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Frozen in time, Havana looks to put a modern stamp on its 500-year history

• http://www.france24.com

HAVANA (AFP) - 

Havana could be compared to the colorful 1950s classic American cars that fill its roads: an object of desire for historians and tourists alike.

To walk through its streets is to take a step back in time.

Run-down homes show signs of salt erosion as waves from the Caribbean Sea batter away at the city's seawall, while at the day's end the setting sun paints the sky orange.

Despite the visual signs of deterioration, Havana is spiritually alive.

The Cuban capital will celebrate 500 years in 2019, with an urban restoration plan aiming to give space to modernity while maintaining respect for its vintage character.

"Havana remains frozen in time. The revolution's aims were to look after the country," city historian Eusebio Leal, who's in charge of restoring the historic center, told AFP.

"Undeniably there's been a cost. When you go around you can see the city's damaged and covered by a veil of decadence."

"There have been no new bridges or wide avenues built in the city, there are no traffic problems and there have been no wide-scale demolitions like in other Latin American cities."

But Leal insists the city has much greater depth than simple aesthetic beauty.

"Havana is not just a romantic ruin, nor a city of classic American cars, or a city of dancers and palm trees. It's a city of intense culture," he said.

"What's surprising is that there isn't enough time to sample the cultural life that extends from ballet festivals to book festivals, from historic cities to jazz.

"And its plastic arts are amongst the most desired in the world by collectors."

- Changing landscape -

The neo-baroque Great Theatre of Havana Alicia Alonso, home to the National Ballet and guarded by marble statues, and the majestic Capitolio building with its impressive cupola really stand out, as does the music that greets visitors on every street corner.

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