Visiting Havana’s Oldest Square: Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas is the oldest square in Havana, dating back to the 1520s. It is a sight to behold and has many stories to tell, which is why it is well worth a visit if you’re heading to Havana. Read on to discover everything you need to know about it.

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Background information on Plaza de Armas

In the early 1520s, Plaza de Armas was Plaza de Iglesia. This name was after the Parroquial Mayor, a church that once stood tall at what is the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales today.

It was in the late 16th century that the name Plaza de Armas was adopted, and this stands for Square of Arms. The name came about when the colonial governor, then based in the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, utilized the site for carrying out military exercises.

The plaza today and most of the buildings surrounding it date from the late 1700s, so this is a really special location. 

The center of the square has a statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, which is made out of marble. For those who don’t know, this is the leader who put Cuba on the path to independence back in 1868. In 1955, this statue actually took the place of a statue of Spanish King Ferdinand VII – an unpopular statue, to say the least!

What will you find at Plaza de Armas today?

If you are visiting Havana today, you can, of course, witness the incredible statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. There is also a second-hand book street market, which is open Monday through Saturday. 

The Condes de Santovenia Palace is another highlight and interesting place to visit. This building dates back to the close of the 18th century. Today, it houses the five-star Santa Isabel Hotel. 

Interesting museums in and around Plaza de Armas

If you are someone who enjoys visiting museums and learning more about what has shaped the city you’re visiting, you are in luck, as there are a number of fascinating museums in this area. This includes:

The Automobile Museum 

This is a museum where you can discover the country’s fascinating vehicle treasures. It is in an 1892 neoclassical building in Plaza de Armas. The museum contains an interesting and well-preserved collection of old automobiles, from Ford T to Pontiac. There are also vehicles that notable figures used, such as the Cadillac used by Ernesto Che Guevara. 

Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Castle of the Royal Force) 

Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this castle and the old city’s fortifications offer an outstanding sample of military architecture throughout Spain’s rule over the Caribbean. In fact, this is the oldest preserved fortress in all the Americas. It was constructed between 1558 and 1577. It went on to become one of the chief defensive strongholds in Cuba in 1762, ensuring the city was kept safe during an attack by the English Crown. 

Museo de Navegación (Sailing Museum) 

At this maritime museum, you can learn all about the nautical history of Cuba. It opened its doors back in 2008, showcasing exhibits that detail the history of Old Havana and the fortress, as well as the connections with the former Spanish Empire. You can find a massive scale model of the Santísima Trinidad galleon here. Plus, the oldest known bronze piece in the country is also housed at Museo de Navegación; this is the Giraldilla. It dates back to 1632. Jerónimo Martínez Pinzón carved it and dedicated it to Inés de Bobadilla, who was the wife of Hernando de Soto, who was an explorer of La Florida and the seventh governor of Cuba.

El Templete Museum 

Next, we have El Templete Museum, which is a neoclassical museum and monument that commemorates the founding of Havana. The museum is housed in a neoclassical-style chapel, which is on the eastern part of Plaza de Armas. This building very much looks like a Greco-Roman Temple, and it commemorates the founding of the village. The chapel was constructed in 1828. It is built in the very same place where the first mass in Havana was held in 1519. Inside, there are three grand canvases about the said mass with the Spanish authorities by Jean Baptiste Vermay, a French artist. There is also a marble urn that has the ashes of the architect of this magnificent chapel and his wife. 

City Museum

Finally, we have the City Museum, which is the perfect place to learn all about Cuba’s history. The palace itself is one of the most incredible examples of Cuban Baroque architecture. It was the official residence of the Spanish Captain Generals between the years of 1791 and 1898. From 1968 until the present day, the City Museum has been housed here at the Capitanes Generales Palace. Most would agree that it is one of the most complete and intriguing museums in the whole of Cuba, not just Havana. There are over 40 permanent exhibitions. From military uniforms to antique furniture, every piece tells the story of the history of this amazing country.

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Accommodation near Plaza de Armas

If you are visiting Havana, there are a lot of amazing places to explore, and accommodation is around every corner. From the mainstream areas to the hidden gems in Havana, there is something for everyone. 

If you have decided that you would like to stay in Plaza de Armas, don’t worry, there are plenty of options. You will be spoilt for choice!

You can stay in a hotel, or you can opt for a casa particular. The latter is very much like a B&B. You will stay in a traditional Cuban property. This is the best way for an authentic experience. Plus, it is cheaper. However, if you are someone who prefers the comforts of a hotel, there are lots of great options. 

Some of the best places within 0.5 miles of Plaza de Armas include:

  • REV Boutique
  • Casa Lafayette
  • Sra Wilson Habana Vieja
  • Hostal Obispo 411
  • Abreu-Rivera
  • Hostal Real Cervantes
  • Altos del Potin
  • B&B Casa Aijaco 
  • Hostal el San Juan 
  • Casa Alexis
  • Art Boutique Havana
  • Casa Giraldilla
  • … and much, much more! 

You will be spoilt for choice.

Visiting the oldest square in Havana

So there you have it: everything you need to know about visiting Plaza de Armas. We hope that this has given you better insight into the square and the history of it. It is certainly a charming and interesting place to visit, with buildings dating around the late 1700s. Not only are the buildings impressive but the area is always full of people, with many deeming it their favorite square in Havana.