1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Havana

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HAVANA (the name is of aboriginal origin; Span. Habana or more fully, San Cristóbal de la Habana), the capital of Cuba, the largest city of the West Indies, and one of the principal seats of commerce in the New World, situated on the northern coast of the island in 23° 9′ N. lat. and 82° 22′ W. long. Pop. (1899), 235,981; (1907), 297,159. The city occupies a peninsula to the W. of the harbour, between its waters and those of the sea. Several small streams, of which the Almendares river is the largest, empty into the harbour. The pouch-shaped, landlocked bay is spacious and easy of access. Large merchantmen and men-of-war can come up and unload along at least a considerable part of the water-front. The entrance, which is encumbered by neither bar nor rock, averages about 260 yds. in width and is about 1400 yds. long. Within, the bay breaks up into three distinct arms, Marimalena or Regla Bay, Guanabacoa Bay and the Bay of Atarés. On the left hand of the entrance stands the lofty lighthouse tower of the Morro. The sewage of the city and other impurities were for centuries allowed to pollute the bay, but the extent to which the harbour was thereby filled up has been exaggerated. Though certainly very much smaller than it once was, there is a difference of opinion as to whether the harbour has grown smaller since the end of the 18th century.

From the sea the city presents a picturesque appearance. The Havana side of the bay has a sea-wall and an excellent drive. The city walls, begun in 1671 and completed about 1740, were almost entirely demolished between 1863 and 1880, only a few insignificant remnants having survived the American military occupation of 1899–1902; but it is still usual to speak of the “intramural” and the “extramural” city. The former, the old city, lying close to the harbour front, has streets as narrow as is consistent with wheel traffic. Obispo (Pi y Margall in the new republican nomenclature), O’Reilly and San Rafael are the finest retail business streets, and the Prado and the Cerro the handsomest residential streets in the city proper. The new city, including the suburbs to the W. overlooking the sea, has been laid out on a somewhat more spacious plan, with isolated dwellings and wide thoroughfares, some planted with trees. Most of the houses, and especially those of the planter aristocracy, are massively built of stone, with large grated windows, flat roofs with heavy parapets and inner courts. As the erection of wooden buildings was illegal long after 1772, it is only in the suburban districts that they are to be seen. The limestone which underlies almost all the island affords excellent building stone. The poorer houses are built of brick with plaster fronts. Three-fourths of all the buildings of the city are of one very high storey; there are but a few dozen buildings as high as four storeys. Under Spanish rule, Havana was reputed to be a city of noises and smells. There was no satisfactory cleaning of the streets or draining of the subsoil, and the harbour was rendered visibly foul by the impurities of the town. A revolution was worked in this respect during the United States military occupation of the city, and the republic continued the work.

Climate.—The general characteristics of the climate of Havana are described in the article Cuba. A temperature as low as 40° F. is extraordinary; and freezing point is only reached on extremely rare occasions, such as during hurricanes or electric storms. The mean annual temperature is about 25.7° C. (78° F.); that of the hottest month is about 28.8° C. (84° F.), and that of the coldest, 21° C. (70° F.). The means of the four seasons are approximately—for December, January, February and successive quarters—23°, 27°, 28° and 26° C. (73.4°, 80.6°, 82.4° and 78.8° F.). The mean relative humidity is between 75 and 80 for all seasons save spring, when it is least and may be from 65 upward. A difference of 30° C. (54° F.) at mid-day in the temperature of two spots close together, one in sun and one in shade, is not unusual. The daily variation of temperature is also considerable. The depressing effect of the heat and humidity is greatly relieved by afternoon breezes from the sea, and the nights are invariably comfortable and generally cool.

Defences.—The principal defences of Havana under Spanish rule, when the city was maintained as a military stronghold of the first rank, were (to use the original and unabbreviated form of the names) the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, to the W. of the harbour entrance; the Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro and San Carlos de la Cabaña, to the E.; the Santo Domingo de Atarés, at the head of the western arm of the bay, commanding the city and its vicinity; and the Castillo del Príncipe (1767–1780), situated inland on an eminence to the W. El Morro, as it is popularly called, was first erected in 1590–1640, and La Punta, a much smaller fort, is of the same period; both were reconstructed after the evacuation of the city by the English in 1763, from which time also date the castles of Príncipe, Atarés and the Cabaña. The Cabaña, which alone can accommodate some 6000 men, fronts the bay for a distance of more than 800 yds., and was long supposed, at least by Spaniards, to be the strongest fortress of America. Here is the “laurel ditch” or “dead-line”—commemorated by a handsome bronze relief set in the wall of the fortress—where scores of Cuban patriots were shot. To the E. and W. inland are several small forts. The military establishment of the republic is very small.

