Plaza de San Francisco

CA5
Top Pick
City squares / parks
CA Ranking: 5
Oficios & Ave. del Puerto, Habana Vieja
Also included in For Kids section
  • Right across Havana harbor, Plaza de San Francisco is one of the first three built in the 16th century. It takes its name from the Franciscan convent built there. The plaza became the site of a market that was moved to Plaza Vieja after complaints from the monks because of the noise. Aside from the Convento de San Francisco de Asís, the spacious square is dominated by Lonja del Comercio on the north side and the the Aduana (Customs House) and Sierra Maestra cruise ship terminal on the east side with the Fuente de los Leones in the center. The Plaza de San Francisco underwent a full restoration in the late 1990s.

    Formerly a small inlet covered by the waters of the bay, Plaza de San Francisco dates from 1575. From the start it was a commercial center, and during the colonial period a fair took place here every October with coin and card games, lotteries and cock fights – perhaps an early sign of Havana’s future role as a gambling mecca. One of the terminals of the Zanja Real, the first aqueduct in the Americas, the water supply in the square helped to victual ships tied up at the wharves that fringed the square. In its day it has also been home to a governor, a mayor and the city jail, and some of the buildings around the square were the residences of some of the city’s most wealthy and notable inhabitants.

    Today, this spacious, paved square is dominated by the 18th-century basilica on the south side, with its impressive tower, the Lonja del Comercio (1909) on the north side, and the Aduana (1914, Customs House) and Sierra Maestra cruise ship terminal on the east side. More modern additions include Benetton, restaurants – whose tables, chairs and umbrellas are gradually sprawling unattractively into the treeless square – and the Agencia de Viajes San Cristóbal which specialises in cultural tourism in Old Havana. To one side of the square, the Carrara marble Fuente de los Leones was sculpted in 1836 by Italian artist Giuseppe Gaggini.

    The 42-metre (140-foot) tower, which tops the baroque Basílica Menor y Convento de San Francisco de Asís, was the tallest in Havana and the second tallest in Cuba after Trinidad’s Iznaga Tower.

    
  • 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 …

    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 …

    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 …

    Almacenes de San José

    Almacenes de San José  LH 5

    This former harborside warehouse was built in 1885 and is considered the oldest depository in Old Havana. The sober and imposing façade that looks out onto the city conceals the building’s steel struc …

    Quinta Avenida

    Quinta Avenida  LH 5+

    Initially called Avenida de las Américas, Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) stretches from the tunnel that connects it to Calzada Street, in Vedado, to the Santa Ana River, in the locality of Santa Fe. Co …

    Cámara Oscura

    Cámara Oscura  LH 5

    Located on the top floor of the eclectic-style early 20th-century Edificio Gómez Vila—the plaza’s tallest building (35 meters/115 feet)—on the northeast corner, the Cámara Oscura provides a 360-degree …

    Arte Corte (Papito’s)

    Arte Corte (Papito’s)  LH 5+

    Established about eight years ago, Arte Corte is a hairdressing salon that is also an “interactive museum” where the customer, while comfortably seated in a hundred year-old chair awaiting their turn, …

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