Founded about 1519 on Cuba’s north-western shore, Old Havana has maintained a remarkable unity of character through its adherence to its original urban layout. Urban plazas surrounded by many buildings of outstanding architectural merit and narrow streets lined with more popular or traditional styles permeate the historic centre of the city. Its overall sense of architectural, historical and environmental continuity makes it the most impressive historical city centre in the Caribbean and one of the most notable in the American continent as a whole. With the establishment and development of the fleet system in the Spanish West Indies, Havana in the second half of the 16th century became the largest port in the region, and in the 18th century developed the most complete dockyard in the New World, both of which necessitated military protection. The extensive network of defensive installations that was created between the 16th and 19thcenturies includes some of the oldest and largest stone fortifications now standing in the Americas.
Old Havana, which is defined by the extent of the former city walls, has maintained the pattern of the early urban setting with its five large plazas, each with its own architectural character: Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza del Cristo and Plaza de la Catedral. Around these plazas are many outstanding buildings, including the Iglesia Catedral de La Habana, Antiguo Convento de San Francisco de Asís, Palacio del Segundo Cabo and Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. Interspersed with this mix of baroque and neoclassical style monuments is a homogeneous ensemble of private houses with arcades, balconies, wrought-iron gates and internal courtyards –many of them evocatively time-worn. The complex system of fortifications that protected Havana, its port and its dockyard is comprised of the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña –one of the largest colonial fortresses in the Americas– on the east side of the narrow entrance canal to Havana Bay; Castillo de la Real Fuerza –one of the oldest colonial fortresses in the Americas (begun in 1558)– on the west side of the canal; and Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta and Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro guarding the entrance to the canal; as well as the Torreón de San Lázaro, Castillo de Santa Dorotea de Luna de la Chorrera, Reducto de Cojímar, Baluarte del Ángel, Lienzo de la Muralla y Puerta de la Tenaza, Restos de Lienzo de la Muralla, Garita de la Maestranza, Cuerpo de Guardia de la Puerta Nueva, Restos del Baluarte de Paula, Polvorín de San Antonio, Hornabeque de San Diego, Fuerte No. 4, Castillo de Santo Domingo de Atarés, Castillo del Príncipe and Fuerte No. 1.
Criterion (iv)The historic fortunes of Havana were a product of the exceptional function of its bay as an obligatory stop on the maritime route to the New World, which consequently necessitated its military protection. The extensive network of defensive installations created between the 16th and 19th centuries includes some of the oldest and largest extant stone fortifications in the Americas, among them La Cabaña fortress on the east side of the narrow entrance canal to Havana Bay, Real Fuerza Castle on the west side, and Morro castle and La Punta castle guarding the entrance to the canal.
Criterion (v) The historic centre of Havana has maintained a remarkable unity of character resulting from the superimposition of different periods in its history, which has been achieved in a harmonious yet expressive manner through adherence to the original urban layout and underlying pattern of the city as a whole. Within the historical centre of the city are many buildings of outstanding architectural merit, especially surrounding its plazas, which are set off by houses and residential buildings in a more popular or traditional style that, when considered as a whole, provide an overall sense of architectural, historical and environmental continuity that makes Old Havana the most impressive historical city centre in the Caribbean and one of the most notable in the American continent as a whole.