Countries: America


Havana's Historic Center

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Cuba
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Havana’s imposing Historic Center is currently being transformed by an extensive remodeling process. To see it come to life before our eyes is a delightful and astonishing experience indeed. The promoter and mastermind of this phenomenon is the talented, analytical Dr. Eusebio Leal, the perfectly balanced combination of a utopian and a realist, of social reformer and investor, of historian and modernist.

What is the principal challenge in preserving this heritage?
”I must confess that many of us were trained as pure intellectuals, as expert who – from our laboratories or offices – were primarily in charge of museums, monuments and archeological sites. Life however, has led us to consider this approach – and now we have definitely corroborated it – that in our countries, heirs to a vast patrimonial legacy, it is impossible to accomplish anything in the field of preservation if it doesn’t also involve the social development of the community.”

Thus the façades and interior of the buildings now recapture their former splendor; the plasterwork is defined; walls are covered, last details has been worked out and the buildings once again flaunt their bright colors. Art has brought it all back to life, although this project would be all in vain, if we overlook the fact that it was undertaken in order to be used.

This precisely the goal established by Eusebio Leal and his team: to bring each building back to life by supporting and generating activities for and by the residents of Old Havana. For example the museums are now equipped with classrooms, where children attend their regular schools, and every two months they move to another museum. This practice not only provides them with theoretical knowledge, but also with the specific cultural subject matter exhibited by each museum. As a result, their country’s rich heritage, displayed in museums like Casade Juarez, Guayasamin, Casa Lamm or Casa Arabe also now belong to them.

Preserving a tangible or in tangible heritage confronts Cuban with the dilemma of the active versus the contemplative. They venture to say that the path to truth consists in identifying one and the other without rejecting the exceptions, the extraordinary… They must accept this patrimony as a whole, as a valuable asset that contributes to its own subsistence without restoring to privatization or subjecting it to the effects of speculation and undue exploitation.

This financial autonomy, if they may call it that, allows them to provide continuity to this restoration project, even in the midst of an extremely precarious economic situation.

Consequently, each remodeled building is immediately put to use and begins to generate economic benefits, therefore generating sufficient income to continue remodeling the next building. “Our aim is to create a socioeconomic structure, which, in time, will be self-supporting and linked to the cultural character of the region, to the discovery of its traditions and to recovery of its old values, and subsequently constitute a source of employment.”

Gradually, the downtown area is coming back to life: over here there is a woman’s hospital; over there a family-style hotel; a little further beyond, there is a workshop, where women embroider and spin. This is a community interwoven within the splendor of its magnificent architecture.

The four main squares in Old Havana – San Francisco, Cathedral Square, Plaza de Arms (Parade Ground) and the Old Square – now display their new image: This effort has not been solely restricted to the Historic Center, since it has also expanded to other parts of the city like the Malecon and San Isidro.

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