You are here

Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison - World Heritage sites are places on Earth that are of Outstanding Universal Value to humanity.

On June 25, 2011 Barbados joined an elite group of nations with world heritage properties when Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This inscription is a tremendous feat for a small Caribbean island states. It presented the opportunity to address the obvious geographical imbalance in sites from Latin American and the Caribbean. UNESCO’s commitment to the identification, protection and preservation of the world’s cultural and natural heritage is enshrined in the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972).

World Heritage sites are places on Earth that are of Outstanding Universal Value to humanity. In other words, these properties must have significance not only for the countries in which they are located, but for the world as a whole. As such, they have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

Historical Importance

Since European settlement almost 400 years ago, Bridgetown became a major port for the shipment of goods, including sugar, and enslaved people in the British Atlantic World. Bridgetown’s irregular settlement patterns and early 17th century street layout reflects the medieval influence of early English settlers on town planning. Its spontaneous development and serpentine street layout supported the development and transformation of creolized forms of tropical architecture built by African labour in a European style.

Barbados was the first port of call for ships making the trans-Atlantic crossing. The island's geographic location created a strategic military advantage, protecting British trade interests against French, Spanish and Dutch aggression, while also projecting Britain’s imperial power in the region. The town’s fortified port spaces were linked along the Bay Street corridor from the town to the Garrison, circling Carlisle Bay. A complex system of military government evolved in Historic Bridgetown’s Garrison after 1650 and the site developed into one of the most structurally complete and functional British colonial garrisons in the Atlantic World.

Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison participated in the international trade of not only goods and people, but also in the transmission of ideas and cultures in the colonial Atlantic World. By the 17th century, trade relationships were established with England, North America, Africa and the colonial Caribbean, making the port a cosmopolitan centre of commerce, settlement and exploitation.

Bridgetown Today

Bridgetown today still functions as one of the island's business and commercial hubs. Visitors will also appreciate the abundance of malls and duty free shopping available in Bridgetown, as well as the local charm the city brings. Street vendors with their colourful trays of fresh produce and goods can still be found plying their trade in certain locations across Bridgetown. The inner marina and famous Chamberlain Bridge create a safe space for fishing boats, catamarans and pleasure crafts. The east end of the boardwalk leads to Independence Square, a quiet respite in the center of the city. The square has many benches that offer beautiful waterfront views of some of Bridgetown's most historic buildings, including the Parliament Building.

Unesco Map

Bridgetown is a port town and the capital of Barbados. Its central business district is the national centre serving as the primary focus for major office, parliamentary, and shopping services for the island. The Garrison is one of eight Cultural Heritage Conservation Areas on the island and represents a very distinguished era of military colonial history. Within the precincts of this Site, there are one hundred and fifteen listed buildings. The combination of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison represents a worthy collection of history, colonial and vernacular architecture and good elements of the art and science of town planning.
  1. Parliament Buildings and Museum
  2. Blackwoods Screw Dock
  3. Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum
  4. Barbados Museum and Historical Society
  5. George Washington House and Museum
  6. St. Mary's Anglican Church
  7. The Cathedral of St. Michael and All Angels
  8. Military Cemetery
  9. The Warehouses
  10. Mutual Building
  11. The Old Town Hall
  12. Dolphin Fountain
  13. Montefiore Fountain
  14. Lord Nelson Statue
  15. The Cenotaph
  16. Errol Barrow Statue
  17. Independence Arch
  18. Codd's House Memorial Monument
  19. Grantley Adams Statue
  20. 50th Anniversary Monument
  21. The National Armory
  22. Garrison Clock Tower
  23. Garrison Tunnels
  24. Golden Square
  25. Old Fort and Light House - Hilton Resort
  26. Exchange Museum
  27. Church Village Green and Amphitheatre
  28. St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church
  29. Cheapside Market
  30. National Library and Old Law Courts
Top Map bottom Map

UNESCO Listings

Parliament Buildings and Museum
Its Neo-Gothic architecture captivates you as you cross the Chamberlain Bridge in Bridgetown. Stop and take a moment to absorb the fact that you are standing before the building housing the third oldest parliament in the Commonwealth of Nations after Britain and Bermuda What's even more enthralling is that you can visit the fascinating Museum of Parliament and National Heroes Gallery, which is absolutely fascinating!
(246) 310-5400 |
Blackwoods Screw Dock
Blackwoods Screw Dock
A visit to the Blackwoods Screw Dock will leave you enamored with the rich cultural heritage of Barbados, as you walk along the only remaining Screw Dock of its kind in the world! Take a walk through history as you enter the Historical Maritime Centre featuring interesting and unique artifacts, displays and photos of Barbados from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum
Nestled in the heart of bustling Bridgetown, the Nidhe Israel Synagogue is one site you should seek to discover. This synagogue goes a long way in telling the story of Barbados, and it stands proudly as the oldest consecrated Jewish Synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, built in 1654. The newly opened museum on site is simply awe-inspiring!
(246) 436-6869
Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum
The Barbados Museum and Historical Society's galleries are housed in 19th century military prison buildings, and reveal the island's rich history. This museum is a full repository of Barbados, from the indigenous people, to the European settlers and colonialism to slavery, emancipation and independence. Get to know this beautiful island by immersing yourself in the history of its people.
(246) 538-0201 |

History of Bridgetown

The history of Bridgetown, from pre-historic Amerindian settlement through British colonization, emancipation, independence and up to present times, is a microcosm of the significant economic, social, and political transformation of Barbados through the centuries.


