Back in 1819, the Spanish colonial government implemented the expansion of the areas around the city that is now known as Old Havana. The coast, which extended from the entrance of the Bay of Havana to the Torreón de San Lázaro, was just an open space of rock and sea where families would go to bathe and even water their horses. The actual construction of the seawall did not begin until 1901 and the work, which was done by stretches, continued for fifty decades.
How much history is stored in the solid, worn rock of Havana’s seawall will never be known. Countless feet have trod its sidewalk, children have run barefoot on the very wall and lovers have made the Malecón an accomplice to their tender passions throughout its entire existence. Cuba’s most famous pedestrian promenade is Havana’s guardian and the silent confidant of its many visitors.
Every day, the wall fills with workers who rest their tired bodies after a grueling day at the factory, teenagers who take a stroll after school, senior citizens who reminisce about their youth, fishermen who are as much part of the scenery as the wall itself, Habaneros in general who come simply for the refreshing sea breeze on hot days or nights. On summer days, certain spots along the Malecón serve as beaches for those who don’t feel like trekking out several kilometers for a swim.
The sea, of course, has its mood swings. It is sometimes as calm as a millpond and sometimes the waves may rise several meters above the wall making the sidewalk and even the street impassable. But there’s always the rash, the bold, who couldn’t care less and go there expressly to face the incoming waves and get wet from head to toe.
On a good day when the sea is calm, swimmers stand on the wall and plunge into the clear, warm Gulf water headfirst or feetfirst, whichever way they feel more comfortable, making all sorts of maneuvers. Weekends, the improvised “swimming pool” is especially crowded from sunrise to sunset with kids of all ages (some very small, who are most probably there without the permission of moms and dads) who come from all over Havana to the Malecón for a day “at the beach.” The best thing about the Malecón is that there are no restrictions, no prohibitions. It has no fixed hours—it is open 24/7.