Old Havana

Old Havana
Photo by Els Slots.

Old Havana and its Fortification System represent a colonial city that was an important stop on the crossing between the New World and the Old World.

As its importance required military protection, a set of 18 fortifications along the coast and the harbour were built. The Castillo de la Real Fuerza is the the oldest extant colonial fortress in the Americas. Other important remaining castles include Castillo del Morro, La Cabaña fortress and San Salvador de la Punta Fortress. The site also includes the old city center (Habana Vieja) with its harmonious architecture and its 19th-century extensions.

Community Perspective: the fortifications arguably are the most spectacular part of this site, while Habana Vieja has come to resemble a tourist trap (however, some still enjoy its vibrant atmosphere).

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Riccardo Quaranta

Italy - 05-Nov-18 -

Old Havana by Riccardo Quaranta

The capital city of Cuba, Havana (or La Habana as it is called in Spanish) is a city that bears the signs of a troubled history, although at times prosperous, and of the influence of different cultures.

It was founded in 1519 by the Spanish colonizers and it quickly gained importance as one of the largest ports and main centers for ship-building in the Caribbean.

The downtown area on Havana, Habana Vieja (Old Havana), which is also where the original city was first located, was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List together with its fortification system, in 1982.

The history of Havana is way too long and complex to be described here, I will therefore limit myself to describe my feelings for this wonderful place.

The inscription in the World Heritage List is justified by the integrity and authenticity of Old Havana and the fortifications: the architecture, the monuments, the nearly perfect grid layout, the general atmosphere of the place. All these factors make it feel like time has stopped at some point in the past, when Havana was a glorious city, although it is now decadent with lots of empty and abandoned buildings everywhere. This contradiction is absolutely fascinating.

A walk around the streets of Habana Vieja will captivate any visitor. The place is vibrant, music is played everywhere (and often very loud), people spend a lot of time on the streets, playing chess or domino, dancing or just sitting on a step and smoking a badass cigar, kids play soccer and locals visit the ubiquitous PCC (Communist Party of Cuba) offices. The atmosphere is just addictive. It is too easy to start chatting with someone who invites you to dance with them on the street.

But it’s not only about the vibrant atmosphere, Old Havana has also a lot of very interesting sights to visit. The plazas (Plaza Vieja is so pretty!), the churches, the Capitolio, Calle Obispo and Calle Mercaderes, the paladares (privately owned restaurants) and the bars.

Another distinctive sign of Havana is the unfailing presence of the classic american cars that are featured in any photo of Cuba. The conditions of some of these cars are unbelievable, they look like they were made yesterday.

The fortifications are located on the east bank of Havana Bay, across the entrance Channel, which they dominate, and can be reached by a short taxi ride from Old Havana or by public bus. On the west of the Old Havana is found Havana Centro, with the small Chinatown (where no Chinese people live anymore) and Vedado, where most of the fancy government-run hotels are located.

It is also worth to spend some time exploring Vedado as there are located the Colon Cemetery and the huge Plaza de la Revolucion, famous for the faces of Ernesto Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos (heroes of the Cuban Revolution) engraved on the facades of the building surrounding the square and the monument to José Martí.

I spent a total of 4 days in Havana and I’m not sure it was enough. It definitely was more than enough time to visit everything I wanted to see and I even managed to spend half a day on the beach at Santa Maria (one of the so-called Playas del Este), but it wasn’t enough to fully enjoy the atmosphere of the city. I felt like I was leaving too early and there were more aspects of the city to be experienced.

Keep also in mind that, especially in high season, there are a lot of tourists and the lines for everything can be painstakingly long. The queue at places like the Museum of the Revolution, the exchange bureau, the Etecsa Telepunto (the internet office), but even getting a drink at popular bars such as La Bodeguita del Medio o El Floridita, or buying ground coffee at Café El Escorial (a must for coffee lovers), can easily take well over an hour, if not two.

Read more from Riccardo Quaranta here.

Alexander Barabanov

Russia - 20-Aug-18 -

Old Havana by Alexander Barabanov

Visited this site in May 2018.

The most famous and popular tourist attraction in the whole Cuba. Old Havana or Havana Vieja is the entire world of twisting streets with colorful dilapidating buildings and rich history behind.

The city of Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and due to its strategic location it served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the Americas, becoming a stopping point for treasure-laden Spanish galleons returning to Spain.

The most significant fortress system of Havana, the military-historical park El Morro – Cabaña, is nowadays is a big touristic complex, which reflects the history of Havana during the last five centuries. In some buildings you can find museums, including the museum of ancient armaments and the museum of Che Gevara.

