Old Havana was my favourite part of the city, so you can imagine that I expected to be similarly enthralled with Plaza Vieja, the Old Square. The name is slightly misleading; when this open space was first created in the mid 16th Century the Plaza de Armas was already the city’s main square, so the newcomer was unsurprisingly named Plaza Nueva then.
The plaza became home to wealthy Creole Habaneros, their balconied residences providing perfect viewpoints for the fiestas, parades, bullfights and executions that took place in the square in the centuries that followed, the changing times reflected in further changes of name. By the 18th Century it was Plaza del Mercado, Market Square.
So with all this history I had high hopes for the plaza, that it would be full of buildings like this, the art nouveau Palacio Vienna Hotel, built in 1906 and now seemingly in a state of suspended restoration.
Unfortunately my dreams were in vain.
The presence of retailers whose target market is completely at odds with a population struggling to make ends meet told me that the square’s purpose now is to cater for the wealthy tourist, the buildings repaired and repainted to a state of perfection that wouldn’t be out of place in Disney theme park. Prettified and sterile.
Still I suppose it embodies elements of its history, a new square, a plaza for the wealthy, a plaza for commerce. It just didn’t feel like a Plaza Vieja.