In the second half of the 16th century the Spanish governorship moved from Santiago de Cuba to Havana for good. From that moment on Havana harbor became the most important in the island, because of the creation in 1561 of the fleet system and due to the fact that this harbor was an obliged stopping place on the way to the Peninsula. The population and the city grew out and beyond that narrow stripe bordering the bay.
By agreement of the town council, in March, 1640 the Plaza del Cristo was created. The project also included a hermitage and a calvary at the same place where a boundary cross, marking the end of the fourteen crosses or Stations of the Cross during Lent, was located. In that way the dimensions of the plaza were planned according to the character of the processions that were to take place in it.
The area where the Plaza de la Catedral is located used to be, according to 17th century records, a marshland renewed each year during the rainy season. At the place where the plaza was created, and due to its surface’s properties, the waters became stagnant, so that the place was known at the beginning as Plaza de la Ciénaga (Swamp Square).
Considering the decision taken by the keeper of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, in the first half of 16th century, to use the Parade Ground for military practices, the neighbors of the town insisted to the town council on the need to create a new public square for their amusement.
Called San Francisco because of the convent next to it, this square was conceived in 1628, with the objective of supplying water to the ships trading with the metropolis. For many years it also served to stockpile the goods arriving from the harbor. Chronicles of the time say that the square had a busy commercial life.
The first known public square of Havana was located on the spot that, later on in the 16th century, was occupied by the Castillo de la Real Fuerza. To place it, they took an adjoining lot to the south where at the time there was some poor housing. Some acts from that period (between 1559 and 1577) consign that the square was large, clean and that it was known as Plaza de la Iglesia (Church Square) because it was next to the Parroquial Mayor (Main Parish Church).