La Habana Vieja
A World Heritage Site since 1982, Old Havana is a fascinating mix of Baroque, neoclassical monuments, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco architecture interspersed with private homes decorated with balconies, wrought-iron gates, and inside courtyards.
Havana was founded in 1519 by the Spanish, and became an important harbor for Spanish galleons as they plied the seas from the Old World to the New World.
The city suffered little damage in the country’s wars and revolutions, and stands today much as it was built 100 years ago except for decay and neglect combined with damage from the degenerative effects of the tropical salt-air climate. Hurricane Ike battered Havana in 2008 which caused extensive damage to some of the colonial buildings.
Cuba was a major importer of American cars until the Revolution in 1959, when many wealthy Cubans left the country and their cars behind. To keep these ancient cars running for fifty years requires loving care and skill that would be difficult to find anywhere else.
Eusebio Leal, the city’s historian, has played a major role in preservation activities in Old Havana. In 1994, Leal created Habaguanex, a joint venture-for-profit-firm. It operates by generating hard currency through tourism and related services in Habana Vieja and then uses these funds for historic preservation and the development of community projects.
I was in Cuba for only a week in 2010, and am looking forward to going back to capture many more people and places.