Every night at 21:00 a cannon is fired, the so-called "El Cañonazo de las 9", a custom kept from colonial times significating the closure of gates in the city wall. Now it symbolizing another shiny day in Cuba.

There is strong feeling that this old fashioned Havana with its bizzare 60-year old cars and empty state shops will be gone soon. And we can't conclude whether it would be good or bad, certainly should be better for the locals. We were a little bit upset by a huge number of touts and tourist traps, which started to appear only recently. But if you get up early before crowds and stroll in the old centre, you will probably catch a glimpse of real Havana spirit.    

Eric Lurio

USA - 17-Jul-12 -


The crowd at the Castle of the Three Kings of the Orient is larger than one would expect for a daily event, but the evening is lovely and there’s really no reason to avoid just hanging out with friends after a hard day’s work, or touring. The sun has just set and the show is starting…


A soldier clad in 18th century uniform walks through the crowd wielding a torch, which he juggles like a bowling pin. This is the first part of an age-old ceremony, where the Spanish army would warn pirates that they weren’t welcome. Calling for silence in this solemn event, he’s soon joined by others similar dress. One carries a cannonball, the other gunpowder. They do their job and ker-POW!

That’s it. The ceremony’s over and the crowd begins to disperse, but one cannot help but think that what they were really aiming at was not ancient buccaneers, but Florida 90 miles to the northeast. This is Cuba, America’s nemesis, and forbidden fruit for tens of thousands of Yankee tourists every year. The government won’t let us go. What better reason to try?

It's possible to do it legally, and I did just as the Bush administration cracked down. Obama made it slightly legal again, but Romney might clamp down again....

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 04-Jan-12 -

Old Havana by Els Slots

Havana wasn't really what I had expected. The included area spans only the Habana Vieja quarter and the fortresses. On my first morning in the city, I walked and walked, thinking "where is it going to start?". I finally arrived at the much restored Plaza Vieja. Most of the streets in the core of Habana Vieja have been renovated as well. I had anticipated a bustling atmosphere, but these are just a couple of brushed-up Spanish colonial houses. White, camera-toting tourists I met in abundance.

The full name of the WHS is "Old Havana and its Fortifications", and it was these Fortifications that I came to truly enjoy. The best two are on the other side of the harbour: Morro and Cabana. It's a nice and quiet area to walk in, and the views of the city are spectacular. Morro has an interesting exhibition about the travels of Columbus, and models of other fortifications around Cuba. There even is a good restaurant (12 Apostles). All around the harbour and coast smaller and bigger forts were built during various centuries, and you can still see them.

Inspired by the recent Connection "Equestrian Statues", I was attracted to a huge statue of a man on a horse that can be seen from the fortresses on the other side. This one, of Maximo Gomez (a general during the Ten Years' War and the War of Independence), probably is the most majestic one that I have ever seen. It was sculpted by an Italian, very neoclassical.

Stewart ayukawa

canada - 14-Mar-09 -

I visited old Havana and the impressive fortifications of 'el morro' in November 2008. The old city is really impressive and some of the colonial buildings are being restored. One can attend Mass at the main church and the old plazas are a reminder of how important Havana was in the trade with Seville during the Spanish Golden Age. Adding to old Havana's charm is the Caribbean and tropical flair and the strange timewarp presented by all that remains from pre revolutionary Cuba.

Site Info

Full Name
Old Havana and its Fortification System
Unesco ID
4 5
Urban landscape - Colonial

Site History

2013 Name change

From "Old Havana and its Fortifications" to "Old Havana and its Fortification System"

1982 Inscribed


The site has 1 locations

Old Havana


The site has

Art and Architecture
Human Activity
Individual People
Religion and Belief
WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process


