Sights - Centro Habana
Centro Habana (Central Havana, pop. 175,000) lies west of the Paseo de Martí and south of the Malecón. The 19th-century region evolved following demolition of the city walls in 1863. Prior, it had served as a glacis.
The buildings are deep and tall, of four or five stories, built mostly as apartment units. Hence, the population and street life are dense. Laid out in a near-perfect grid, Centro is mostly residential, with few sights of note, except for the remnants of Chinatown—Barrio Chino—delineated by Calles Zanja, Dragones, Salud, Rayo, San Nicolás, and Manrique.
In prerevolutionary days, Centro Habana hosted Havana’s red-light district, and prostitutes roamed such streets as the ill-named Calle Virtudes (Virtues). Neptuno and San Rafael formed the retail heart of the city. In recent years, they have regained some of their life and the famous department stores of prerevolutionary days have reopened; many still bear neon signs promoting U.S. brand names from yesteryear.
Many houses, however, are in a tumbledown state—about one in three houses has collapsed—conjuring up images of what Dresden, Germany, must have looked like after it was bombed in World War II. Take care walking the streets, as pickpockets and muggings commonly occur here.
South of Centro, the land rises gently to Cerro, which developed during the 19th century as the place to retire for the torrid midsummer months; many wealthy families maintained two homes in Havana—one in town, another on the cooler cerro (hill). The area is replete with once-stately quintas (summer homes) in neoclassical, Beaux-Arts, and art nouveau styles. Alas, the region is terribly deteriorated, and the majority of buildings transcend sordid.
Caution is required, as muggings are common in these districts.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition