The Plaza Complex

Ordinance 112. “The main plaza is to be the starting point of town; if the town is situated on the sea coast, it should be placed at the landing place of the port, but inland it should be at the center of the town.”

Ordinance 126. “In the plaza, no lots shall be assigned to private individuals; instead, they shall be used for the buildings of the church and royal houses and for city use, but shops and houses for the merchants shall be built first.”

Havana Vieja (Colonial Havana) Overview
Notice, in particular, the town grid system, which was explicitly derived from the Roman architectural tradition and city planning.

Once the fortification of the harbor and city had been completed – with fotresses La Real Fuerza, El Moro, and La Punta – Colonial Havana rapidly transformed into a commercial center of the Caribbean. Large influxes of gold and silver, as described beforehand, seized the attention of King Philip II of Spain, as well as merchants, artisans, and Spanish settlers in hopes of claiming fortune. Yet Havana would not have been able to foster such a commercial climate had it not been for the development of plazas in the second half of the sixteenth century. Encouraged by Philip II’s Laws of the Indies, plazas sprouted throughout the city, joining populated streets and establishing a place for the congregation of cultural institutions and Catholicism. The main plazas of colonial Havana were, most notably, la Plaza de Armas, la Plaza de San Franscisco, and la Plaza de Vieja. Simply stated, urbanization would have been impossible without plazas.


A map of Colonial Havana and its city plan from August of 1762. Originally from Francis Hart's study, "The Siege of Havana, 1762." (See bibliography)

An English map of Colonial Havana and its city plan from August of 1762. Originally from Francis Hart’s study, “The Siege of Havana, 1762.” (See bibliography)