Hot, sultry, filled with the sounds of music and bright with color and tradition, the old Spanish colonial city of Havana has been an important port on the Caribbean since it was founded in 1514. Gold, silver and the rich wealth of the Indies left this great galleon port bound for Europe, pirates, buccaneers and French corsairs looted the city, and a walled fort grew to protect both shipping and the slave trade.

This old Spanish colonial city anchors the whole capital. Much has grown round it in the centuries since it was the jewel of New Spain, but no later development has reduced its prominence and lure. Across the river from its walled fort Morro Castle, the courtyards of its noble houses, the hush and cool of its great cathedral, its broad plazas fed by arteries of narrow cobbled streets all conjure more a vision of a rich colonial past than any link with the Communist present. And yet it is an important visual link with the past, and widely recognized as such by the present government. Aided by funds from Spain and from UNESCO, ambitious restoration is under way, to the walled convents and palaces, to the surrounding houses that epitomize the living styles and habits of the rich and poor, and to the bastion fortress of De la Fuerza, now landlocked but formerly commanding the sea which lapped against its towering walls.

The old city is a rich mixture of enchanting colonial Spanish architecture, with a grace and style and magnificence unequaled in the whole Caribbean. Its doorways and arches and frescoes, its balconies and columns and courtyards combine in a glorious artistic expression that is all grace and elegance. Nothing that could be done with stone and chisel has been ommitted. Little wonder that this area is now a rich drawing card for tourists from all over the world. How wise of Fidel Castro not to erase it in the name of proletarian progress.

The old city is a vivid reminder of a great imperial power in the New World. Spain’s colonial license eventaully expired, but the grandeur of old Havana lives on. Cuba is richer for its continuing presence, and you too will become prisoners of its charm and allure.