The Old Square is one of the most essential sites of the historical center of Havana. Together with the Cathedral Square, the Plaza de Armas, and the San Francisco de Asis Square forms an indispensable itinerary to cover by any tourist. It's one of the most ancient squares of the city and the one that has changed the most its appearance with the passing of time. Today, it's one of the most beautiful and attractive places of the capital.
The Old Square or "Plaza Vieja" bounds with San Ignacio, Mercaderes, Muralla or, Teniente Rey streets. It's just one block from the Avenida del Puerto, two blocks from San Francisco de Asis Square and four blocks from the Plaza de Armas, and six blocks from the Cathedral Square. Its charming is based on the hard-working process of restoration carried out by the City's Office of the Historian. It's incredible how a dark underground parking lot is today a shining and lovely site.
It is said that by 1559 the cries and shouts of street vendors in the San Francisco de Asis Square interrupted religious services. That's why, just one hundred meters away, is created the New Square. The wealthy families didn't take long to settle in the new area. This didn't hinder the variety of functions it had. The New Square was used as a market, for military maneuvers. The "picota publica" (public pillory) was there. Afterwards, it was a bull square, then a market again. It was a park with trees and by the middle of the 20th century, an amphitheater with an underground parking lot was built there.
All these transformations caused as time went by, a change in its image and name. It was called New Square, Royal Square, Main Square, Fernando VII Square, Juan Bruno Zayas Park, Julian Grimau Park, till it was finally named Old Square.
In 1982 the historical center of Havana is declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. This appointment made architects, museologists, restorers, and other intellectuals feel the need to save the Old Square. During the last 30 years, the miracle would come true. Colonial palaces and buildings from the beginning of the 20th century were restored. New paving stones and a fountain similar to the original one were placed there. A group of attractions were gradually installed there, what makes of The Old Square, one of the jewels of the Cuban restoration.
The Camera Obscura offers a very singular way for viewing Havana. Through a periscope that projects the image on a 1,80 – meter concave screen, we can see what's going on in that precise moment in a 5-km range. Based on a Leonardo da Vinci's design, it is a very popular attraction among visitors of the Square. It is located on the corner of Mercaderes and Teniente Reyes (Brasil), in the Gomez Vila building, the tallest edification of the Square.
On Mercaderes, to the right of the Camera Obscure is the Phototheque of Cuba. It's the cultural institution dedicated to the conservation, study, and exhibition of photography in the country. It has two exhibition rooms. On the top floor, we find the Maria Eugenia Haya Gallery dedicated to photographers with a vast and well-known work. On the ground floor, there is the Joaquin Blez Gallery, reserved for the new creators.
It's one of the most popular attractions of the Square. It's a different kind of museum. An impressive representation of the universe set with effects, lights, gases, and sounds. In a 45-minute interactive journey, we can learn about the history of the solar system and our galaxy, enjoy the main events in a mixture of science and technology. It's located on Mercaderes, to the right of the Phototheque of Cuba.
The ancient house of the Franchi Alfaro family houses today "The Escorial" Cafe. Besides, offering a diversity of prepared drinks with the coffee tree fruit, also holds the peculiarity that the crop is toasted in the place and recently ground. You can taste the aromatic drink seated in the same Square, enjoying its splendor. It's located on the corner of Mercaderes and Muralla.
This Fund is an institution intended to the marketing of plastic arts and others used in Cuba. It also represents artists, craft men and has a basic role on the protection of patrimonial works. Its venue is at the former house of the Counts of Jaruco where "La Casona" Gallery is now. It's situated on Muralla street and the corner of San Ignacio.
Sharing the corner with the "Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales", we see the brightest attractions of the square. "La Vitrola" Bar-Restaurant and the "Factoria Plaza Vieja". "La Vitrola" is an open business, its area spans with tables through San Ignacio Street. It is distinguished by a very extraordinary decoration. A crowded place, which tells a lot about the quality of its offers.
The Factoria Plaza Vieja is a beer factory with dutch technology. Also known as Casa de la Cerveza (house of beer). There, three types of beer are produced: shandy, dark and black and served in jugs or jars. A group interpreting the most emblematic music always accompanied the client. There is always a lively atmosphere, encouraging dancing, and ideal for refreshing the hot in Havana.
The former Santo Angel School houses today, the restaurant with the same name. Located on Teniente Rey St. and San Ignacio corner, from its large porch you can get one of the most exceptional views of the Capitol of Havana. Enjoying the Cuban cuisine, we can glance at Teniente Rey St and appreciate very deeply the impressive construction.
The Old Square, also has other cafes, shops, boutiques and institutions like the Center for Development of Visual Arts or the "Vitrina de Valonia" Cultural Center, both dedicated to promoting Plastic Arts in the island. But the best way to enjoy the Old Square is by staying right there. Attractive apartments, restored by the Historian's Office, are rented by their owners to international tourism. An excellent option to live the Old Havana from one of its main squares. It's the opportunity to be in the Historical Center of Havana and feel overwhelmed by its charms.