Churches.—Of the many old churches in the city, the most noteworthy is the cathedral. The original building was abandoned in 1762. The present one, originally the church of the Jesuits, was erected in 1656–1724. The interior decoration dates largely from the last decade of the 18th century and the first two decades of the 19th. In the wall of the chancel, a medallion and inscription long distinguished the tomb of Columbus, whose remains were removed hither from Santo Domingo in 1796. In 1898 they were taken to Spain. Mention may also be made of the churches of Santo Domingo (begun in 1578), Santa Catalina (1700), San Agustin (1608), Santa Clara (1644), La Merced (1744, with a collection of oil paintings) and San Felipe (1693). Monasteries and nunneries were very numerous until the suppression of the religious orders in 1842, when many became simple churches. Some of the convents were successful in conserving their wealth. The former monastery of the Jesuits, now the Jesuit church of Belén (1704), at the corner of Luz and Compostela Streets, is one of the most elegant and richly ornamented in Cuba.

Public Buildings.—The Palace, which served as a residence for the captains-general during the Spanish rule, is the home of the city government and the residence of the president of the republic. It is a large and handsome stone structure (tinted in white and yellow), and stands on the site of the original parish church, facing the Plaza de Armas from the east. It was erected in 1773–1792 and radically altered in 1835 and 1851. A large municipal gaol (1834–1837), capable of receiving 500 inmates, with barracks for a regiment, is a striking object on the Prado. The Castillo del Príncipe now serves as the state penitentiary. Among other public buildings are the exchange (El Muelle), the custom-house (formerly the church of San Francisco; begun about 1575, rebuilt in 1731–1737), and the Maestranza (c. 1723), once the navy yard and the headquarters of the artillery and now the home of the national library. All these are in the old city. Some of the older structures—notably the church of Santo Domingo and the Maestranza—are built of grey limestone. In the old city also are the Plaza Vieja, dating from the middle of the 16th century (with the modern Mercado de Cristina, of 1837—destroyed 1908), the old stronghold La Fuerza, erected by Hernando de Soto in 1538, once the treasury of the flotas and galleons, and residence of the governors, with its old watch-tower (La Vigía); and the Plaza de Armas, with the palace, the Senate building, a statue of Fernando VII. (1833), and a commemorative chapel (El Templete, 1828) to mark the supposed spot where mass was first said at the establishment of the city. Mention must be made of the large and interesting markets, especially those of Colón and Tacón. Of the theatres, which until the end of the Spanish period had to compete with the bull-ring and the cockpit, the most important is the Tacón (now “Nacional”) erected in 1838.

Havana is famous for its promenades, drives and public gardens. On the city’s E. harbour front runs the Paseo (Alameda) de Paula (1772–1775, improved 1844–1845), an embanked drive, continued by the Paseo de Rocali and the Cortina de Valdes, with fine views of the forts and the harbour. On the N., along the sea, beginning at the Punta fortress and running W. for several miles along the sea-wall, is a speedway and pleasure-drive, known—from the wall—as the Malecón. Beginning at the Punta fortress—where a park was laid out in 1899 in the place of an ugly quarter, with a memorial to the students judicially murdered by the Spanish volunteers in 1871—and running along the line of the former city walls, past the Parque Central, through the Parque de Isabel II. and the Parque de la India (these two names are now practically abandoned) to the Parque de Colón or Campo de Marte, is the Prado,[1] a wide and handsome promenade and drive, shaded with laurels and lined with fine houses and clubs. In 1907 a hurricane destroyed the greater part of the laurels of the Prado and the royal palms of the Parque de Colón. Central Park is surrounded by hotels, theatres, cafés and clubs, the last including the Centro Asturiano and Casino Español. In the centre is a monument to José Martí (1853–1895), “the apostle of independence,” and in an adjoining square is the city’s fine monument to the Cuban engineer Francisco de Albear, to whom she owes her water system. From the Parque de Colón the Calle (or Calzada) de la Reina—an ordinary business street, once a promenade and known as the Alameda de Isabel II.—with its continuations, the Paseo de Carlos III. and Paseo de Tacón, runs westward through the city past the botanical gardens and the Quinta de los Molinos to the citadel of El Príncipe (1774–1794). A statue of Charles III. by Canova (1803), fountains, pavilions and four rows of trees adorn the Paseo de Carlos III. The gardens of Los Molinos, where the captains-general formerly maintained their summer residence, and the adjoining botanical gardens of the university, contain beautiful avenues of palm trees. Near El Príncipe is the Columbus cemetery, with a fine gateway, a handsome monument (1888) to the students shot in 1871, and another (1897; 75 ft. high) to the firemen lost in a great fire in 1890, besides many smaller memorials. The Calzada de la Infanta is a fine street at the W. end of the new city; the Cerro, in the S.W., is lined with massive residences, once the homes of Cuban aristocracy.