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A. Mehmet Haksever AC AGuzzo AYB Aalberty Adam@rainoff.com Adrian Turtschi Aed1111 Aidan Coohill Alberto Rodriguez Gutierrez Alessandro Votta Alexander Barabanov Alexander Parsons Alexfangel Alfons and Riki Verstraeten Alfredchu Ali Zingstra AliciaLee711 Alygeddon AmandaMcCadams Ammon Watkins Amohanty Ana Lozano Andrea & Uwe Zimmermann Anjimo Anna Wludarska AnnaRt Anne Brockenshire Anonymous15788 Antonio J. Artur Anuszewski Askyndr Atila Ege Bauchat Bdella Berteig Bgbaum Bill Maurmann Bob Parda Bram de Bruin Brigitte Huber Bruno_Pires Buffy Can SARICA Carlos Caminando Carlos Sotelo Carrie Y Carstenhansen CascadianRain Cb Cberglund Cdowneymd Cec Cgrannem Cheri O Cheryl Chiuliqi Christian Wagner Claire Bradshaw Clem C Comensal Craig Harder Criterion Ctravel Curley Czesioszpachelka Daniel C-Hazard Daniela Hohmann Daveycanuck Davied DeanS Deffra Digits Dimitrios Polychronopoulos Donald M Parrish Jr Donnico Dorejd Drinkteatravel ELVAN YURDUSEN Eamon1183 Eanna81 Eleonora Els Slots Emily Cullen Enrique Clemente Erdem Engin Tavlayan Eric Lurio Eric PK Eternalarrival Eva Kisgyorgy FGKJR1492X Fan Yibo Felicité Femke Roos Fernweh Filip Murlak Flitterfever G.L. Ingraham Garrett Geert Luiken George Evangelou George Gdanski GeorgeIng61 GerhardM Gernot Gi Gisella Greg Troy Hammeel Handballrama Hanming Harald T. Harry Mitsidis Hazcraig16 Headventure Hfxdeb Hidalgo Hidalgo Homadism Howard Howard Brayer Hsjamsil IC Iain Jackson Ian Coldwell If-pilot Ingrid Inigo Cia Irena Klementov Iriss Isabel Aguirre Ivan Rucek Izzet Ege J_neveryes Jacob Choi Jacob Otten Janklak Jaroslav Klement Jason and Corrinna Javier Coro Jballard650 Jean Lecaillon Jens Jgera Jiangliu bian Joaofg JobStopar Jon Eshuijs Jonas Kremer Jonathan Zimmermann Jonathanfr Jos Schmitz Jose Joseph C. Joshuakirbens Josie Borst Joyce van Soest João Aender Jsalda Judit Dalla Judith Tanner JudyWalsh Julia.meyers22 Jwflorida KAO KB1 Kalattime KarenBMoore Karin Heyl Kasia Kasienka5 Kelly Henry Kelseyyurek Kent Kenzaseb Keqi Kiank37 Kjlchiang Klaus Bondar Krijn La Concy La caperucita roja Lara Adler Lars Jensen Leontine Helleman Lidiane Liverpool1023 Lizzy Loic Pedras Longdutch Longo.ilaria Loratodorova Lucio Gorla Ludvan Luis Filipe Gaspar Luis Salazar Luisfreire Lukasz Palczewski Luke725 Luke725 M. Huineman de la Cuadra MH MHasuly Maciej Gowin Maki Wang MalBee Malcolm Malgorzata Kopczynska Maltishah100 Manuel011197 Marcel staron Marcobrey Maria Marta Lempert Marthalfreeman Martin Funkhauser Martin Lind (Switzerland) Martina Rúčková Marvin B. Maryaton Mateusz Mathieu Mauralin13 Mazeman Melinda Baumann Merveil MiIm Michael Ayers Michael Novins Michael anak Kenyalang Michaelsballard Michal Kozok Michal Marciniak Michiel Dekker Mikael Bjork Mikal Ahmet Mike Harper Mikek Mikko Misswanderlust MonaSynnove Monica Tasciotti Monica66 Morodhi Napalm NataliaS Neil McPaul Nej153 Nihal Ege Nineinchgails Nushsamy Ouchelle Out4astroll PabloNorte Pablorosleranoz87 Palka25 Paola Laura Pascal Cauliez Patrik Paul RYKEN Paul Schofield Philipp Leu Pieter Dijkshoorn Pietro.clerici.1997@gmail.com Pressdm ProZac34 Rahelka Randi Thomsen Reinhardt Reisedachs Reza Riccardo Quaranta Robert Roel Sterken Roger Ourset Roman Bruehwiler Roman Raab Royacurt Rvieira Ryan Oliver S1m0n3t4 SHIHE HUANG Sabrina Liebehentschel SaoDies Saraleonela Sascha Grabow Sazanami Seadie SeehooInterglobal Shaka_schulz Shannon O'Donnell Sharon M. Bressen Shep894 Shkedy_uri Sibariam Slava Socon SoeKoh Sofia SJM Solivagant Stanislaw Warwas StaziG Svein Elias Szucs Tamas Tamara Ratz Tangopium Tatiana Nikulnikova The Salmons Thomas Buechler Thomas van der Walt Tjagmax Tkinou Tonioto Tony Hunt Toya HornHoward Triath Trine Truls Brekke Uwebart VMThumper Van Hung Vanessa Buechler Vanjavod Vicente B. Avanzado Jr. Vidiot Vlad Lesnikov Walter Weecheng Weggeworfeneleiter Werner Huber Wolfgang Hlousa Wolfgang Sander WolfgangHl Wouter Xavier b Xtopher33 Yorch Zizmondka Zoë Sheng