Approximately 20 years after Columbus first set foot on Cuban
soil (27 October 1492), the Spanish began colonization of the island.
Initially, the eastern towns of Baracoa and Santiago were the most important.
After numerous failed attempts in other areas (including the southern
coast) the settlement of Havana was finally founded at its present location
in 1519. The official date is considered to be 25 July 1519, the Saint’s
day for St. Christopher (in Spanish: Cristóbal).
The strategically located village, with a large bay serving as a natural
harbor, developed quickly. Sturdy fortifications had to be built to
protect against pirate attacks. In 1553 the governor’s residence
was moved from Santiago to Havana, and in 1561 the king proclaimed the
city to be the assembly point for Spanish ships, which brought stolen
goods from across the Americas to the mother country.
Into the 19th century, the focus of life was in the old town. The economic
boom which began at this time brought with it a great deal of construction.
In 1863 the old city walls were torn down in order to enable the expansion
westward, where the new city palace and magnificent boulevards appeared.
The historical city center remained mostly intact, though it has progressively
deteriorated since the 1960s in socialism’s economy of scarcity.
In 1982, UNESCO included Old Havana and the colonial fortress structures
in its list of world heritage sites. Since then, the extremely time
consuming and expensive restoration and reconstruction process has made
unmistakable progress, but the condition of most of the historic quarter
is still quite dramatic.