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What's in a Town... Bridgetown

What's in a Town... Bridgetown

The capital city of Bridgetown in Barbados is bursting with historical significance. And a Walk through the streets showcases many buildings, memorials and monuments in Barbados, that tell centuries of stories that live within the town.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

The importance of this Caribbean town resonates beyond the borders of the island, so much so that it was recognised in 2011 when UNESCO designated Bridgetown and its Garrison as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

At that time, UNESCO determined that Bridgetown Barbados (and 115 buildings within) act as a well-preserved example of a British colonial city from the 17th-19th centuries. The layout of its streets reflect an English medieval style, while the architecture is a blend of a number of elements, now identified by UNESCO as Caribbean Georgian. Further, UNESCO also recognised Barbados’ main town as being central to the expansion of British trade in the Americas. 

The History

In 1625, the British settlers landed in Barbados and claimed the island in the name of the British empire. At that time, one of the few structures that they found after exploring the island was a bridge (believed to have been built by the island’s indigenous people). The area was labeled as Indian Bridge and some decades later,  the towns folk rebuilt the bridge, and renamed the Barbados town - Its second name was Town of St Michael, however the popularity of the old name caused the Caribbean landmark to eventually be renamed Bridgetown - now the country’s capital city. 

In 1872, the bridge was again replaced, this time, with a swing bridge which opened to allow vessels to pass. Chamberlain Bridge, named after Joseph Chamberlain in 1900, was later converted to a lift bridge in 2011, and is the modern lift bridge that still stands today. It predominantly serves as a pedestrian crossing and the river serves as a safe harbour for fishing and luxury vessels.

As with any modern town, Bridgetown Barbados is home to green spaces, shopping, authentic Bajan food, religious buildings, monuments, museums and much more.  


Monuments & Landmarks in Barbados

Independence Arch

The Chamberlain Bridge is framed by a commanding structure known as the Independence Arch.  This landmark in Barbados was unveiled in 1987 - a commemoration of the island’s independence from the British in 1966. The arch showcases the country’s national emblems: the broken trident; the Pride of Barbados, which is the national flower; the coat of arms; the pelican and the dolphin. The arch also displays an inscription of the national pledge and an image of the island’s Father of Independence and first Prime Minister of the independent nation, the late Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow.  


Independence Square

A few steps away from this impressive arch is a park which was also named in tribute to Barbados’ independence is Independence Square. Originally used as one of the busiest car parks in Bridgetown, this space was redesigned and reopened to the public in 2007. The park is a perfect place for recreation, with stone benches, mature trees providing shaded areas, an amphitheatre, fountains and a view of the river with boats gently bopping on the water. If you are in Barbados around Christmas time, a night-time stroll through the park is a must, as it is littered with dozens of beautifully lit Christmas trees, decorated by the various schools around the island. However, regardless of the time of year, the focal point of Independence Square stands tall in the centre – a stately statue of the Father of the Independence, the late Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, a National Hero and the First Premier of the Island - he looks across the river into the Heroes Square.


Heroes Square

Three of Barbados’ famous landmarks can be found in Heroes Square. First, the Dolphin Fountain serves as a celebration of the introduction of running water in Barbados. There is also a War Memorial called the Cenotaph which honours the contributions of Barbadian soldiers who fought in the two World Wars. ( As is customary in Britain, there is a Remembrance Day Service held annually in Heroes Square to commemorate those lives which were lost.) The third monument in this area which was formerly known as Trafalgar Square is one which has been the centre of controversy for some time – a statue of Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson. Erected in 1813, Barbadians have long been appealing for the removal of this bronze likeness of Admiral Nelson, especially since the newly named Heroes Square is in tribute to the island’s National Heroes. In the time before emancipation, plantation owners would often bring their slaves to this area for public humiliation and punishment. While the national heroes fought for freedom and a better Barbados, this statue serves as a reminder of colonial rule and centuries of enslavement, with Nelson being known as one who opposed the abolition of slavery.

