Havana, the capital • Cuba

Treat yourself to a virtual tour of old timers and famous cafes, arts and culture and notable buildings and listen to Buena Vista Social Club in Havana in Cuba.

This film was made on the basis of photos and videos taken during the trip Cuba (EN)

vimeo chapterA click on this icon above displays the list of chapters of this film about Cuba. A click on a dot goes directly to a chapter.

Reading the text below will help you better understand the cultural context of the images in this video.

01:00 • some nice american cars

02:34 • the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

04:19 • Plaza de la catedral

04:48 • famous pubs

06:58 • Buena Vista Social Club

15:16 • Havana Club rum museum

16:32 • art and culture in the streets of Havana



Havana was officially designated as the capital of Cuba in 1607. This official designation was preceded in 1592 by the expression "Key to the New World and Bulwark of the Caribbean" in a royal decree.

The first Spanish fortifications in the city of Havana date from the beginning of the 16th century and the governor's residence was transferred from Santiago to Havana in 1553. The island was to have two governors, one in Havana and the other in Santiago, the second being subordinate to the first.


The name of Havana (in Spanish, Habana) is derived from that of the Indian chief Taino who was the chief of the tribe controlling the region at the time of the arrival of the conquistadors, Habaguanex.

Cuba and the conquistadors

Cuba was the first island discovered by Christopher Columbus but could not quench the thirst for gold of the conquistadors. So, at first, they built cities (of which Havana was the sixth) to secure rear bases before embarking on the conquest of Mexico and then Latin America.

the port of Havana and the pirates

The city was, like many port cities, the object of incessant attacks on the part of the pirates and buccaneers who infested the Caribbean Sea at that time. The city was pillaged and set on fire several times, and it was the fire of 1555 that decided the Spaniards to build the ramparts and fortifications of the city. This fire follows the easy capture of the city by the French privateer Jacques de Sores, who was very disappointed not to have found the fortune he hoped for. But it was following this bloody attack that Spain began to fortify the city and the commercial port of Havana.

These fortifications enabled Spain to control the de facto monopoly they had established on the trade in New World wealth.

It is also in Cuba that all the galleons were obliged to assemble before sailing in convoy towards the motherland, under good escort, that of the Spanish Armada.

Rise of Havana

This reception of ships bound for Europe made Havana the largest port in the Caribbean.

The ships unloaded their goods in Havana before the galleons in charge of transporting the riches of the New World took it upon themselves to transport them to Spain under the care of the Armada.

This economic activity favored the city and its agriculture because the ships had to obtain material and food to make the long crossing. The great plague from Colombia decimated the city, killing a third of the inhabitants in 1649.

The British

A great war opposed England to the Spanish during the second half of the 18th century. This war is known as the 7 Years War. The English took Havana and developed trade with their colonies in North America and those in the Caribbean. It was at this time that African slaves were imported en masse to carry out work in the fields.

However, the British presence was short-lived. The Seven Years' War ended with a treaty under which an exchange was made between the belligerents: England was to keep Florida in exchange for Cuba, which thus returned to the Spanish crown.

In the 19th century

Trade with North America continued to enrich the city, which acquired many public and cultural buildings and saw the construction of many luxurious villas. The port of Havana became the 5th most important port in the world and a first railway line was inaugurated to transport sugar to the port.

the Spanish-American war

But the United States was only waiting for a good pretext to get its hands on the Island, and this pretext was offered to them by an attack on one of its ships in Havana harbor, the SS Maine.

In the 20th century

The war ended with an American victory and the island's independence was granted several years after the end of hostilities. But it was about independence under conditions.

Prohibition in the 1920s in the United States prompted many wealthy Americans to come and party in Havana. And with them many mobsters came to settle there. And money soon turned the heads of the rulers of Cuba where corruption soon reigned supreme ...

It was then that Fidel Castro's socialist revolution drove out all rich Americans and was declared one of the toughest embargoes in history by the United States, freezing the city of Havana for decades. This explains the presence of many cars dating from the 1950s in Havana and the rest of the island.

In the 21st century

The 21st century saw the easing of the embargo, and we chose to visit the city and the Island in 2015, fearing that the end of the embargo would bring back crowds of tourists on their cruise ships on the island. 'Isle...

What's the weather like in Havana?

about the place, Havana:

Havana is the capital of Cuba. The city has a little over 2 million inhabitants. Founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, the city served as a bridgehead for the conquest of the Americas and became an important stopover for galleons on the way back to Spain.

Founded in 1515 by the conquistador Diego Velazquez de Cuéllar, the city was declared the capital of Cuba in 1592 by Philip II of Spain. The city reached its peak in the 17th and 18th century, when it was the 3rd largest city in the Americas by number of inhabitants, behind Lima and Mexico City CIty but ahead of Boston and NewYork.

The construction of the cathedral lasted from 1748 to 1777.

In 1762, Havana was taken by the British and the Paris peace treaty ending the Seven Years' War stipulated that Havana was to be returned to the Spaniards in exchange for Florida.

Havana has retained practically all the period buildings and is famous, like the rest of Cuba, for the old American cars dating from the 1950s and kept somehow in good condition because of the severe American embargo which prevents the importation of newer vehicles.

The old buildings and the old cars are an integral part of the charm of this very endearing city.


Spoken comments in the film: 

Havana, the capital of Cuba, a sun-drenched city, has a charm that is probably unique in the world. The splendours of the past, once reserved for a wealthy elite, have been preserved by the socialist power, constrained and forced by the American embargo. These splendors are the old buildings, for many reassigned and transformed into social housing, as well as the old American cars patched up for more than half a century and which today form part of the decor so typical of this city which was once more important than New-York or Boston.


The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, sometimes also called Catedral San Cristobal de la Habana, was built from 1748 on the plans of the Italian architect Francesco Borromini. It is one of the oldest cathedrals in America.


The construction of the railway in Cuba dates back to 1836, 12 years before the first train circulated in Spain. The train was mainly used to transport sugar cane to ports for export. The rum museum has a very nice model of trains transporting sugar cane.



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• Disclaimer: As traditional music is often subject to copyright (claimed by major music distribution groups), the musical illustration of this film "Havana, the capital • Cuba (EN)" does not use typical music of Cuba but is borrowed from a collection of royalty-free music. Despite the painstaking care given to the musical choices in this film, some people may regret this choice, but it is the price to pay for not incurring unnecessary lawsuits. This decision was difficult to take, but it's the only viable solution, unfortunately. •

Havana, Cuba. Musicians at Bodega del Medio
Catedral de la Virgen Maria de la Concepcion Imaculada, Havana • Cuba
Catedral de la Virgen Maria de la Concepcion Imaculada
Famous pubs, Havana • Cuba
Famous pubs
Buena Vista Social Club, Havana • Cuba
Buena Vista Social Club
Street art
Street art

Havana, Cuba

Zoom in on the map and walk around Havana using Streetview

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