In 2019, Havana celebrates its five hundredth anniversary, although the actual dates of the foundation of the villa on the south coast and later in the Port of Carenas are still under discussion:
“Because the Books of Cabildos before 1550 have disappeared, and there is no document to date concerning the foundation of the town of Havana, it is impossible to precisely fix the site where it was founded by order of Diego Velázquez, nor the exact date of that foundation.”1
In this temporary space the city has experienced important and momentous historical, social and cultural events. To the surprise of many, it has even been declared Wonder City by the Swiss entity New7Wonders. As she is a city that is respected, she also has her milestones or elements that identify her, today I will stop to talk a little about them.
The Lady of the Fortress
Isabel de Bobadilla, 2 wife of Hernando de Soto,3 who was between 1538 and 1539 the governor of the island of Cuba, held the position of her husband when he left ahead and greedy to the conquest of Florida. She remained the entrusting until 1544 and became the first and only woman to hold the position of governor in Cuba. It is said that after the departure of her beloved, Isabel climbed every day to the tower of the Castle of the Royal Force, there she observed if any ship would give her the sign of Hernando’s return. It is also claimed that he did so until he learned of his death. The man never returned, he remained forever in the Mississippi on June 30, 1542.
It is also said that when Juan de Bitrián and Viamonte, governor of Cuba between 1630 and 1634 – eighty-six years after Isabel’s history – ordered the bronze casting of a sunflower or vane, the reason was to recall it. Others, on the other hand, claim that he only wanted a vane that matched the Giraldillo that is located in the tower of the Cathedral of Seville. Nothing unusual would be, because as it appears in several revised documents, Viamonte had been born in the villa itself, but his appointment as governor did not arise from nowhere, he had to be a known man of the Crown and at some point he had to go to Spain, maybe there he saw the sculpture and wanted to give Havana another similar one. The people here have always liked not to be left behind. Certainly, there are some subtle parallels between the two, you don’t need to be an art expert to realize it.
After the sculptor Jerome Martín Pinzón the decorated artifact, was placed at the top of the tower of the fortress that had the same name as that to which Isabel’s story refers. This was no longer the same fortress, nor was it in the same place. The new force was built in 1558 and was completed in 1577, fifty-three years before Juan de Bitrián took office:
“By Royal Cédula of February 9, 1556, the Construction of a Fortress was ordered by the Crown […] To carry out the work of the new fortress, he named the Crown Bustamante de Herrera […] who could not reach Cuba because he was surprised by the death, being appointed instead, to Bartolomé Sánchez […] Sanchez arrived in Havana in November 1558 … and the works began on December 1.”4
Here there is logical doubt, based on multiple evidence, as to whether the fortress of The Old Force had any tower for Elizabeth to climb every day, because what is known is that it was very indevoidable and inoperative as a fortress and that it was the governor herself who commanded her to build a house:
“… on March 20, 1538, the Queen entrusted in advance Don Hernando de Soto, governor of the island, the construction of a fortress in Havana […] De Soto, as he embarked in Havana to Florida, in May 1539 … he entrusted the work of the fortress to the neighbor of Santiago, Mateo Aceituno … who built it in seven months, leaving it, according to his own saying on March 12, 1540 … Governor Juanes Dávila … declared, on March 31, 1545, that it was of strength only the name”.5
It was precisely in that year of 1545 that Mrs. Isabel de Bobadilla ceased to hold office.
The famous architect Joaquín E. Weiss, an expert in Cuban colonial architecture themes, a must in any case study, described the Giraldilla as follows:
“The Tower of the Force Castle is crowned by a spinning figurine depicting victory, carrying on its right arm a palm from which only the trunk is preserved, and on the left, a pole, the cross of Calatrava, of whose order was Knight Bitrián of Viamonte; at the bottom of the pole you can see the staples that hold the banner that served to lead the whole by the action of the wind.”6
Weiss clarifies some essential elements of Pinzón’s work, this helps to better understand its meaning.
From the Habanera sculpture, real seas of ink have already been poured onto paper, so I will not stop much longer in it. Far away was mr. colonial governor thinking that this statuette, after time, would become the symbol of our capital city. No matter what cause the Giraldilla was born for, nor does it matter the accuracy or veracity of the story that gave it life, what is clear is that no one disputes her place. The figure appears in photos, advertising posters and even in the presentation of a local television channel. Whenever Havana is talked about, there comes the “bronzed” lady in her own right, everyone in Cuba or abroad recognizes her as such.
A king in Havana
Since nothing is static, the passage of time has begun to play a bad pass to the veleta habanera. A new figure has emerged that, without anyone proposing it, began to be homologized – not to displace – with regard to the significance of the well-known milestone. Everything has been born from the bowels of the capital people, hence its value. It is enough for someone to see or remember it so that it is immediately transported to the capital as well. This figure is within sight and hands of all, unlike the elevated and high Giraldilla. It is one – any of the eight – of the beautiful and braviate lions of Paseo del Prado.
