For Havana residents, the city is divided in two important centers: Old Havana and Vedado. Each one, with its particular style, attracts different types of interests.
If you are looking for the historical side of the city, Old Havana with its colonial center can satisfy your wishes. Normally, many tourists stay in this part of the capital for its architectural contrasts and the folklore of its streets.
In addition to its attractive colonial architecture, it is in this neighborhood where you find a series of spaces that revive the history of the city, for example: the famous Floridita bar and Ambos Mundos Hotel. Both attract the attention of those who like to follow the footsteps of the American writer Ernest Hemingway.
Other attractions offered by the colonial center are its rituals. For example, the Templete ceremony, that celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the city; and the famous cannon shot at 9:00 p.m., daily recalls the closing of the gates of the Wall that protected the city from the attacks of corsairs and pirates.
Furthermore, it is in this area where the Fine Arts Museum is located, with its vast and delightful collection of Cuban art; or the Revolution Museum and Granma Memorial, largely known for its historical relevance. Both manage to attract very diverse audiences throughout the year.
However, if it is about modernity, it is in Vedado where you will most likely find what you are looking for. Emerging around the second half of the 19th century, its first constructions were due to the expansion of the city westwards.
The first constructive project to be approved was El Carmelo farm. From the design of Luis Iboleón, retaken later, the Vedado was conceived as an area of modern urbanization.
At the end of the 19th century, there were only about twenty houses on Línea Av., the first tram route. The first to decide to build in this area were the new rich and some Mambis chiefs. Then, with the beginning of the Republic, the idea of buying these previously unpopulated lands became widespread. Little by little, Vedado became the space of escape from the colonial city.
Perhaps due to its subsequent emergence, it is in this neighborhood where, for the first time, blocks of 100 meters length were drawn up and the distribution of numbers and letters was intelligently used to name the streets that were parallel and perpendicular to the coast line.
From the architectural view point, Vedado is a modern space. The bulk of its eclectic constructions was built between 1920 and 1950. Among them, the Habana Libre Hotel (formerly Habana Hilton) stands out, a building located in one of the most central corners of Vedado, 23 and L.
Nearby, just a few blocks away, is located the Focsa building, a jewel of modern Cuban architecture. Its construction was finished around 1956 by the company Fomento de Obras y Construcciones Sociales Anónimas (FOCSA). When it was built, it was the second tallest building of reinforced concrete in the entire world. Together with the Habana Libre, they are still today the highest buildings in all Cuba.
Although many recognize Habana Libre and Focsa as famous modern buildings, these are not the only exponents of modern art in Vedado. For example, the apartment building of 17 and K, built in 1957 by the architects Ondina López and Jaime Alfonso Parga, shows the use of architectural elements in vogue during those years. The layout of the spaces and their respective functions epitomizes its modernity.
Consider also the apartment building located in Calzada and 16th street, built in 1951. This apartment building has four levels, a garage in the basement and a store on the ground floor; all elements that make it an example of modernity in its time.
As we mentioned before, the most popular corner of all Havana, 23 and L, is located in Vedado. At this intersection, from which you feel the sea breeze, you can be part of one of the currently common collective activities for Cubans, a WIFI hotspot, on the corner across from the Yara cinema and the Coppelia ice cream store, also two icons of the city.
But it’s not only its architecture that makes Vedado a modern neighborhood. It is also the spaces that host - thanks to the important presence of cinemas, theaters and cultural spaces in general - festivals and events created by young people and for young people. Among them the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema (every December), the International Theater Festival of Havana (during the month of November, every two years), the Youth Festival of New Filmmakers (in the month of April), the festival of Jazz Plaza music (also in November), and so on.
Vedado is probably the most lively area in the city, youth-wise. Just take an evening glimpse at Presidents Avenue, which, for several years and many generations, has served as a gathering point for young people. Be it for lack of other economic options in a city that abounds in spaces for tourists, or just for the pleasure of meeting in the open space of the parks in the city center, much of the local youth throng this street late at night, mostly on weekends.
There is more than one city within Havana, and there is certainly more to appreciate than just the colonial part of it. Havana offers us, then, its two best faces; Old Havana and Vedado. It is up to us to choose our space within it according to each activity and interest.