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The Old Havana mock-up turns 17

It continues under the administration of the City Historian's Office, not that of the military who control the operation of the municipality.

La Habana

Light gives way to darkness as day turns to night across from the Old Havana observatory. The boats in the harbor are still, as are the cars, and there are no pedestrians. But in the dark tiny bulbs mimic the function of real lamps, whose light disappears with the birdsong that makes it feel like dawn.

The guide, with a laser pointer, leads the tour. The Capitol Building can be seen without the scaffolding that has covered it for years, as if the delay in its restoration has frozen the political reform that was to make it the core of the Legislative branch.

Margot Ayes Clabijo fields questions from visitors about El Morro, La Cabaña, Plaza Vieja, the Phone Company Building, all constructions asked about by the mesmerized onlookers in front of the Old Havana model, which has been open to the public for 17 years on the Calle Mercaderes 114, between Bishop and Obrapía.

Its unveiling in 1999 was attended by Queen Sofia of Spain, and the first ladies attending the IX Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Havana. It was the culmination of three years of intensive work carried out at the request of Havana's City Historian, Eusebio Leal.

Its scale, 1 x 500, doubles that of the Model of the City of Havana, but the cold numbers transmit little to those unfamiliar with the subject. While the Model of Havana is a marvel for the territory it encompasses, the Model of Old Havana is extraordinary for its details. Columns, windows, doors, the finest facades in Old Havana are recreated in this tiny city. Margot reports that "some have even cried beholding this model."

If Paris is worth a mass, Havana is worth a river of tears.

"Orlando Martorell and his wife Clara were the architects behind the model. They worked with Dulce María, their daughter, Carlos San Román, and Víctor Orbín. The Martorell family settled in Spain, where Orlando died a few years later. Before they had crafted the model of the old historic center of Alcalá de Henares," continues Margot, quite knowledgeable after 16 years working at the place, and her friendship with the family of model makers.

For this anniversary the dust that had settled on the model has been removed, after some touch-ups. But a thorough cleaning and refurbishment takes much longer.

"The last time Mrs. Martorell did it, with two modellers. The whole thing was taken apart and the buildings, and everything else, was cleaned. You have to shut it down for that. We were closed for three months," Margot explains.

The scale model of Old Havana continues under the administration of the City Historian´s Office, after the recent division that transferred its most financially valuable assets to the Cuban military. This was not good news for the future of the project, which flourished thanks to the commitment of the historian. If for the enlightened and fervent Leal all growth should harmonize with heritage, for the military figures lurking around Raúl Castro's son-in-law, no capitel merits any attention if it´s not worth any capital.

Today some want to expand the size of the model, from the Calle Águila (street), one of its current boundaries, to the Avenida Belascoaín, and, on the opposite side, close the Bay of Havana. However, Eusebio Leal seems reluctant to place the project in the hands of just anyone after having managed to recruit, two decades ago, the masterful Orlando Martorell and his wife Clara.

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