Photos: José M Correa
The Prado Walk of Havana is one of the most unique and attractive urban spaces in the Cuban capital. Its first name was Alameda of Extramuros or Isabel II’s Alameda, for being outside of the great walls that enclosed the city.
Felipe de Fons de Viela, Marquis de la Torre, who was appointed General Captain of the Island by King Carlos III, is considered the first great town planner of the city. The Marquis endeavored to endow Havana with a Theater, the Government House and a Walk.
That Walk was the Alameda of Paula, named in this way due to the Hospital of San Francisco of Paula that was being built in front of one of its ends. Its construction began in 1772.
But, the Marquis de la Torre not only built the Alameda. In addition he began the works for the Prado Walk in 1772, which was improved and beautified in later times.
Prado has had several names: Prado Walk, Alameda of Extramuros, Isabel II’s Alameda, New Prado’s Walk, Casa Moré Count’s Walk and Martí’s Walk, which is its official name.
Usually it has been called simply Prado Walk or Prado, name that obeys to the resemblance of the Walk of Havana to the one in Madrid located between the Cibeles Fountain and the Atocha Train Station, in the Spanish capital.
Towards 1841 that Walk becomes already the center of Havana. The Square of Armas displaced the Alameda of Paula as a place of preference. And, at the same time, the Prado displaced the Square of Armas, because of its greater extension and amplitude.
The Prado’s structure has kept impassive through the years. However, its main part was of land; it was not paved, although it had leafy trees at its edges.
During the last decades of the 19th century and the early ones of the 20th, the wealthy classes built their mansions on the Prado Walk. When they left them for settling in Vedado and the new places in the west of the capital, occurred an invasion of luxury shops, mainly for tourism, followed by another of offices, hotels, cafes ...
Nowadays the Prado Walk continues being a place of attraction not only for foreign visitors, but for Cubans from any part of the country.
The Fountain of India or Noble Havana is a representation where appears the image of the mythical Indian Habana, Cacique Habaguanex’s wife, regent of the area before the Columbus’s arrival, which is believed the name of the Cuban capital was taken from. It is located at the southern end of the Prado Walk, about 100 meters from the Capitolio. It was designed by the architect Giuseppe Gaggini under the mandate of the Count of Villanueva don Claudio Martínez de Pinillos. It was built with white carrara marble and it is three meters high.
The Prado was the first asphalt street in Havana, a true event for the time, hence the incorporation of the automobile in its walks. When the Capitolio of Havana was built in 1929 a section of the Walk was removed and the one that remained was redesigned.
Eight gentle and beautiful lions are faithful guardians at the Prado Walk of Havana, while they are silent witnesses of what happens around them.
Havana was the most important port for Spain in the New World, so it was necessary to protect it from corsairs and pirates. Then fortifying the bay was decided, for this reason hundreds of cannons were bought to protect and defend the city, in fortresses such as Morro Castle.
During the neocolonial stage, in full 20th century, it was verified that cannons were already obsolete, that’s why their bronze was melted and used for creating the sculptures of the lions. In 1928, the President of Cuba commissioned the French sculptor Jean Puiforcat and also the Cuban sculptor and bronze foundry worker Juan Comas, for sculpting the lions on a large scale for being placed along the Walk.
The Lions are still there and they have become a symbol of Havana.
Two of them erect majestically and firmly at the northern end of the road, along San Lázaro Street and in front of the Malecon of Havana, next to the statue of the poet Juan Clemente Zenea.
Truly, the final image of the emblematic Walk that has came to the present was decided in the 1928-1929 period: stone benches were built with marble back and base, ornamental elements were placed like cups and corbels in profusion along the Walk, the artistic streetlights of iron and the bronze lions were placed over their guardian pedestals. The central boulevard was paved with a beautiful terrazzo floor. When building the Capitolio its exterior areas were integrated to the Prado Walk, the Small Square of the Fountain of India and the Fraternity Park.
These days, the Prado Walk extends from the Fountain of India and the Fraternity Park to the Malecon, crossing the busiest areas of Old Havana and only one block from Industria Street, which marks the border with Havana Center.
The Prado without its Lions, it would be like Havana without its Malecon.
Text and photo by José M. Correa Armas
Translated by Aylen Lesmes Bonachea