The Lions of Havana’s Prado
By Tino Manuel / Photos: Miguel Guzmán
For years tourists from around the world have been enchanted by the majestically powerful, poetically beautiful bronze lions that dutifully watch over Prado, Havana’s central promenade.
These loyal and timeless figures stand guard over parts of the treelined Martí Walk, a peaceful promenade where leisurely strollers are sheltered from the surrounding hustle and bustle of city life as they wander from Havana’s central square, Parque Central, to its renowned sea wall, the Malecón.
As if growling protectively in defence of their charges, the lions provide the perfect family photo opportunity and an ideal addition to any collection of Havana snapshots that might also take in the nearby Telégrafo or Sevilla hotels.
Historians claim that in the late 1700s Spanish authorities decided to implement a public works program that would enhance the overall appearance of the city then known as San Cristóbal de La Habana Villa which was founded in 1519.
After some debate, the city had been declared the capital of Cuba and consequently warranted some special architectural improvements.
These first works included two promenades, a theatre and a governmental palace.
One of the two walks was to be constructed outside Havana City’s Walls, built to protect the city from pirate attacks. That promenade was ideal for parading in horse carriages in the afternoons and the kilometre-long tree-lined ‘New Prado’ – as it had been popularly baptized – that ran between two of the city wall’s gates soon became a very popular meeting and resting place.
The Marte field could still then be seen parallel to Prado as could nearby soldiers’ garrisons which later became slave quarters.
The area even had a botanical garden and by the end of the 18th century Prado had become an integral part of Havana’s social scene. Its image had become even further enhanced by the end of the 19th century when modern houses were built in the vicinity.
In 1928 the construction of marble benches, street lamps, cups and the majestic bronze lions forged from old canons gave the zone a truly regal air.
The promenade is formally named Martí Walk, in honor of Cuba’s National Hero José Martí (1853-1895), but it has always been simply known by Habaneros as El Prado.
It was also at one stage named the Outside Promenade, but whatever it may have been called, this Havana landmark has always been best known for its wonderful, wellloved lions.