Suburbs.—In the coral rock of the coast sea-baths are excavated, so that bathers may run no risk from sharks. On the S. and W. the city is backed by an amphitheatre of hills, which are crowned in the W. by the conspicuous fortifications of Castillo del Príncipe. On the lower heights near the city lie Vedado, Jesus del Monte, Luyano and other healthy suburbs. Chorrera, Puentes Grandes, Marianao (founded 1830; pop. 1907, 9332) and Guanabacoa (with mineral springs), are attractive places of resort. Regla, just across the bay (now part of the municipio), has large business interests.

Charities and Education.—Among the numerous charitable institutions the most important hospital is the Casa de Beneficencia y Maternidad (Charity and Maternity Asylum), opened in 1794, and containing an orphan asylum, a maternity ward, a home for vagrants, a lunatic asylum and an infirmary. There is also in the city an immense lazaretto for lepers. The Centro Asturiano, a club with a membership of some ten or fifteen thousand (not limited to Asturians), maintains for the benefit of its members a large and well-managed sanatorium in spacious grounds in the midst of the city.

Of the schools of the city the most noteworthy is the university (581 regular students, 1907), founded in 1728. Its quarters were in the old convent of Santo Domingo until 1900, when the American military government prepared better quarters for it in the former Pirotecnica Militar, near El Príncipe. There are various laboratories in the city. Other schools are the provincial Institute of Secondary Education (490 regular students in 1907; library of 12,863 vols.), a provincial school of arts and trades (opened 1882), a theological seminary, a boys’ technical school, a school of painting and sculpture, a conservatory of music, normal school, mercantile school and a military academy. The Jesuit church (Belén) has a large college for boys, laboratories, an observatory, a museum of natural history, and an historical library. Great progress has been made in education, which was extremely backward until after the end of Spanish rule. The Sociedad Economica de Amigos del Pais, established in 1792, has always had considerable influence. It has a library of some 42,000 volumes, rich in material for Cuban history. Among other similar organizations are an Academy of Medical, Physical and Natural Sciences (1863); a national library, established in 1901, and having in 1908 about 40,000 volumes, including the finest collection in the world of materials for Cuban history; an anthropological society; various medical societies; and a Bar association. An association of sugar planters is a very important factor in the economic development of the island.

Of the newspapers of Havana the most notable is the El Diario de la Marina (established in 1838; under its present name, 1844; morning and evening), which was almost from its foundation an official organ of the Spanish government, and generally the mouthpiece of the most intransigent peninsular opinion in all that concerned the politics of the island. El Ansador Comercial (1868; evening) is devoted almost exclusively to commercial and financial news. Of the other newspapers the leading ones in 1909 were La Discusion (1888; evening), La Lucha (1884; evening) and El Mundo (1902; morning).

Trade.—Havana commands the wholesale trade of all the western half of the island, and is the centre of commercial and banking interests. Its foreign trade in the five calendar years 1902–1906 (average imports $57,201,276; exports, $40,563,637) amounted to 68.9% of the imports and 44.6% of the exports of the island. The average number of vessels entering the port annually in the ten years from 1864 to 1873 was 1981 (771,196 tons), and the average entries in the five years 1902–1906 were 3698 of 3,904,906 gross tons (coast trade alone, 2162 of 333,795 tons).

In spite of high tariffs and civil wars, and the competition of Matanzas, Cárdenas, Cienfuegos and other Cuban ports opened to foreign trade in modern times, the commerce of Havana has steadily increased. The chief foreign customers are Great Britain and the United States. The two staple articles of export are sugar and tobacco-wares. Other exports of importance are rum, wax and honey; and of less primary importance, fruits, fine cabinet woods, oils and starch. The leading imports are grains, flour, lard and various other foodstuffs, coal, lumber, petroleum and machinery, all mainly from the United States; wines and olive oil from Spain; jerked beef from South America; fabrics and other staples from varied sources. Rice is a principal food of the people; it was formerly taken from the East Indies, but is now mostly raised in the island.