The new king has much less history than the lady of the Fortress of the Royal Force, but in terms of the capitalists’ sense of belonging to him – something that weighs heavily when making any assessment of its meaning – it is difficult to overcome.
Many when they see them wonder about them, the reality is that very little has been written about it. The history of its existence was born following the Plan Director of Havana of the late twentieth and early twentieth century, better known as Plan Forestier.7 Among the works that were carried out was the remodeling of Paseo de Martí or the Prado de La Habana.
Through government decree No. 2094 of the time,8 was allocated the budget that would allow the construction of the furniture and ornaments that would adorn the work. Among them were the lions. The figures were modeled by the artist and goldsmith Jean Puiforcat in 1928, some point to him as Italian, others as French, the latter seems to be the correct nationality.
After the molding process, the lions were melted by the Cuban sculptor and smelter Juan Comas Masique. They were made with bronze from old colonial canyons, which for many years protected the city. All work was carried out in the specialized workshops of the Secretariat of Public Works. Each specimen measures two meters and weighs four tons.
In the cold morning of December 31 of the year, the eight beasts were placed on their pedestals. Havana awakened a new year protected by these guardians forged with sap and stretch of fire. They have stood firm in their posts to this day.
The iconic beasts have witnessed countless events to be located on the most important promenade of our city, this makes them partakers of city life day by day. On the popular level there are two more reasons that have made them go into people’s hearts. The first of these were the carnivals, popular festivals that took place for a long time on the Paseo del Prado, under their suspicious and attentive eyes. The second reason is in using the image inside the emblem of the capital’s baseball team, the Industrialists.
It may be that this is where the greatest Habanero affection for his felines comes from. Industrialists, more than a baseball team, is a sociocultural phenomenon, even if many don’t think so. He’s got no fan, we’re all fanatics. It’s the team more often, but also the most hated. The only one who is on very bad streaks, if he wins two consecutive games, moves fifty thousand spectators to his headquarters, the “Latino” or “Colossus of the Hill”, as he is popularly named. To further consolidate its habanera image, it possesses the best achieved and friendly mascot that animates a ball stadium in Cuba.
No one has the slightest doubt of a question, today the most significant of the monuments or sculptures could be removed from any place in the city and nothing would happen. The Neptune, which for many years remained in the Villalón del Vedado park, where a strong sense of belonging had been created towards it, this greatly annoyed the neighbors of the area, but nothing transcendent happened. Also moved to the municipality Playa the monumental sculptural complex dedicated to General Calixto García and was also not of greater significance. He removed the old pedestal of Charles III, who slept empty for long years, after the king was lowered from the entrance of the old promenade of Tacón, a street that bore the name of the sovereign and which is still recognized as such by the population. The pinnacle was waiting for some other figure to be placed on it that never came. Finally this was reinstalled, with its legitimate statue in the Plaza de Armas, little or nothing to do with the place, unless it is to remind us of the years when the island was sub-coordinated to the vagaries of the Crown. Another story imported for the Historic Center, luckily this one also passed without sorrows or glories for the local population and almost certain for tourists.
I believe that you could even remove the bust of Manuel de la Cruz and the statue of Juan Clemente Zenea from Paseo del Prado itself and few would give it greater importance. If only one of the lions were removed, the matter would be different, because they already constitute a capital symbol. Let us hope that sanity does not allow any of them to appear one day in the Plaza de San Francisco, thickening the feline pack there; are not animals of the same herd.
The author of these lines presented a story related to sculptural figures. Many capitalists felt upset and outraged, causing complex situations on the central park sports rock on the day they were shown a promotional poster for Gay Pride Day 2011. It featured the Prado lions adorned and machine-gunned allegorically – I do the story taking a resounding distance from any discriminatory feelings. Understand that it may have been something thought of based on feline symbology, not habanera, as opposed to homophobia. The use of lions was a semiotic resource.9 The truth is that the resulting effect was counterproductive, taken as unpleasant and provocative by many present there.
Sociologically, when something is invested or acquired as a symbol, official or remunerated by the will of a collective, special care must be taken with its use, however fair or specific the idea may be, especially because: “A symbol, by transmitting more than a pure representation of reality, becomes a very strong link among the members of a specific community , for it represents not only the obvious, but is part of its identity, representing the values, feelings and ideas in which they believe”.10 If lions were not popularly attributed their symbolic meaning and this would not be recognized, they would hardly have been selected for that purpose. Here it is evident, once again, the sociological theory of significance.
Waiting for the day
A city without milestones would be equal to an urban amazeer with no history. Our Havana, that of all Cubans, would never go into such a sad classification. Almost at the gates of her fifth centenary deserves, as the popular Van Van theme says: “let them stand up for her.” It’s everyone’s task, because we all live it and feel it, that would be the best lion roar that can be thrown on their birthday. Ω
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