Public spaces always have a history. Man constantly acts as a mediating agent in the development of them. They – site/man – thanks to their close bonding, transform each other. Often, without becomes a strict rule, places tend to maintain their social object, but tempered to the dynamics in which they are located. There is in Havana a concrete and illustrative example of the above statements, the environment that makes up today the Plaza de la Fraternidad Latinoamericana or Parque de la Fraternidad.
The first maps of Havana consulted for this work, where the chosen area appears, date back to 1691, but are very rudimentary cartographic documents and contribute little to the knowledge of the area. In 1740 another one was published where you can better appreciate the area. It was an open space in front of the wall. Next to him, the early extra-walled neighborhoods of Guadeloupe and the Lord of Health were already beginning to form. In that period much of the land was a watery area.
The place we are most interested in, the Military Field or Field of Mars, was an esplanade where it was ordered to be built in 1740 for military purposes. Its main objective was to help the defense of the walled city with the creation of a large and depopulated area in front of glacis1 and the area of the Earth Gate of the wall, between the bastions of Santiago and San Pedro. This made it very vulnerable for those who intended to cross the plain and enter the city through this place. It was Agustín Cramer who was the engineer in charge of making some point modifications to the area, including the demolition of the church of Guadalupe, because it supposedly hindered the cannon shot. For a long period it was forbidden to build in its surroundings. In 1764, military exercises began there.
In 1783, Prince William, Duke of Lancaster, took advantage of his presence in the city after achieving peace with England and visited space during a large military stop on 10 May: “In the afternoon, He rode S. A. a horse, with the generals, and some gefes [sic], and garrison officers, in an attempt to have the troop of the exercito [sic], of operation, formed in battle, on the military field, do him the due honors”.2 The event had important connotation in the city. It is also known that in 1791 the first bullring that existed in Havana was located there, a noria that supplied water to a city lacking the necessary liquid and a cannon for artillery training. It is sufficient to compare two planes of the same territory, one from 1783 and the other from 1815, to assert that the environment underwent no significant changes over a long period.
Bishop Espada established his residence nearby. Due to the natural conditions on site, it improved some issues. He arranged the construction of a bridge over the Royal Zanja to transit to the walled city through the Earth Gate and, according to Antonio Bachiller and Morales, “on its coast the marshes of campo de Mars were blinded and a road was built that linked the Paseo with the old Causeway of San Luis Gonzaga, today Calle de la Reina; and this is not only but that road was illuminated for public transit.”3 Years later, Captain General Miguel Tacón arranged in the Field of Mars the construction of an iron perimeter gate that had four gates, one on each side.
In 1842 an attempt was made to plot the area and irrigate each of the fragments of land in a royal lottery draw, which would take place on March 31 of the year itself. People who won had to build buildings according to prototypes designed for space. Everything indicates that the draw was not made or no one was interested due to the conditions. The position remained the property of the Royal Treasury, at least the interior plots of campo de Mars.
In meeting the lobby on April 18, 1859, the Habanero Town Hall agreed to make a park. He chose for this the space occupied by the military installation. Within the project it was intended to erect a monument to the memory of Christopher Columbus and the ashes of the admiral deposited in the Holy Cathedral would be placed in it. This project was also not carried out and the space remained identical.
It was not until 1892 that the mayor of the city resumed the constructive idea. In this way it was given to the city and the space, the little or nothing known – today – Christopher Columbus Park.
It must have been a truly picturesque place, in the style of the time it was created. According to Frank C. Ewart, a traveler who passed through Havana in 1919: “Columbus Park, located in the center of the city, is perhaps the largest and most beautiful. When you contemplate the beautiful spectacle presented by its royal palms, tropical plants and fountain suppliers, it is difficult for you to realize that this was once a swamp, mosquito nursery and the focus of plague and disease.”4 If these claims are combined with the images that are preserved, there will be no doubt about its veracity.
Here we already see a second period of morphological transformation of the area and its surrounding areas. Immediately the shops, lodgings, bars and cafes began to proliferate, all depending on the new space that had arisen, the railway station of Villanueva that was on the grounds that today occupies the Capitol and the dynamics that the environment was acquiring.
What first went from being a country site, pestilent and supper to a military camp, then became an urban area of recreation. Between the first period and another (1740-1892) mediated 152 years; at that time, the man’s hand insidiously insidiously.
