Statue of Cesepedes in the centre of the  Plaza de Armas Old Havana Cuba

J Marshall

Plaza de Armas

Habana Vieja

Havana's oldest square was laid out in the early 1520s, soon after the city's foundation, and was originally known as Plaza de Iglesia after a church – the Parroquial Mayor – that once stood on the site of the present-day Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. The name Plaza de Armas (Square of Arms) wasn't adopted until the late 16th century, when the colonial governor, then housed in the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, used the site to conduct military exercises.

Today's plaza, along with most of the buildings around it, dates from the late 1700s.

In the center of the square, which is lined with royal palms, is a marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the man who set Cuba on the road to independence in 1868. The statue replaced one of unpopular Spanish king Ferdinand VII in 1955.

Also of note on the square's eastern aspect is the late-18th-century Palacio de Los Condes de Santovenia, today the five-star Hotel Santa Isabel.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Habana Vieja attractions

1. Statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes

0.01 MILES

In the center of Plaza de Armas, ringed by royal palms, is a marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the man who set Cuba on the road to independence…

2. Museo Nacional de Historia Natural

0.03 MILES

An average museum that contains examples of Cuba's flora and fauna; it overlooks Plaza de Armas in a building that once served as the US embassy.

3. Museo de la Ciudad

0.04 MILES

Even with no artifacts, Havana's city museum would be a tour de force, courtesy of the opulent palace in which it resides. Filling the whole western side…

4. Palacio de Los Condes de Santovenia

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Lining Plaza de Armas, Los Condes de Santovenia is the former stately palace of the counts of Santovenia and today houses the five-star Hotel Santa Isabel…

5. Palacio del Segundo Cabo

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Wedged into Plaza de Armas' northwestern corner, this beautiful baroque building was constructed in 1772 as the headquarters of the Spanish vice-governor…

6. Museo de Pintura Mural

0.06 MILES

A simple museum that exhibits some beautifully restored original frescoes in the Casa del Mayorazgo de Recio, popularly considered to be Havana's oldest…

7. Museo El Templete

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This museum is housed in the tiny neoclassical Doric chapel on the eastern side of Plaza de Armas, and was erected in 1828 at the point where Havana's…

8. Castillo de la Real Fuerza

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On the seaward side of Plaza de Armas is one of the oldest existing forts in the Americas, built between 1558 and 1577 on the site of an earlier fort…