Havana was founded in 1519 by the Spanish. By the 17th century, it had become one of the Caribbean's main centers for ship-building. Although it is today a sprawling metropolis of 2 million inhabitants, its old center retains an interesting mix of Baroque and neoclassical monuments, and a homogeneous ensemble of private houses with arcades, balconies, wrought-iron gates and internal courtyards.
Founded about 1519 on Cuba’s north-western shore, Old Havana has maintained a remarkable unity of character through its adherence to its original urban layout.
Urban plazas surrounded by many buildings of outstanding architectural merit and narrow streets lined with more popular or traditional styles permeate the historic centre of the city.
Its overall sense of architectural, historical and environmental continuity makes it the most impressive historical city center in the Caribbean and one of the most notable in the American continent as a whole.
With the establishment and development of the fleet system in the Spanish West Indies, Havana in the second half of the 16th century became the largest port in the region, and in the 18th century developed the most complete dockyard in the New World, both of which necessitated military protection.
The extensive network of defensive installations created between the 16th and 19th centuries includes some of the oldest and largest extant stone fortifications in the Americas, among them La Cabaña fortress on the east side of the narrow entrance canal to Havana Bay, Real Fuerza Castle on the west side, and Morro castle and La Punta castle guarding the entrance to the canal.