Havana is probably the most exciting city
in Latin America managing to be both seedy and stylish. The
province owes its growth and prosperity to the almost natural
perfection of its harbour.
The Spanish, in the course of their conquest
of Central and Latin America, earmarked the city as the ideal
stopping-off point for their ships. In order to protect their
vessels from English, French and Dutch attack, the Spanish
built a wall around the city and constructed huge fortresses
at the entrance to the harbour.
As Cuba's political and economic center,
it has become a museum to a broken communist dream, yet it
is much more than just that: it is the focus of Cuba's youth
culture; the place where you'll find the most magnificent
hotels and the liveliest discotheques, where the Revolution
seems to have come full circle and, uncannily, recreated the
absurdly decadent world of Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana.
Havana is an exhilarating place, but it can
also be exhausting. There is a neurotic, anxious edge to life
here, quite unlike anything you'll find in the rest of Cuba.
Along with Habana Vieja, Centro Habana is the most populated and overcrowded part of the city. It is a tumbledown residential / commercial area, the city's main shopping street, Calle San Rafael, traverses it from the Parque Central westwards. The large Partagas tobacco factory, directly behind the Capitolio, is the biggest export factory in the country, with 200 rollers turning out 5 million cigars a year.
Walking around this area you understand why Havana is sometimes referred to as a City of Columns; almost every buildings displays either one or a mixture of the Corinthian, Doric or Ionic types of this structure.
This part of the city is occupied primarily by office blocks and hotels, business is centred on La Rampa. Directly east on Calle San Miguel between calles Ronda and Mazon is the fine Museo Napoleonico, this mansion is house of a remarkable collection of Napoleonic memorabilia. Vedado's top sight is undoubedly the Cementerio de Cristobal Colon.
Further to the west this area is home to some of the most expensive hotels, restaurants in Havana and the majority of the country's foreign embassies, the tree-lined avenues and stately mansions on and around Fifth Avenue suggest that this is where Havana's elite reside.
The area contains a few interesting museums, most notably the Museo del Ministerio del Interior which will be of interest to any one wanting to brush up on the antics of the cold war.