Plaza del Cristo and vicinity
The mid-17-century plaza, three blocks southeast of Parque Central and two blocks south of Calle Obispo, takes its name from the Iglesia del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje. A sleepy little park on Bernaza, Plaza del Cristo was created in 1640 around the Ermita del Humilladero, when the square was first known as Plaza Nueva (New Square). The hermitage was the final station on the Vía Crucis (Procession of the Cross), which took place every year during Lent and led along Amargura from Plaza de San Francisco. The lovely Baroque Iglesia del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje now covers the site of the old hermitage on the north-western side of the plaza. Of the original building, only the enclosure and painted wood ceiling still remain.
Later, the square was briefly known as Plaza de las Lavanderas, literally “Washerwomen Plaza”, given the large number of Afro-Cuban washerwomen that met there to attend mass. Today it is renowned as a place to get one’s shoes repaired, as many self-employed zapateros have set up their simple stores here.
Graham Greene’s used this plaza for the setting where his protagonist Wormold (the vacuum-cleaner salesman doubling as a secret agent) was “swallowed up among the pimps and lottery sellers of the Havana noon” in Our Man in Havana.Wormold and his daughter Milly lived at Lamparilla #37—a fictional address (one block west of the plaza) occupied by a small plazuela.
In recent decades many of the predominantly residential 19th-century buildings surrounding the dilapidated square have fallen into a sad state of disrepair (even Wormold had sensed “a slow erosion of Havana”); several have collapsed, while others threaten to do so. In 2014, a comprehensive restoration was initiated by the City Historian’s Office in the hopes of saving those that remain.