A walk along pedestrian-only Obispo Street, in the oldest area of the Cuban capital, is like walking through Cuban history. Built around 1519, the same year as the city was founded, this was one of the city’s first streets.
Running north to south, from Avenida del Puerto to Monserrate Street, its first buildings were constructed of royal palm wood and guano, like the rest of the buildings in the growing town of San Cristóbal de la Habana.
Almost from the very beginning this popular street became a commercial one. Because it was so close to the harbour, many small stores opened along the street to satisfy the needs of the population.
It was on Obispo Street that the first photographic studio in the country and Latin America opened January 3rd, 1841. It was also the first street in Havana to be asphalted and to boast street lighting.
Over the course of its almost 500 years of existence this street, now closed to vehicular traffic, has had 47 names. At one point it was named San Juan because it was the way to the San Juan de Letrán Convent. In 1794 it was called Consulado Street as the Royal Agriculture and Commerce Consulate was there. It was not until 1810 that it was named Obispo. Some say the name, bishop, was to honour Fray Jeronimo de Lara, who lived there in 1641.
However, according to many historians it was named for Bishop Pedro Agustin Morell de Santa Cruz (1694-1768) who used to walk the street from his house on Oficios Street. Local authorities changed the name several times, but the people kept calling it Obispo. Then, in 1936, an official decree renamed it Obispo.
Nowadays Obispo Street is one of Havana’s most visited street, both by foreign visitors and locals. Besides the many stores, boutiques and cafes, there are also some important museums like the Natural History Museum, the Goldsmith House, the Museum of Education and the Numismatic Museum.
The famous El Floridita Restaurant and the Ambos Mundos Hotel, both frequented by the late American writer and Nobel prizewinner, Ernest Hemingway, during his long stay in Cuba are also on Obispo Street.
Today, Obispo Street is full of life and beauty, as many of its buildings have been restored thanks to the restoration plan for the enjoyment of present and future generations undertaken by the City Historian’s Office, headed by Dr. Eusebio Leal.