Monday, December 24, 2012

Ten Cities 8) Havana

Becket, December 24, 2012

Why would you draw a tree, a single tree, in the map of a city?

There is a beautifully colored map that depicts the main square of Havana---Plaza de Armas--towards the end of the 17th century, perhaps drawn by the Cuban-born military engineer Juan de Císcara y Ramírez (the drawing is actually a "cavalier perspective", the kind favored in the representation of fortifications at the time.)  It shows prominently the old fort--Castillo de la Fuerza--built in the mid 1500s.  Too far into the bay to be of any use for defensive purposes, it was quickly superseded by the two forts--the Castillo del Morro and the San Salvador de la Punta Fortress--on opposite sides of the entrance to the bay.  Still, the old fort became the residence of the governor and an anchor, even if an awkward one, to the architecture of the square.  The map also shows a number of perimeter blocks of different sizes, including the first church of Havana--the Iglesia Mayor, later demolished and replaced by the cathedral.  At the bottom, the open space of the San Francisco Square.

Yes, and the tree.  If you go to Havana today, you can see a tree in exactly the same place, a large Ceiba tree in front of the small Templete, the Neoclassic monument built in 1827 to commemorate the foundation of the city.  Inside, in one of the three paintings by Jean Baptiste Vermay, is the legendary Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, under the large Ceiba tree, celebrating the first Mass in San Cristóbal de la Habana.

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