Walking behind Heel’s footsteps

Por: Lázaro Numa

Avenida Carlos III

The Paseo de Tacón, or Militar, as he was also known, was one of those famous places that was gradually transformed and did not go through the panorama of our city as something insignificant and ephemeral. His connotation transcends to this day.
It was the controversial Captain General Miguel Tacón (1834-1838) who thought and promoted the reform of the “road” that, starting from the roads of San Luis de Gonzaga –Reina – and Belascoaín, led lousy to the Castle of the Prince. By that time Havana reached just up to such a limit,1 Belascoaín was the border between the city and the countryside. Tacón himself referred to his project:

“I lacked the capital of a field walk where the fresh and free air could be breathed, and I resolved to undertake it from the countryside they call Peñalver to the foothills of the hill where the Prince’s Castle is located. It was this place, once swampy and watery, the most purposeful for a work of this species in the vicinity of this city, in the part where it is not surrounded by the sea. There was also another reason to turn the work into doubly useful, which was the frank communication of this square with the castle, interrupted by that part in the rainy season.”2

Beyond a route for military purposes, nuanced by its different communicative alternatives, an issue that will always characterize it, it became a playground for the habaneros of the time, this is confirmed by Mercedes Santa Cruz and Montalvo, the Countess of Merlin, who said:

“At six o’clock all the chitins wait at the door of the houses; women with bare heads and natural flowers in them, and men in frac and tie, vest and white trousers, all perfectly dressed, climb each in their chitin and go to the walk of Heel, to those beautiful malls wherever out of idleness, whether out of indolence or pride, no one walks on foot. Everywhere the volantas slide, truly worthy of this name, and in which we could see the habanous voluptuousness lying down with negligence, and enjoying the slight breath of the breeze.”3

Considered since then spacious and safe via the expanding city, the tour was first called Paseo de Tacón in recognition of its superb promoter, who was not to the liking of many for its despotic action. As expressed in the important work Cuba monumental, statuary and epigraphic, the Paseo:

Antiguas litografías de la entrada del Paseo de Tacón.
Ancient lithographs of the entrance of the Paseo de Tacón.

“… in an area of one thousand four hundred and twenty-five provincial rods and a constant width of seventy, was the subject of preferential attention, as demonstrated by the fact that it was endowed with streets divided by four rows of white poplars, at the foot of whose trunks, on both sides, to the source of the column or Ceres, stone benches were placed, which were doubled , only from here, to the second of the Villagers or fruits, simply dirt trunks, covered with small grass called Bermuda, the third Fountain of the Satyros or the flowers, onwards. The central street, wider than the others, was for the carriages. Find this walk embellished, with five roundabouts or roundabouts, drawn at different distances, surrounded by greenings and circular seats, seating the first two, and the rest of New Holland pines and stone stool.”5

The Paseo de Tacón had a mostly road character, hence its central path was wider and designed for carriages. Its consolidation stimulated urban development on both sides of the route, in fact, it was the catalyst for continued the infanta road, which at first developed only from the Corner of Texas to the Paseo.

Obras impulsadas por Tacón y Villanueva. En el plano superior se pueden apreciar el mercado de Tacón, la nueva cárcel de La Habana y la fuente del Neptuno. En el plano inferior la estación de Villanueva y la fuente de la Noble Habana.
Works promoted by Tacón and Villanueva. At the top level you can see the Tacón market, havana’s new prison and Neptune’s fountain. On the lower floor the station of Villanueva and the fountain of Noble Havana.

Between Captain General Miguel Tacón and The Mayor General Claudio Martínez de Pinillos, Count of Villanueva, a great dispute ate, both tried to demonstrate their power by creating or promoting works in Havana and denigrating each other. Tacón, with the contribution of many, built havana’s new prison, a market, the fountain of Neptune and the walk we boarded. Villanueva, for his part, erected the railway and its station, the fountain of Noble Havana and the technological schools. And while “those children had many parents,” it was these two figures who promoted and realized such projects. The dispute became complex and even claimed that it was Villanueva’s money that ended Tacón’s tenure on the island, although he was a man of remarkable influences and merits on the Peninsula.

Places on the Paseo

The tour was started by a statue of Charles III made of white carrara marble. Although it had been erected on the Paseo de Isabel II in 1803, it was later moved to the new site and placed on a stone pedestal in the center of the first roundabout, on the same corner of Belascoaín, in front of the current Reina road. In a very short time the layout took the name of the sovereign. Closing the circle, on either side of the central road, two fluted Doric columns were placed, topped by stone urns.
A short distance away, behind the statue of Charles III and within a second roundabout, which according to the aforementioned plane of 1866 was between Oquendo and Soledad streets, stood the first fountain of the promenade, that of Ceres6 or the column. The fountain was modified in the first reform of the Paseo: the column was removed and the statue of the goddess was installed directly on the central pedestal.
It is claimed that the sculpture of Charles III, the Doric columns at the entrance of the promenade and the fountain were installed in the year 1835. The statue of Ceres remained until very recently on a pedestal on the layout of the current avenue, hidden among the flamboyants of one side of the central road, forgotten and mistreated until the last consequences. He was removed by his pedestal.
Continuing the route, right in the center of the interception that formed the Calzada de la Infanta María Luisa Fernanda (Infanta– and Paseo de Tacón itself, was the third roundabout and in it the fountain of the Villagers (1837) or of the fruits. It was named after the four pilasters surrounding the central pedestal were glasses full of fruit. It also possessed the same number of allegorical statues, first they were plaster and then replaced with similar marble statues.