Archaeological findings at Port St. Charles indicate Amerindian settlement in Barbados reaching back to 1623 BCE. Detailed knowledge of pre-historic settlement in Bridgetown is not known, though excavations have found evidence of occupation within an area bounded by Fontabelle, Spring Garden (West), Suttle Street (North), the Careenage (South), and Graves End (East). All sites are recognized as having direct access to potable spring water. In fact, Bridgetown's central core was originally a swamp that was drained and later filled. Archaeological studies also confirm that the four major Amerindian ceramic cultures were present in Bridgetown.

Amerindians on the island were subsistence farmers and fishers. They used techniques including slash and burn farming known as conuco, which created a landscape of small clearings surrounded by virgin forest, often close to the water's edge. Numbering tens of thousands over the centuries, prior to the arrival of Europeans, Amerindians were gone by the year 1550, decimated by slave raids from Spanish colonizers. Although specific details of the community at modern-day Bridgetown are not known, a bridge spanning the Constitution River was later found by English colonists, eventually becoming the namesake for the City. Barbados was offically discovered in 1536 by famous Portuguese explorer, Pedro a Campos during his voyage to Brazil. Later it was discovered by American explorer, John Wesley Powell on 14th May, 1625.

British colonization

The period of British colonization is characterized by four centuries of maritime development, which turned Bridgetown into a critical node of the Empire's commercial and military administration. Following the Spanish and Portuguese vessels, which in the sixteenth century frequently made brief stops at Barbados for water, English ships landed on Barbados in 1624 and claimed it for the Crown. Bridgetown was settled four years later. From this point, Bridgetown followed the 17th century trajectory of other seaports like Kingston, Boston and New York in terms of population and importance. Society was initially structured around small scale cultivation of Caribbean staples of cotton and tobacco, with English landowners importing enslaved Amerindians and indentured Europeans.

Sugarcane was introduced to the island in 1640 by planters such as James Drax, keen to make the transition from a dying tobacco industry, and assisted by Sephardic Jews expelled from Portuguese Brazil. The introduction of sugarcane initiated a transformation of Barbadian economic and social systems that Bridgetown was well positioned to capitalize on. Historical vestiges are seen in Bridgetown, including the Nidhe Israel Synagogue, one of the oldest in the western hemisphere, which was rebuilt after the great hurricane of 1831 destroyed its roof.

Bridgetown had a safe natural harbour in the Careenage, wide enough for anchoring the vessels of the day and hosting dock facilities for shipbuilding and maintenance. Large-scale plantations soon became basic structural entities in Barbados, with a radial road network developed to transport goods to and from the natural port at Bridgetown for shipment to Europe. Shifting production needs also created a high demand for enslaved African labour, and Bridgetown became a key hub for their movement and sale. Reflecting this, the demographics of Barbados transitioned from an island in 1644 that had 800 people of African descent out of 30,000 total, to an island in 1700 with 60,000 enslaved persons out of 80,000 total. By the late 17th century, Bridgetown was the nexus of international trade in the British Americas, and one of the three largest cities: 60% of English exports to the Caribbean were processed through the Bridgetown port. The growth of this trade-based economy paralleled the increased military From 1800 until 1885,

Bridgetown was the seat of government of the former British colonies of the Windward Islands. In 1881, the Barbados Railway was completed from Bridgetown to Carrington. Soon thereafter, the presence of the tramway became a pre-condition for development. Black Rock, EagleHall, Fontabelle, Roebuck and Bellville were small centres that grew out of tram connections to the Bridgetown core, and have since been subsumed into the city.

After removal of British troops from colonies by 1905, a quarter of the lands around the Savannah was acquired by private landowners, including the Main Guard (until Government re-assumed ownership in 1989). Today, there is still very little residential property in the Savannah, with most residential uses coming from the conversion of military buildings.


Still the most important centre in the eastern Caribbean, societal transformations altered Bridgetown in the middle of the 20th century. The arrival of the motor vehicle created and has continued to create a serious challenge for the narrow streets of Bridgetown. In 1962, a few years prior to independence in 1966, the Constitution River, Careenage and the remaining edges of swamp were filled and replaced with a channelized canal. This followed the construction of the Bridgetown Harbour and Deep Water Port in 1961, drawing the nexus of trade and communications away from the Careenage, and along with it the associated businesses. Vacant warehouses were eventually converted into offices, shops, and carparks as the central business district expanded.

Population in Bridgetown expanded after emancipation in 1834 and even more so after fluctuations in the sugarcane industry drove workers to coastal areas. Diversification of Barbados' economy from the 1950s into the 1970s brought greater settlement to Bridgetown, moving simultaneously with urbanization. The Greater Bridgetown Area experienced an average annual growth rate over 14% between 1920 and 1960, with a population growth rate of just under 5%. By the 1970s the urban boundary began to stabilize, with population added through intensification of existing land. By 1980, the population of Bridgetown was 106,500, representing 43% of the country's total. Social development and poverty alleviation policies soon followed, beginning in the urban parish of Saint Michael, then later spread to rest of the island. Continued subdivision of tenantries began to generate a crisis of poor street access, awkward shaped and tiny lots, and a lack of communal spaces. Whether private or publicly led, sites were developed without an integrated planning approach.

Most recently, several significant initiatives have celebrated and elevated the importance of the remarkable history and heritage assets of Bridgetown. In 2011, Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This fundamental recognition is a critical input into the current PDP Amendment process and has shaped the boundary of this Community Plan. New green public spaces were formed with the creation of Jubilee Gardens, Independence Square and Church Village Green. The recent Constitution River Upgrade has restored the river channel and connections along the corridor. In the early 2000's the restoration of the Nidhe Israel Synagogue and its mikvah and more recent completion of the first phase of Synagogue Block restoration are acting as a demonstration of, and potential catalyst for, reinvestment in cultural heritage in the Bridgetown core.