Immediately west of the Plaza Antonio Maceo, a triangular area bordered roughly by the Malecón, San Lázaro, and Calzada de Infanta forms the northwest corner of Centro Habana. Known as Barrio Cayo Hueso, the region dates from the early 20th century, when tenement homes were erected atop what had been the Espada cemetery (hence the name, Cay of Bones). Its several art deco inspirations include the Edificio Solimar (Soledad #205, e/ San Lázaro y Ánimas) apartment complex, built in 1944.
Almost every dance enthusiast in the know gravitates to Callejón de Hamel on Sunday for Afro-Cuban rumbas.The pseudo-castle at the corner of Calle 25 and the Malecón was before the Revolution the Casa Marina, Havana’s most palatial brothel.
Hallowed ground to Cubans, the tiny Museo Fragua Martiana (Museum of Martí’s Forging, Principe #108, esq. Hospital, tel. 07/870-7338, Mon.-Fri. 9am-4pm, Sat. 9am-noon, free) occupies the site of the former San Lázaro quarry, where national hero José Martí and fellow prisoners were forced to break rocks. The museum displays manuscripts and shackles. To its rear, the quarry has been turned into a garden, with a life-size bronze statue of Martí.
Every January 28 the nighttime La Marcha de las Antorchas (March of the Torches) takes place to celebrate Martí’s birthday. Thousands of students and others walk with lit torches from the university to the Fragua Martiana.
Almost every dance enthusiast in the know gravitates to Callejón de Hamel (e/ Aramburu y Hospital) on Sunday for Afro-Cuban rumbas in an alley adorned by local artist Salvador González Escalona with evocative murals in sun-drenched yellow, burnt orange, and blazing reds, inspired by Santería. The alley features a Santería shrine and fantastical totemic sculptures. González, a bearded artist with an eye for self-promotion, has an eclectic gallery, Estudio-Galería Fambá (Callejón de Hamel #1054, tel. 07/878-1661, daily 9:30am-6pm). Alas, hustlers abound.
Parque de los Mártires Universitarios (Infanta, e/ Calles Jovellar y San Lázaro), one block west of Callejón de Hamel, honors students who lost their lives during the fights against the Machado and Batista regimes.
Soaring over Calzada de Infanta, about 100 meters south of San Lázaro, Convento y Iglesia del Carmen (Infanta, e/ Neptuno y Concordia, tel. 07/878-5168, Mon.-Sat. 8am-10am and 4pm-7pm, Sun. 7:30am-12:30pm and 4:30pm-7:30pm) is one of Havana’s largest and most impressive churches. Built in baroque fashion, the church is capped by a 60.5-meter-tall tower topped by a sculpture of Our Lady of Carmen.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Havana.