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Contemporary Havana can essentially be described as three cities in one: Old Havana, Vedado and the newer suburban districts.
The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbours: Marimelena, Guanabacoa and Atarés.
The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay.
The city of Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and due to its strategic location it served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the continent becoming a stopping point for the treasure-laden Spanish galleons on the crossing between the New World and the Old World.
King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City in 1592.
The town that became Havana finally originated adjacent to what was then called Puerto de Carenas (literally, "Careening Bay"), in 1519.
The quality of this natural bay, which now hosts Havana's harbor, warranted this change of location.
Pánfilo de Narváez gave Havana — the sixth town founded by the Spanish on Cuba — its name: San Cristóbal de la Habana.
Conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar founded Havana on August 25, 1515 or 1514, on the southern coast of the island, near the present town of Surgidero de Batabanó, or more likely on the banks of the Mayabeque River close to Playa Mayabeque.
All attempts to found a city on Cuba's south coast failed.
However, an early map of Cuba drawn in 1514 places the town at the mouth of this river.
Between 15 the Spanish established at least two different settlements on the north coast, one of them in La Chorrera, today in the neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar, next to the Almendares River.