The chief manufacturing industry of Havana is that of tobacco. Of the cigar factories, some of which are in former public and private palaces, more than a hundred may be reckoned as of the first class. Besides the making of boxes and barrels and other articles necessarily involved in its sugar and tobacco trade, Havana also, to some extent, builds carriages and small ships, and manufactures iron and machinery; but the weight of taxation during the Spanish period was always a heavy deterrent on the development of any business requiring great capital. There are minor manufacturing interests in tanneries, and in the manufacture of sweetmeats, malt and distilled liquors, especially rum, besides soaps, candles, starch, perfume, &c. There is one large and complete petroleum refinery (1905).

Havana has frequent steam-boat communication with New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Tampa, Mobile, New Orleans and other ports of the United States; and about as frequent with several ports in England, Spain and France. It is the starting-point of a railway system which reaches the six provincial capitals between Pinar del Rio and Santiago, Cárdenas, Cienfuegos and other ports. Telegraphs radiate to all parts of the island; a submarine cable to Key West forms part of the line of communication between Colón and New York, and by other cables the island has connexion with various parts of the West Indies and with South America.

Population and Health.—The population of Havana was reported as 51,307 in 1791; 96,304 in 1811; 94,023 in 1817; 184,508 in 1841. In 1899 the American census showed 235,981, of whom about 25% were foreign (20% Spanish); and the census of 1907 showed 297,159 (not including the attached country districts) and 302,526 (including these country districts), the last being for the “municipio” of Havana. The industrial population is very densely crowded. Owing to this, as well as to the entire lack of proper sanitary customs among the people, the horrible condition of sewerage and the prevalence of yellow fever (first brought to Havana, it is thought, in 1761, from Vera Cruz), the reputation of the city as regards health was long very bad. The practical extermination of yellow fever during the U.S. military occupation following 1899 was a remarkable achievement. In 1895–1899, owing to the war, there were few non-immune persons in the city, and there was no trouble with the fever, but from the autumn of 1899 a heavy immigration from Spain began, and a fever epidemic was raging in 1900. The American military authorities found that the most extraordinary measures for cleansing the city—involving repeated house-to-house inspection, enforced cleanliness, improved drainage and sewerage, the destruction of various public buildings, and thorough cleansing of the streets—although decidedly effective in reducing the general death-rate of the city (average, 1890–1899, 45.83; 1900, 24.40; 1901, 22.11; 1902, 20.63; general death-rate of U.S. soldiers in 1898, 67.94; in 1901–1902, 7.00), apparently did not affect yellow fever at all. In 1900–1901 Major Walter Reed (1851–1902), a surgeon in the United States army, proved by experiments on voluntary human subjects that the infection was spread by the Stegomyia mosquito,[2] and the prevention of the disease was then undertaken by Major William C. Gorgas—all patients being screened and mosquitoes practically exterminated.[3] The number of subsequent deaths from yellow fever has depended solely on the degree to which the necessary precautionary measures were taken.

The entire administrative system of the island, when a Spanish colony, was centred at Havana. Under the republic this remains the capital and the residence of the president, the supreme court, Congress when in session and the chief administrative officers. None of the public services was good in the Spanish period, except the water-supply, which was excellent. The water is derived from the Vento springs, 9 m. from Havana, and is conducted through aqueducts constructed between 1859 and 1894 at a cost of some $5,000,000. About 40,000,000 gallons are supplied daily. The system is owned by the municipality. The older Fernando VII. aqueduct (1831–1835) is still usable in case of need; its supply was the Almendares river (until long after the construction of this, a still older aqueduct, opened at the end of the 16th century, was in use). The sewerage system and conditions of house sanitation were found extremely inadequate when the American army occupied the city in 1899. Several public buildings were so foul that they were demolished and burned. The improvement since the end of Spanish rule has been steady.