A fourth roundabout served as accommodation to the fountain of the Satyros7 (1837) or the flowers, which had, on their respective stands, four Etruscan vessels8 where flowering plants always grew. Its central pedestal, very similar to that of the fountain of the Villagers, was first topped by a copón, which is the same one that is located today in 5th. Avenue and 42nd street in the municipality of Playa, was later changed to a statue of foundry representative of the goddess Pomona.9 Four semi-detached pilasters served as a support so that, in two of them, the figures of the Satyros rested and on the other there were two prostrate lions, who coincidentally are also on the site of 5th. Avenue, the figures alternated in a circle on the pedestal. It seems to have been the best-achieved source of the Walk.

This roundabout was located right in front of the door of Quinta de los Molinos, a place that was first the rest house of the captains general, residence of Generalísimo Máximo Gómez and then the Botanical Garden. Its central pinnacle managed to survive until the twentieth century, not as a source, but as a sculptural ensemble after a recomposition.
The fountain of Esculapio (1836) awaited the passerby at the last roundabout, where today the avenues Boyeros and Salvador Allende are intercepted. It is assured that it was the worst bill and weed marble. The statue of the Roman God of medicine and healing stood on a quadrangular pedestal in the center of an octagonal cup and possessed four pumps, one on each side of the pedestal.
To close the route, two other Doric columns were placed, equal to those that began the journey. Opinions were always divided in relation to the aesthetic quality of the layout, but it is undeniable that it endowed the growing area with a path of importance, which would later become a significant role in the Habanero urban fabric.

The Republican Charles III

At the time of 1902, the name Charles III was changed to him, from then on it was called Avenida de la Independencia. As is often the case in these cases, the Habaneros continued to call him the old way. The Paseo and its ornaments gradually became extinct and gave way to a wide avenue that preserved the same road structure in an already urbanized area. In 1936 he was restored to the old name and reformed. It was one of the first capital streets with paved pavement, for which the City Council allocated a considerable budget.
In the course of its colonial existence and until the first thirty years of the Republic, important properties and entities were positioned on the Paseo, including the tobacco factory H. Upmann or La madama, Quinta de Toca, Freyre de Andrade Hospital, the building of the Economic Society of Friends of the Country and the Automatic Telephone Power Plant of Principe , one of the first in Cuba and Latin America.
Carlos III has been rolling all kinds of vehicles, from the rustic wagons, the friendly fotingos and for a long time the trams. It housed one of the whereabouts of The Havana Electric Railway Light and Power Company, which was located right in front of the Quinta de los Molinos and the site of the fountain of the Satyros; from there came the last trip of a tram through Havana, number 388 of the P-2 route, on Tuesday, April 29, 1952.10

Remodelación de la Avenida Carlos III en la década de 1950.
Remodeling of Avenida Carlos III in the 1950s.

There were very popular places that distinguished the avenue, many of them frequently mentioned by parents and grandparents, are the cases of the Emergency Hospital, the Manzanares cinema, the restaurant Las Avenidas and the esquinera funeraria San José, which had its forehead towards the road of Infanta, but was part of this environment.
In the 1950s, Charles III received a comprehensive reform, which led him to the appearance that he somehow preserves to this day. The change contemplated the construction of properties such as that of the Great Masonic Temple, which occupied the Cuban Electricity Company and the well-known Market of the same name. The gate of Quinta de los Molinos was also remodeled to perfectly align the street. This last transformation caused some conflicts, as it required cutting the oldest tree in the Botanical Garden; the matter found a solution and the target was achieved without reaching the risky logging.

From Carlos III to Avenida Salvador Allende

Far from imagining Captain General Miguel Tacón that the walk he promoted to Havana in colonial Cuba, would become one of the fundamental road arteries of our city in the Republic and, without a doubt, the main one of the current municipality Centro Habana. Today the area of the former first roundabout is constituted as the central node of the municipality and the trace of the promenade is the urban corridor that allows the link between the center of the capital and the municipalities of the west, south and southwest, all thanks to the strategic road conception of the old promenade.
Some emblematic buildings are still preserved and in other cases the spaces went on to perform different functions, but the road structure maintains practically the same morphology as always.
In the seventies of the last twentieth century it was renamed again by Avenida Salvador Allende, but the same thing happened as on the other occasions: we all keep calling it as usual. What takes root in the bowels of society, there is no decree to change it, is a matter of cultural transfer. To reinforce popular fraternity with the old name, when the famous market that existed since the 1950s was remodeled, it was named Plaza Carlos III.
Today, when Havana celebrates its five-hundredth anniversary, it would be beautiful and laudable to see Ceres restored again in any of the fountains that are extinct in the parks of this capital avenue, or to the emblematic statue of Charles III on the site where it remained for more than a century, from where it should never have been removed, especially considering that the monument to Salvador Allende that was once thought for the place , was put in another central Habanera street. In this way, on the day of the fireworks and cannonballs, we will feel that the party is not havana of asphalt and concrete, nor a commemorative performance, but a real celebration of the capitals who live it. Ω

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