No one should remember this Habanero space today, except, perhaps, some long-lived person with extraordinary memory. Ninety years have passed since her disappearance. After an intense search, I have only found one criterion expressed by a man of the twentieth century, that of Professor Antonio Alejo:5 “a park that had no streets, everything was unified […] it was like European park, all a lot of land lined with a fence … one of the gates overlooked Calle de la Reina and another towards Calle de Monte, it was like a forest, you could not see the sun; a lot of brava cane, ceibas, there were ducks, animals, something charming.”6 After the death of Generalísimo Máximo Gómez on June 17, 1905, an international competition was launched for the construction of a monument that paid tribute to the figure of the hero. The work was intended to be located in the center of the place, but was placed on the Habanero coast, where it is currently located.
With the coming to power of Gerardo Machado, a city’s master plan was undertaken to give it a new image, although more than one truculent handling is known in its execution. The French architect Jean Claude Nicolás Forestier, on the occasion of the celebration in Havana of the VI Pan American Conference, designed and built the Plaza de la Fraternidad Americana, formed by several sectors, located precisely on the grounds that were one day the Campo de Mars and later the Colón Park.
At its center was planted a ceiba called the Tree of the Continental Fraternity. The event occurred on February 24, 1928. Ceiba received land from all the countries of America and has come healthy to this day. Another notorious aspect to add to the structure designed and achieved is the road achieved in urban planning, which has responded perfectly to the needs of several eras. While it is true that the park complex has largely maintained its original shape, despite some interventions, it has not been structurally static.
After the Plaza de la Fraternidad Latinoamericana and later the Capitol, the area acquired an imposing visuality within the Cuban capital. It became a reference space for many, especially those who visited the capital: “From then I also remember what I later knew to be known as ‘guajiros walk’ that is, the obligatory tour to see the Capitol, when there were still ‘free airs’, cafes in the portals in front of where orchestras played, even one of women with long skirts.”7 The commercial and recreation movement that gave it the roads of Monte , Reina and Paseo del Prado in her final fragment, added value to the space. The urban and social importance of this complex can then be inferred from all this.
Here is a palpable sample of how human beings and the environment use each other to transform. One modified the area and this, in turn, led to the emergence of new development edges. Now space has become a political and playful complex.8 Space, at every moment of development, was based on the interests of its main transformative agent, man.
Seeing the area as a whole and from a broader perspective, it can be said that despite having changed morphologically over time, some of its emblematic constructions have also managed to be preserved. Nearby are the Fountain of Noble Havana or India, Hotel Saratoga and the significant Aldama Palace. It does not mean that such constructions were the only ones, but they have all had and have great notoriety in the capital. On the living and commercial sidewalk of Monte Street, a significant number of 19th-century properties are preserved, with facades similar to those demanded at the time when it was intended to sell the plots of campo de Mars and the oldest trade in the surroundings, the Bar La Zambumbia on the corner of Monte and Cienfuegos.
If anyone were interested in the shops that existed on Monte y Reina Street, mainly from the republican stage, previously referred to as complementary elements to the area near the park, just look for the flats and do a simple exercise in urban anthropology. They speak for themselves. Many still retain the tiles that identify them. Some are true calligraphic or decorative jewelry that should be preserved.
When it is intended to know the evolution, development and importance of somewhere in a given temporal space, it is necessary to analyze all these elements together, otherwise any analysis would be partial and misleading.
Today the shops of the roads of Monte y Reina do not play the same role of other times. The ‘free airs’ disappeared and the political and military life that surrounded the Field of Mars first and then the Capitol no longer exists. At the moment, the political importance of the area is recovered in some way, as the National Assembly is already installed in the Capitol. Tourism marks a notorious presence within the environment. Service networks are being developed to meet the demands of nationals and foreigners, but also show their faces the social manifestations that accompany the phenomenon. The place is living, at this very moment, another transformative moment.
One thing that is quickly noticed is the tributes to Latin American and Caribbean prospers in the spaces of the Fraternity Park. Noble and fair use for that site. Not all are of the best artistic bill, but this was one of the goals for which the site was created.
Another easy question to corroborate, from a sociological point of view, is the way the dynamics of the environment change from day to night. By day it behaves like an area of pure transit of people moving in different directions of the capital. At night, the site is used by a certain population sector to stay overnight.
With the lights and shadows of each historical period, the place that has been presented has always been of marked importance for Havana and particularly for the current territory of the municipality Of Centro Habana. That’s where our city began to grow when the wall was pushed down and recognized by specialists as one of the main urban nodes of the Cuban capital. Their transformation processes have allowed the emergence of new spaces, which at the same time boosted the social development of the environment. The greatest value that the Fraternity Park can have today, is the historical one, therefore it is the one that we must take care of and disseminate the most. There is no doubt that by reading the past, you can better understand the present. A people who do not adequately preserve their history, nor do they know it, will inevitably disappear as a nation. The place where a ceiba grew, rather than a park, must be a source of pride for all habaneros, he has been a living ente in the sociohistric development of our city. Ω