 

Barbados Parliament Buildings

There are other remnants of colonialism and the British Empire scattered across Bridgetown. Just across the road from Heroes Square is one of the most iconic structures in the city – the Barbados Parliament Buildings. Constructed using local limestone, these buildings were designed and completed in 1874, in the style of Gothic architecture. This site is home to the House of Assembly and Senate, with the Barbados Parliament being the oldest such establishment in the Commonwealth. The history of the island’s governance is archived and on display in the on-site Museum of Parliament, which also houses the National Heroes Gallery. That gallery showcases artistic interpretations of the contributions of Barbados’ 10 national heroes.

 

The Blackwoods Screw Dock

On the other side of the river, there is yet another one-of-a-kind historic site. The Blackwoods Screw Dock is the only dry dock that still exists globally. Engineered in Victorian style and completed in 1893, the screw lift facilitated the lifting of vessels for cleaning or repairs and could support the weight of up to 1,200 tonnes. This dock was once a hive of activity in a time when Barbados functioned as a major port for merchant’s vessels. While many ships would have carried goods and supported the flourishing sugar industry of that time, the docking area would also have been the unloading point for those ships which were transporting enslaved Africans who were to be auctioned to the highest bidders. A commemorative plaque is now located along the docks in tribute to the resilience of those ancestors who endured this horrific experience.

 

Religion in Bridgetown 

St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral 

The colonial period also had a significant impact on religious expression in Barbados’ main town. Having only been colonised by the British, the Anglican Church is considered to be the national religion. However, there are several other spiritual expressions practised by residents of the island, and many of them have places of worship in Bridgetown. St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral was built in 1789 and features the largest pipe organ in the Caribbean. Once inside, you can watch the light dance off the colourful stained-glass windows onto the 17th-century baptismal font. 

Judaism is also represented in Bridgetown, with the Nidhe Israel Synagogue just a few minutes’ walk away from the cathedral. With efforts made to maintain as much of its original 1654 design, its interior mahogany and marble designs are nothing less than stunning. There is also a museum which has thoroughly archived the Jewish contribution to Barbados’ development. 

Also in Bridgetown are 2 Muslim Mosques – Jumma Masjid and Madina Masjid. These more modern buildings reflect the style and elegance that are typical of Islamic architecture. 

Although it is not seen as a place of worship, the Rastafarian community in Barbados is also very present in Bridgetown at Temple Yard. Here, visitors are welcomed to explore the stalls where the community makes and sells a variety of craft and food items, or simply join them for a moment of “reasoning” (deep conversations sharing thoughts on a wide range of topics). Other spiritual groups such as the Spiritual Baptists, Catholics and Evangelical churches have also made their homes in and around the outskirts of Bridgetown.

 

Shopping

Being the capital of Barbados, it goes without saying that commerce plays a vital role in the city’s day to day activities - there is shopping to cater to everyone. The main street in the town, Broad Street, houses some of the top brands in merchandising. There are also retail banks, beauty stores, pharmacies, malls such as Colonade Mall and Mall 34, and several other outlet stores on this high street. One of the more popular stores which have been in operation for over a century is Cave Shepherd, and its Broad Street branch is the flagship location of the country’s largest department store. Cave Shepherd offers three floors of wide-ranging products, many of which have duty-free prices. Their merchandise includes brand name beauty and fragrance lines; precious stone and metal jewellery; electronics; men’s, women’s and children’s wear; lingerie; books and stationery; toys; beachwear; sportswear; liquors and cigars; shoes; housewares and a range of souvenir and craft items.

Running parallel to Broad Street is Swan Street, where there are reasonably priced smaller stores and street vendors located along the stretch of this pedestrian-only avenue. These stores retail items such as clothing, shoes, jewellery, housewares and fabrics, and you may also find some novelty items along the way.  You can also treat yourself to a cooling drink or snow-cone from vendors to help beat the heat. A few steps away, there are some smaller indoor malls, outdoor vendors and stand-alone stores located on James Street, Tudor Street and Roebuck Street. These also sell a wide selection of products at affordable prices.

