Havana has been called a City of Porches. Located on the northern coast of the Big Island of Cuba, it is geographically on Latitude 23.14 North. This means the sun beats mercilessly upon its streets and squares. Why would any city be known for its’ porches?
Everybody has heard the expression “On the sunny side of the street”, with the meaning of being in a nice place. In Havana you'll hear Cubans say, “Estar en la acera de los bobos”, or being on the fool's side of the street, when you're walking or standing on the sunny side of the street, because you have to be foolish to try to walk or stand in the hot tropical Sun.
With this being said, the Spanish colonists learned, and adapted from the Moorish architecture of Andalusia, in southern Spain, a way of building that favored anything that would provide shade. It came to be, that all principal buildings and mansions always had street front porches. Along commercial streets, all the porches fronting stores and other public establishments were connected, so you could walk blocks and blocks along these porches, and be always in the shade, showing you were smart. This would also protect patrons, as well as passers-by from the sudden summer showers that could drench you in a few seconds.
Now these are not just normal porches. As you can see in the pictures or as you will walk down the street, these coverings are concrete columns with high ceilings. The architecture is consistently elegant and full of color. There are no words for how phenomenal these porches are.
You can walk to different cities completely covered. The main commercial roads of 19th Century and early 20th Century Havana are all walkable along the porches: Galiano, all the way from San Lazaro to Reina, where the finest stores were located. Calzada del Monte, the Forest Road, also known as Calzada Real, or King's Road, leading westward out of the City, can be walked in the shade of the porches all the way from the former City Gates, to Esquina de Tejas, Roof Tile Corner, where the neighborhood of El Cerro (the Hill) begins. Since El Cerro was in the early 19th Century a residential neighborhood, the porches of the mansions of the well-to-do were not public spaces, and not connected to pedestrian traffic.
When you visit Havana, try to schedule a leisure walk along any of the streets and avenues where the buildings have connected porches. You'll find the remains of the old stores and shops, bars, coffee shops, and all sorts of commercial activities that gave life and wealth to the City...
With the changes being introduced in Cuba's economic system, you'll find many new businesses sprouting everywhere. There is a brighter future for Havana's porches. New commercial ventures will return to the shaded porches, and a leisure stroll along the streets of the City will be more than a lesson in almost forgotten history, but a better way to enjoy Havana's hospitality.
April 30, 2015