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Havana and its foundation, truths and legends

Date: 2019-11-13 18:25:43

Despite several investigations, precision is still lacking on the exact site where Havana was founded 500 years ago, a city that was subsequently moved to the place it occupies today, on the north coast of Cuba.

The American journalist and historian Irene A. Wright (1879-1972), verified in 1914 that documents relating to the conquest of America, prior to 1550, are not abundant in the General Archive of the Indies.

Her scrupulous investigation in the Sevillian registry, considered "authorized reference" on these issues by the eminent Cuban historian Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring (1889-1964), estimated that Havana should have been founded in its original location south of the current province of Mayabeque, between January 1513 and August 1515.

Ms. Wright ventures to consider that due to the patron with which she was appointed, most likely, the town must have been founded on July 25th, 1515, just the day of San Cristóbal, in distinction to the Genoese Admiral who in 1492 "took possession of these lands in the name of the kings of Spain".

Roig de Leuchsenring himself, who since 1935 and until his death was Historian of the City of Havana, gives credit in his Notebooks of Havana History to the version that the initial town should have been founded «in an area near the south coast of the Indian Cacicazgo of Havana».This site is located next to Güines, Mayabeque or Onicajinal river, a combination of ideas that were collected in the name with which the nascent village was baptized: San Cristóbal de La Habana.Why one place or another?

Needs associated with maritime traffic conditioned the choice of place, since the Spanish intended that the port serve as a stopover and resupply of ships that crossed the Caribbean, to and from the Isthmus of Darien, now Panama.

However, the first "Habaneros" soon realized that this place was not ideal for the city's flowering because the draft of its coastline and river was extremely low and environmental conditions were susceptible to to the flowering of disease-generating pests.

In just three years it was decided to move the incipient neighborhood to the north coast, and for this, an area was chosen initially near the Caciguaguas, Chorrera or Almendares river, as we know it today.

However, that place also did not satisfy the desire for progress and development that the first inhabitants of the promising Havana aspired to, so that Diego Velázquez decided to move the population a few kilometers further east, to which he became his definitive location, in The port of Carenas.

That site, since 1508, was known by sailors of the time, when it was explored by Sebastián de Ocampo in his boxing to Cuba, as a result of which the insular character of the territory discovered in 1942 was determined.

It is said that there were several reasons that contributed to the new settlement being definitive: the conditions of extensiveness and security of the port, the existence of a large area of ​​high and flat land with immediate access to the bay, in addition to the predominance of a Benign climate and soil fertility.

As described by the Cuban geographer and historian José María de la Torre (1815-1873) in his text What We Were and What We Are or Old and Modern Havana, the chosen terrain was extremely fertile and «not only bushes like tunas abounded, hicacos, caletas grapes and other fruit trees, but larger trees such as jaguars, anons, mamoncillos, ceibas, cedars, jobos and mahogany ».

From humble village to a big city:

According to tradition - since there is no document attesting to it - the establishment of the town had to be formalized in the year 1519, being chosen for this on November 16th, because it corresponds to the new date assumed in the saint for the feast of San Cristóbal .

The oral legend also tells more. Transferred from generation to generation and collected in dissimilar engravings many years later, the "solemn" ceremony consisted of a mass and town hall that took place in the shade of a leafy Ceiba tree.In that same place in 1754 a commemorative column was built and in 1928 a temple was erected, both subject to a restoration and conservation process that has allowed its longevity to this day.

As Roig de Leuchsenring speculates, in addition to the solemn act, formalities and formalities of rigor at that time for the foundation of villages in the New World had to be undertaken from months before. In addition, the historian details, that «who served as head of the group traced the streets perpendicularly. In the center, at the convergence of the main roads, space was left for a square».

Around this place were chosen lots where they would be located: the government house, an oratory for Catholic worship and a building for real profits; all these rudimentary buildings built with rudimentary materials, mainly tables, guano or yagua and straw.

In fact, according to the notes already cited by Irene A. Wright, Havana at that time was "a poor hamlet of bohíos (traditional primitive house) along the shore of the bay" that stretched just two hundred meters, among what are now the castle of the Real Fuerza and the Lonja del Comercio, in the current historical center of Old Havana.

In the first half of the sixteenth century, there was a slow and cautious growth of the population, to the point that in the elections for mayors and councilors, held on January 1, 1554, there were only 34 neighboring Spanish citizens of legal age, although there were other inhabitants black and indigenous women without the right to vote.From livestock and agriculture they say that beef was salted and, together with the crops of the farms, was sold to ships that came or came from Spain, either directly to Cuba or that used the port of Havana as stopover on your round trip to the New World.

Precisely the increase in naval traffic and the operational and logistic facilities offered by the nascent town and its port were powerful reasons for the then Governor of the Island, Antonio de Chávez, to move his home until then fixed in Santiago de Cuba .

Established in the "brand new" city, the Government and the General Captaincy and began the construction of the castles of La Punta and El Morro, on December 20, 1592, King Felipe II granted him by Royal Certificate to the town of San Cristóbal de Havana honors and prerogatives of "city".

Taken from Prensa Latina


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