinidad, a flagship of the Spanish Navy.
On July 10, 1555, the pirate Jacques de Sores attacked and took Havana after besieging the defenders of the primitive fortress for a day and the governor having cowardly fled to the neighboring site of Guanabacoa. Until August 5 he remained here and later, upset by the miserable ransom they gave him, burned the city and stole what he could. It is narrated that he lit the bonfire with the capitular acts and other existing documents. In fact, there is no written reference to the first years of Havana and only the capitular acts from 1556 are once again available.
Havana resurfaced on several occasions from the rubble and ashes to which it was reduced from time to time by French pirates and corsairs during the first half of the 16th century, until in 1561 the Crown ordered the city to be the place of concentration of ships. Spaniards from the American colonies before leaving for the ocean crossing, for which military defenses were built at the entrance to the Bay of Havana and at strategic sites and managed to make it the best-defended city in the New World.
Gold and silver, alpaca wool from the Andes, emeralds from Colombia, mahogany from Cuba and Guatemala, leathers from Guajira, spices, Campeche dye wood, corn, potatoes, cassava, cocoa are the raw materials that arrive on sailboats. to the best protected port in America, between March and August, to form the large convoys that, guarded by military ships, leave on designated days for Spain.
With them, thousands of sailors, officials, settlers, merchants, adventurers arrive in the fledgling city, which grows from the port at a dizzying rate.
On December 20 of the year 1592, Felipe II grants to Havana the title of city, twenty – nine years after the governor of Cuba moved her his official residence from Santiago de Cuba, the seat until then the government of the island.
The strategic importance of Havana and the riches that flow to and from it make it a coveted target for pirates and galleons with marquees of the enemy powers of the Spanish Crown.
Havana was fortified during the seventeenth century by order of the kings who subscribed it as “Key of the New World and Antemural of the West Indies”. At the same time, the city is built with the most abundant materials on the island: woods, which provide the architecture of the time with a peculiar charm in combination with the styles from the Iberian Peninsula and, very profusely, from the Canary Islands.
In 1649 an epidemic of plague arrived from Cartagena de Indias, in Colombia, exterminated a third of the Havana population. The 30 of November of 1665, Queen Mariana of Austria, widow of Felipe IV, ratifies the old shield of Cuba, which had as its symbols the first three castles of the city: the Real Force, the Three Saints Reyes del Morro and San Salvador de la Punta, like three silver towers on a blue field. In addition, a gold key that symbolized the title of “Key of the New World”, granted since ancient times to the city.
During the seventeenth century the city was magnified with monumental civil and religious buildings. The convent of San Agustín was erected, the El Morro castle was completed, and the hermitage of Humilladero, the Dorotea de la Luna fountain in La Chorrera, the church of Santo Angel Custodio, the hospital of San Lázaro, the monastery of Santa Teresa, the convent of San Felipe Neri, and in 1728 the Royal and Pontifical University of San Jerónimo was founded in the convent of San Juan de Letrán.
In the middle of the 18th century, Havana had more than 70,000 residents. The 6 of June of 1762, at dawn, a British armada appeared impressive with more than 50 ships and 14 000 men.
To take the city, the English had to surrender the Castillo del Morro, defended by a determined garrison at the head of the naval captain Luis Vicente Velasco de Isla and the Marques Vicente Gómez. Havana fell after two months of siege.
When taking possession of the city, the English also captured the Spanish fleet that had been trapped in the bay of Havana, composed of nine ships of the line with 74 and 64 guns, in addition to 25 merchant ships loaded with all kinds of provisions, three million pesos belonging to the Royal Company and large amounts of provisions stored in the City. Sir Georges Keppel ruled it for eleven months, until mid-1763, when the British returned Havana to the Spanish in exchange for Florida. Freedom of commerce and worship date back to this period.
In 1763, the construction of the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress began, the largest of those built by Spain in the New World, which underpinned the defensive system of Havana after the English occupation. The works lasted for more than eleven years and at such an enormous cost for its time that it is said that Carlos III, King of Spain, leaned out of the window of his palace with a spyglass to show him where the expensive construction was. Its privileged position made it an impregnable bastion. It had a large number of cannons cast in Barcelona in the 18th century, which still symbolically guard the entrance to the bay of Havana.
In 1774 the first official census of Cuba was carried out: 171,670 residents, of which 44,333 are slaves. Between 1789 and 1790 the diocese of Cuba was divided: the Iglesia Mayor de La Habana was erected as a cathedral while the old miter remained in Santiago de Cuba. Six years later, the 15 of January of 1796, arrive in Havana the remains of Christopher Columbus from Santo Domingo (capital of present Dominican Republic).
Since Spain no longer had a monopoly on trade, Havana became a more flourishing city, and in 1818 it was a free port. Luxury and voluptuousness were installed. The shops offered the latest in fashion, the theaters received the best actors of the moment, the enriched bourgeoisie built splendid mansions with columns, there was talk of the Paris of the Antilles.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt arrived in Havana, who was impressed by the vitality of the Havana port. In 1837, the first 51 km railway section was inaugurated between Havana and Güines, which is used to transport sugar from the Ariguanabo Valley to the city’s port. With this, Spain becomes the fifth country in the world to have a railroad (since Cuba belonged to Spain at that time) and the first of the Spanish-speaking countries.
Throughout the century, Havana was enriched with cultural centers, such as the Tacón Theater, one of the most luxurious in the world, the Artistic and Literary Lyceum, the Coliseo Theater. Visit the city Garibaldi under the name of Giuseppe Pani and the conspiracies of independence patriots take place at the same rate that the Crown authority represses and suffocates them.
Towards the 1850s, the development of the sugar industry, the railroad, the tobacco industry, among others, produced a thriving economy that led Cuba to be an enormously rich country. In the 1860s, Cuba was richer than ever, and Havana was the living reflection of this wealth and prosperity. In 1863, the city walls were demolished so that the city could be expanded and new and splendid buildings built. At the end of the 19th century, the well-to-do classes moved to the elegant Vedado neighborhood, with its many country houses and palaces.
At the end of the 19th century, Havana, after two wars of independence launched by the Cuban patriots, experienced the last moments of the Spanish colonization in America, which was definitively closed when the American battleship Maine was sunk in its port, giving the The United States the pretext to invade the island and prevent its independence. The turn of the century takes place in Havana, and therefore in Cuba, under the occupation and government of the United States.
Under American influence, the city grew and was enriched with numerous buildings in the 1930s, when sumptuous hotels, casinos and splendid nightclubs were built. Examples of these constructions are the Focsa, the Habana Libre and the Hotel Nacional.
Santos Traficante runs the Sans-Souci roulette, Meyer Lanski runs the Riviera, Lucki Luciano el Nacional, there the American mafia celebrates its summit meeting while the barracks surrounding the city grew intensely. Havana became the capital of gambling and corruption.
Since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, great social transformations have been made, mainly in relation to education, public health, services, the construction of social housing and official buildings.
A wide network of educational institutions guarantees access for all citizens to the most complete educational services up to the university level. The same happens with health services.
Many of these transformations were reflected in the buildings after 1959. Such are the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital, the Cubanacán Art Schools and the Meliá Cohiba Hotel.
For a few years, the historic center of Havana, declared a national monument by the Cuban Government in 1976 and a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1982, has been the subject of major restorations, carried out by a team of historians and architects led by the Office of the Historian of Havana, Eusebio Leal, in charge of the renovation works.