One of the most interesting walks through Old Havana is precisely that of its St. Francis of Assisi Square, and the Basilica of the same name located in that same place, very close to the harbour.
The impressive silence conferred to the square by the mute stones, many of them placed there during the 16th century, now work as a an excellent concert hall that ever more often take place there.
Handel, Bach, Haydn and other celebrities are distinguished guests of those walls, or Cuban musicians of great renown like Ernesto Lecuona, Rodrigo Pratts and Gonzalo Roig, revived to the beat of inescapable sheet music. Every corner of the Basilica gleams through arias and overtures, raised by adagios and allegros.
The surrounding square seems to have been built between 1574 and 1591. Its today’s cobblestones, the fountain around which there can be found small cafes, were centre of the human settlement of that time –a Havana definitely situated in November of 1519 to the margins of the so-called Puerto Cadenas, today’s Havana’s port.
The Franciscans, protagonists of many evangelical adventures in the Americas, gave themselves the task of building their temple there, some documentary evidence speak about being 1719 the year when the construction of the convent and the church began, close to the interior beaches of the bay.
In 1734 they would finish this building. In 1846 a hurricane destroyed the upper part of the chapel; however, a 42-meter tower is still preserved -at that time one of the highest points of the city. In the temple, aforetime, there were preserved more than 500 volumes containing the most important information of the epoch.
The place had different uses, from the religious one to that of an official mail facility, storehouse, state offices, until it finally regained its particular charm, on October 4th, 1993, as it became a music hall of great prestige.
Nowadays, the Basilica is open to all visitors, especially those most sensitive ones. It is a monument to beauty, silence and retreat.
Its hall culminates with a design that recreates the vaulted space it must have been during the times it had its dome -destroyed by the hurricane.
A primitive baroque style gives testimony of the authenticity of the work -Corinthian and Doric imitations distribute the touch of distinction of constructors who, at that time, placed their hopes on that work and some of them have totally disappeared in time, leaving their soul on each stone.
A Jesus Christ on the cross hangs above the heads of the attendants, the sculptural work -it was a present from count O´Reilly to the temple in previous times. There, we can find oil paintings from
Vicente Escobar (1757-1834) and religious objects preserved for curious people to see them and are scattered all around the majestic concert hall.
On that courtyard all the intermediates go by, when visitors take small walks and look high above to take notice of the contrasts of colors induced by the sun in that part of the world, with its particular charm in the City of Havana –day-dreaming magic.