On the western end of Bridgetown is the quaint Pelican Village. This small shopping village was named after Pelican Island ( a small island off the coast that was reclaimed as part of what is now the Deep Water Harbour). Pelican Village houses some of the island’s top artisans. Located just outside the Bridgetown port, this is often the first stop for cruise ship visitors. It consists of several independent shops modelled after the chattel house design. The shops offer a wide array of arts and craft products including paintings, mahogany sculptures, wire crafts, locally made jewellery, clothing and textiles, pottery and straw products. If you’re lucky, you may also see some of the artisans at work, creating their masterpieces. Art is available for purchase in Pelican Village. You could also visit two other galleries in Bridgetown which host temporary exhibits: The Queen’s Park Gallery which is located in Queen’s Park, and the Artists’ Alliance in Norman Centre on Broad Street. Many of the pieces displayed in these spaces are often for sale as well.

 

Food

There is no shortage of food outlets in Bridgetown. In fact, whether you prefer a dine-in atmosphere or you want to experience some street food, there is guaranteed to be something to suit your fancy. For an indoor, air-conditioned lunch, the food court on the 3rd level of Cave Shepherd is home to some of the more popular food outlets in Barbados. For example, traditional Bajan meals are available at the Ideal Restaurant which has long been associated with Cave Shepherd. If you prefer to indulge in East Indian cuisine, there is Chutney’s, which is well-known for their diverse curry offerings. Succulent rotisserie meals are also available at RB’s and, if you’d rather have a light meal, you can visit Coffee Bean for their wraps, salads and delicious hot beverages.

For a relaxed dining experience that is a favourite among local and visiting regulars to Bridgetown, Mustor’s Restaurant is the place to be. This family-owned establishment, with its modest décor, is reminiscent of the local rum shops and offers some of the most sought after Bajan cuisine in the city. Some smaller restaurants and vendors provide a variety of freshly grilled foods, pastries, sandwiches and other treats. These can be found along Swan Street, on Tudor Street, Baxter’s Road or in the Lower Green Bus Terminal. If you are looking for vegetarian or Ital (Rastafarian) cuisine, you are sure to find that in and around Temple Yard. And of course, there are also several fast-food offerings in the city. International chains such as Burger King, KFC and Subway have outlets in the heart of Bridgetown Barbados. There are also three outlets of the ever-popular local fast-food chain, Chefette. 

 

Green Spaces

Perhaps when you think of a city, you imagine a concrete jungle with large buildings and pollution as a result of the heavy traffic. But Bridgetown refutes this idea. On entering the town, you will have to pass in front of (or near to) beautifully landscaped areas. There is Independence Square on the southern side of the town. Not too far away is Queen’s Park (where you will find the Queen’s Park Art Gallery and the Daphne Joseph-Hackett Theatre). Queen’s Park is also a hive of activity since there is often a game of cricket being played on the adjacent Weymouth Playing Field or dance troupes rehearsing their routines in the shade of the trees or gazebo. There are also quieter areas in the town, such as Church Village Green. Located, just across the road from Queen’s Park, it is home to a small bridge over a calm fish pond, an amphitheatre and shaded benches. This park also features replicas of historic coins (a fitting display as the space is connected to the Central Bank of Barbados) and an installation of doors which would have previously been used in the chattel houses that once stood in that village.

Over on the other side of town, there is a small park called Jubilee Gardens. Originally named in 1888 in honour of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign, the park is a quiet oasis with trees and benches. The garden was paved over in 1929 when a bus terminal was stationed there. But, in 2005, the terminal was relocated, and the area was redeveloped as a garden. With its paved grounds, it serves as a venue for entertainment and exhibitions. Even further across down and just opposite Pelican Village, is Trevor’s Way. This green, shaded walkway leads from the Bridgetown cruise terminal into the city. While there is traffic passing on the adjacent highway, the other side of Trevor’s Way is hugged by the gentle ocean waters and breezes.

There are many ways to tour Bridgetown, and many eyes through which its historical and social significance can be seen. Its streets, buildings and monuments reflect a time in history which was shrouded in darkness. But the beauty of the city now speaks to the spirit of the people who have risen above the challenges and make Barbados all that it is today. 

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