Havana Blue

Havana breathes blue. Its shutters, doors and walls are painted in every shade from baby blue to lapis lazuli. Its streets are lined with indigo shadows. It is wrapped about by the blue-black Quink Ink Atlantic, which looks as though anyone swimming in it would come out tinted ultramarine. Juliet Barclay takes this theme and floats through this Caribbean city. As the poet Fayad Jamis wrote: “Once seen, never forgotten: Havana’s fathomless blues saturate your visual memory.”

Beneath the centuries of multi-coloured limewash in Old Havana’s eighteenth century mansions, archaeologists often discover elaborate and beautiful mural paintings in which an exquisite powdery blue predominates. This has come to be known as “Havana Blue” and the colour is still used all over the city, gently echoing the triumphant azure of the Cuban sky.

Havana breathes blue. Its shutters, doors and walls are painted in every shade from baby blue to lapis lazuli. Its streets are lined with indigo shadows. It is wrapped about by the blue-black Quink Ink Atlantic, which looks as though anyone swimming in it would come out tinted ultramarine. Hot, blowy afternoons in Havana are blue and white with windy washing, billowing and flapping on lines strung across the innumerable azoteas of Centro Habana. On Saturday mornings, huge blue cakes with exuberant white trimmings are collected from the San José Bakery in Obispo Street and carried solicitously home, their pastel meringue icing gleaming sweetly in the sun. Classic American cars restored with thick coats of cerulean gloss paint growl throatily past in a cloud of blue fumes. Trumpeters whose neighbours object to the noise of their practising sit on the wall of the Malecón moodily blowing their blues out over the glittering azure expanses of the ocean.

A traditional dance event in one of the squares features a beautiful girl in a blue and silver dress and turban; she represents the Black Virgin who presides over the church of the fishing village of Regla, on the eastern shore of Havana harbour. Her Afro-Cuban alter ego, Yemaya, goddess of the sea, is associated with marine symbolism–anchors, boats, fish, the moon. Her swaying devotees mutter powerful charms and clasp their blue and white bead necklaces and amulets.

In the mossy eighteenth century courtyards of Old Havana, pale blue trumpet-shaped flowers cascade down the Tuscan columns. The stained-glass fanlights contain eighteenth-century glass of such a deep blue it appears almost purple, casting startling patches of ultraviolet light onto the white walls when the afternoon sun slants through the windows.

Blue gleams and shimmers on sunny mornings in the frills and furbelows of the crinolines worn by girls celebrating their fifteenth-birthdays. Flouncing round Old Havana in frantically frothy frocks, they preen and pout for the camera. Aquamarine satin trimmed with a frenzy of nylon lace provides an especially pleasing effect when its wearer leans provocatively against the baby blue walls of the Bar Taberna in the Plaza Vieja.

One seldom feels blue in Havana but one sees it everywhere; the colour is one of the city’s strongest visual leitmotivs. “What would I be without you, my city of Havana?” asked the poet Fayad Jamis. “When I wandered through the world you went with me, you were a piece of blue in my shirt… an amulet against nostalgia.” Once seen, never forgotten: Havana’s fathomless blues saturate your visual memory.

“What would I be without you
my city of Havana?
When I wandered through the world you went with me.
You were a song in my throat
A fragment of blue in my shirt
An amulet against nostalgia.”

From Si no existieras, by Fayad Jamis


  • Catedral de La Habana

    Catedral de La Habana  LH 5+

    The entry of the Jesuits in Cuba was formally requested in 1656, and in 1727, a plot was granted for their school and church. Bishop Brother Gerónimo Valdés explained to the King of Spain that Havana’ …

    The Malecón

    The Malecón  LH 5+

    The Malecón, first named Avenida del Golfo, is Cuba’s most famous sea-side avenue. The project was undertaken by Don Francisco de Albear, Cuba’s greatest engineer at the time. Albear came up with a co …

    Museo de la Ciudad (Palacio de los Capitanes Generales)

    Museo de la Ciudad (Palacio de los Capitanes Generales)  LH 5

    History & architecture Considered the most important example of baroque architecture in the city, this grand building on the west side of the plaza was built in 1792, on the sight of the former pa …

    Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula

    Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula  LH 5

    In 1664 the Presbyter of the Cathedral of Havana, don Nicolás Estévez Borges, ordered the construction of a chapel devoted to Saint Francis of Paola (founder of the Roman Catholic Order of the Minims) …

    Iglesia de Jesús de Miramar

    Iglesia de Jesús de Miramar  LH 5

    Opened in 1953, this is Cuba’s second largest church, which is visible for several blocks due to its vast dome built in Roman-Byzantine style. The Jesús de Miramar church boasts 14 large mural paintin …

    Edificio Bacardí

    Edificio Bacardí  LH 5

    The first and main exponent of art deco in the city belonged to Emilio Bacardí and was the home to his famous rum company. After winning the contest held by Bacardí, architects E. Rodríguez, R. Fernán …

    Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam

    Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam  LH 5+

    The north-west corner of the square is occupied by the 18th-century Casa de los Condes de Peñalver, which has at different times served as a post office, a bank and a school. Today, it houses the Cent …

    Plaza Vieja

    Plaza Vieja  LH 5+

    The 16th-century Plaza Vieja has always been a residential rather than a military, religious or administrative space, and is surrounded by elegant colonial residences, combined with a few very strikin …

    Paseo del Prado

    Paseo del Prado  LH 5+

    In colonial times, this promenade received several names, including Nuevo Prado, Alameda de Extramuros, Paseo de Isabel II and Paseo del Prado, and with cuba’s independecne, it became Paseo de Martí. …

    Convento e Iglesia de la Merced

    Convento e Iglesia de la Merced  LH 5

    Built between 1865 and 1867, this is arguably one of Havana’s most lush churches. The temple stands opposite a small square and its façade, constructed in Baroque style, features the principal door wi …

    1 of 22 pages »