History.—Havana, originally founded by Diego Velasquez in 1514 on an unhealthy site near the present Batabanó (pop. in 1907, 15,435, including attached country districts), on the south coast, was soon removed to its present position, was granted an ayuntamiento (town council), and shortly came to be considered one of the most important places in the New World. Its commanding position gained it in 1634, by royal decree, the title of “Llave del Nuevo Mundo y Antemural de las Indias Occidentales” (Key of the New World and Bulwark of the West Indies), in reference to which it bears on its coat of arms a symbolic key and representations of the Morro, Punta and Fuerza. In the history of the place in the 16th century few things stand out except the investments by buccaneers: in 1537 it was sacked and burned, and in 1555 plundered by French buccaneers, and in 1586 it was threatened by Drake. In 1589 Philip II. of Spain ordered the erection of the Punta and the Morro. In the same year the residence of the governor of the island was moved from Santiago de Cuba to Havana. Philip II. granted Havana the title of “ciudad” in 1592. Sugar plantations in the environs appeared before the end of the 16th century. The population of the city, probably about 3000 at the beginning of the 17th century, was doubled in the years following 1655 by the coming of Spaniards from Jamaica. In the course of the 17th century the port became the great rendezvous for the royal merchant and treasure fleets that monopolized trade with America, and the commercial centre of the Spanish-American possessions. It was blockaded four times by the Dutch (who were continually molesting the treasure fleets) in the first half of the 17th century. In 1671 the city walls were begun; they were completed in 1702. The European wars of the 17th and 18th centuries were marked by various incidents in local history. After the end of the Spanish War of Succession (1713) came a period of comparative prosperity in slave-trading and general commerce. The creation in 1740 of a monopolistic trading-company was an event of importance in the history of the island. English squadrons threatened the city several times in the first half of the 18th century, but it was not until 1762 that an investment, made by Admiral Sir George Pocock and the earl of Albemarle, was successful. The siege lasted from June to August and was attended by heavy loss to both besiegers and besieged. The British commanders wrung great sums from the church and the city as prize of war and price of good order. By the treaty of the 10th of February 1763, at the close of the Seven Years’ War, Havana was restored to Spain in exchange for the Floridas. The English turned over the control of the city on the 6th of July. Their occupation greatly stimulated commerce, and from it dates the modern history of the city and of the island (see Cuba). The gradual removal of obstacles from the commerce of the island from 1766 to 1818 particularly benefited Havana. At the end of the 18th century the city was one of the seven or eight great commercial centres of the world, and in the first quarter of the 19th century was a rival in population and in trade of Rio Janeiro, Buenos Aires and New York. In 1789 a bishopric was created at Havana suffragan to the archbishopric at Santiago. From the end of the 18th century Havana, as the centre of government, was the centre of movement and interest. During the administration of Miguel Tacón Havana was improved by many important public works; his name is frequent in the nomenclature of the city. The railway from Havana to Güines was built between 1835 and 1838. Fifty Americans under Lieut. Crittenden, members of the Bahia Honda filibustering expedition of Narciso Lopez, were shot at Fort Atarés in 1851. Like the rest of Cuba, Havana has frequently suffered severely from hurricanes, the most violent being those of 1768 (St Theresa’s), 1810 and 1846. The destruction of the U.S. battleship “Maine” in the harbour of Havana on the 15th of February 1898 was an influential factor in causing the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, and during the war the city was blockaded by a United States fleet.

See J. de la Pezuela, Diccionario de la Isla de Cuba, vol. iii. (Madrid, 1863), for minute details of history, administration and economic conditions down to 1862; J. M. de la Torre, Lo que fuimos y lo que somos, ó la Habana antigua y moderna (Habana, 1857); P. J. Guitéras, Historia de la conquista de la Habana 1762 (Philadelphia, 1856); J. de la Pezuela, Sitio y rendicion de la Habana en 1762 (Madrid, 1859); A. Bachiller y Morales, Monografía historica (Habana, 1883), minutely covering the English occupation (the best account) of 1762–1763; Maria de los Mercedes, comtesse de Merlin, La Havana (3 vols., Paris, 1844); and the works cited under Cuba.

  1. Renamed Paseo de Martí by the republic, but the name is never used.
  2. Dr Carlos Finlay of Havana, arguing from the coincidence between the climatic limitation of yellow fever and the geographical limitation of the mosquito, urged (1881 sqq.) that there was some relation between the disease and the insect. Reed worked from the observation of Dr H. R. Carter (U.S. Marine Hospital Service) that although the incubation of the disease was 5 days, 15 to 20 days had to elapse before the “infection” of the house, and from Ross’s demonstration of the part played in malaria by the Anopheles. See H  A. Kelly, Walter Reed and Yellow Fever (New York, 1907).
  3. The average number of deaths from yellow fever annually from 1885 (when reliable registration began) to 1898 was 455; maximum 1282 in 1896 (supposed average for 4 years, 1856–1859, being 1489.8 and for 7 years, 1873–1879, 1395.1), minimum 136, in 1898; average deaths of military, 1885–1898, 278.4 (in 1896–1897 constituting 1966 out of a total of 2140); deaths of American soldiers, 1899–1900, 18 out of 431.