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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Travel

La Villa de San Cristobal de La Habana prepares for 486th birthday

Posted November 17, 2005 by publisher in Cuba Travel.
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EFE

La Villa de San Cristobal de La Ha-bana, this capital’s full name, is preparing to celebrate the 486th anniversary of its founding with a huge effort to clean up and rebuild after Hurricane Wilma spawned the worst flooding of its long history.

Once known as the “Pearl of the Caribbean,” this island’s main city with its 2.2 million inhabitants is shaking off the effects of the hurricane, which forced some 130,000 persons here to evacuate and caused serious damage to more than 2,800 houses and other buildings when it struck in late October.

Wilma’s storm surge brought the ocean some two kilometers (1.25 miles) inland and flooded large portions of the city to a depth of several meters (yards), the worst in-undation in Havana’s history.

The storm showed no mercy to the Malecon, the seaside avenue where both Cu-bans and tourists congregate and along which one can get one of the world’s best ocean views. It runs eight kilometers (five miles) from Old Havana, the city’s historic center, to the Almendares River.

Powerful waves several meters high displaced tons of cement and opened huge “waves” in the pavement of the roadway.

The recovery tasks, in which the armed forces are playing a key role, have al-lowed the Malecon to recover - bit by bit - its traditional look, but the marks of Wilma’s fury are still evident here and there, for instance in the gaps broken in the concrete seawall along the avenue.

Most of the coast-hugging road is already passable to pedestrians an Havana residents can once again stroll along the Malecon for a breath of fresh air during the long blackouts suffered almost daily by a large part of the city.
Slowly but surely, passersby, beachgoers, fishermen, tourists and pairs of lovers are returning to the city’s main thoroughfare. Constructed a little more than a century ago, what today constitutes the Malecon was - during the 19th century - an area of small coves frequented by members of the Cuban middle class who wanted to take an ocean dip or bathe outside the walled city currently known as Old Havana.

With the construction of the Malecon’s wall along the ocean, Havana residents gained a wide area of usable land, but ever since the sea has been trying to reclaim it. From time to time, large waves break over the wall, lifting the manhole cover lids off and flooding the avenue and the buildings along it.

A walk down the Malecon is a discovery of the history of this capital through its architecture, from the colonial era buildings near the Morro to the modern and somewhat cold-looking U.S. Interests Section building.

Midway aong the avenue are the imposing Hotel Nacional; the “Piragua,” the site of concerts; and the Tribuna Antiimperialista beside the U.S. mission, the location for huge protests against U.S. policy.

Any good tour of the Male-con must end, or begin, in Old Havana, the heart of the city and its main attraction.

Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, Old Havana contains more than 3,000 buildings of historic or architectural interest within its 142 hectares (325 acres).

Many Havana residents are sure to be present at midnight on Nov. 15 on the Plaza de Armas to commemorate the founding of the city.

There, they will pass three times around the plaza’s nigh-sacred ceba tree, throw a few coins into the air and ask the city’s patron, St. Christopher, to grant them a wish.

Among those in attendance at the long-standing ceremony will be Eusebio Leal, the city historian and the moving force behind the recovery of old central Havana, who says that th city “is a piece of the memory of Cuba, of the Americas and the world.”

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