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Alongside Old Havana’s atmospheric bars and picturesque hotels, there lies an intriguing old tower that most people walk past without thinking. Found in one corner of Plaza Vieja, the 35-metre (115-foot) structure holds a secret for those who are curious enough to enter. Up on the roof, looking over the rest of Old Havana, is the Camera Obscura.
Invented by Leonardo da Vinci, the Camera Obscura is an optical device that gives viewers a 360° view of their surroundings. In Havana, that means a live image of the old town, projected onto a dark screen inside the tower.
From here, you can watch as tourists haggle for souvenirs, children make their way to school, and Cubans hang their washing from their balconies. The Camera Obscura lets you see a different view of Havana, and one that relatively few people have ever seen.
Havana is a low-rise city, with only a few tall buildings that you can climb to see the city from above. In Old Havana, viewpoints are even more limited, because of strict planning laws. As a result, the Camera Obscura offers a rare chance to see this most fascinating corner of the city in a different way.
The Camera Obscura has only been open since 2001, and remains an under-appreciated gem. It’s open from 8.30am to 5.30pm every day, so you’ve got plenty of time to visit.
Guided tours are available in different languages so you can learn about the history of the device, but the best part is looking at the 360° view yourself. At first it can take some getting used to the idea, but then the experience becomes mesmerising. It’s easy to spend an hour watching city life go on below you; you won’t regret visiting the Camera Obscura.