Plaza, piazza, place.  Derivations of the same word meaning an open public area.

Not all spaces are created equal however.  Only one of the squares of Venice is considered worthy of being called a piazza (San Marco), and whilst there are a number of plazas in Havana, there is one that rules them all.

Such places are of course convenient locations for large groups to meet, so there is often a political history rooted in the geography; think Tiananmen Square, Red Square, Wenceslas Square, Tahrir Square.  Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución is the site of many political rallies where Fidel Castro has addressed the masses (his offices are just behind the Marti memorial, though I was politely dissuaded from photographing them by a beautiful young Cuban girl whose olive-green uniform and obvious side arm gave her additional powers of persuasion).

Curiously this was originally to be the Civic Plaza and was ordered by Batista, whose government Castro overthrew so this space was usurped rather than originally envisaged as a celebrating the end of a dictatorship.  (That would have been ironic!)Havana-9

The Plaza is one of the stops on a visit to Havana that are considered de rigueur for any visiting tourist, usually for three reasons but there is a fourth.  None of them will detain you for much longer than it takes to capture the obligatory photograph, especially if the trip up to observation gallery of the Marti tower is closed to visitors as it was when I was there (another gun-toting nubile).

Luckily there are over 70,000 square meters of concrete to park a bus on to allow the passing snapper to grab their souvenir shots and depart as quickly as they arrived.  Which is why many of them might miss the fourth attraction here when they have paid homage to Marti, Guevara, and Cienfuegos.

Havana-10Arriving on foot, as I did, there’s a better chance to encounter the National Theatre of Cuba, which overlooks the square.  It’s an impressive statement about the importance of culture to the communist regime.

And it was entirely empty.Havana-11

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