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Prado Promenade: A Pause in Havana's Everyday Life

The presence of a colonial city, protected by solid walls several centuries ago, has always been accompanied by open green areas, as city dwellers have needed to escape from the anguish of confinement.

Havana was not an exception. In the 17th century, a two-kilometer-long wall surrounded the Cuban capital, thus protecting thousands of houses inside that area.

For that reason, in the late 1700s, colonial authorities carried out a program of public works, which was aimed at giving the city the dignity it deserved as the capital of the Island.

One of the first expressions of that renovation process was the simultaneous construction of two promenades, as well as the first theater and government palaces.

One of those promenades, the one outside the wall, was nearly one kilometer long and ran between the two gates in the wall, and soon became a popular choice for those who wanted to take a ride in their carriages in the afternoon.

This promenade, which initially consisted of two lines of trees, was called Nuevo Prado, and was rapidly and warmly accepted by city dwellers, who were eager to have a nice place for their amusement and leisure, specially in the afternoon.

View of El Morro from the Prado Promenade.
Buildings on the Prado Promenade.
The Prado Promenade.

Parallel to the Prado ran the spacious Field of Mars, which ended by the sea, and in the middle of the promenade, military garrisons were built, which were turned into barracks for African slaves, and into a Botanical Garden in 1817.

With the passage of time, the popular promenade underwent several renovations that added new elements such as neoclassic or rustic fountains, including the so-called India or Noble Havana Fountain, sculpted in Genoa by José Gaggini.

Different kinds of carriages - which revealed the social status of their owners - dominated the environment of the popular promenade, which had become a small meeting place for the members of Havana's society in the late 18th century.

The Prado found its competitor in the Military Promenade in 1834, later known as Carlos III, which was surrounded by a green natural environment that lacked big buildings. Its only disadvantage was the position of the Sun in the afternoon, which hit directly on the faces of pedestrians.

In the late 19th century, the Prado Promenade had become an area mainly for pedestrians, and was complemented by the newly built Central Park nearby.

Modern edifices with spacious portals were built on either side of the promenade, turning the street into a prisoner of façades and concrete columns, which surround a narrow green lane, in an environment where artificial ornaments of garlands and capitals compete with the promenade's thick laurels.

Remodeled as it is today in 1928, the famous street benefited from a design of neocolonial style that included marble benches, lamps, cups and the popular bronze lions, silent witnesses and guards of people who enjoy walking under the trees and breathing the fresh air coming from the sea, amid the noise of a modern city.

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