Barbados Today

Exploring World Heritage

Bridgetown goes beyond Barbados.  This port city’s charming town squares and stoic religious buildings share bittersweet glimpses of times past…

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  1. National Heroes Square

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Trafalgar-square-barbados

It was called Trafalgar Square, and was inaugurated in 1785. It was designed to frame the dolphin spouting Trafalgar Square drinking Fountain. The now controversial bronze statue of pro-slavery, British naval hero Lord Admiral stood in its centre. Unveiled in 1813, the bronze statue is famous for being erected over 25 years before its doppelganger in London’s Trafalgar Square.

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Home to many political processions and events, it is also a great place to relax in the shade, grab a snow-cone or a taxi on any weekday in town. The square was renamed National Heroes Square in 1999 to honour Barbados’ 10 national heroes.  The Nelson statue is now to the northern end of the square, with the War Memorial (World War 1, 1914-1918) in its centre. Looking up and away from there, the National Heroes Mural brings us into present times.

  1. Independence Square

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It’s the same area the Amerindians would’ve first built the Bridges that inspired earlier versions of the city name. Back then, it would’ve been a river bank. Into the 17th and 18th centuries, it became one of the busiest docks in the world. In place of benches would be large vessels leaned on a side, in a flurry of activity. The series of wheels running along the edge of the waterfront would’ve been wound with rope. It’s a reminder of the hard, mostly enslaved/indentured labour that made Bridgetown, and ports such as Boston, metropolitan hubs of the Atlantic World.

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You may relax in one of the benches lining the waterfront. The third oldest, prestigious Parliament Buildings/Museum of Parliament in the Americas are immediately ahead. The statue behind you is gazing at the buildings as well. It is the former Prime Minister, the Hon. Errol Walton Barrow, famous for making Free Education at the primary and secondary levels a right for all Barbadians to enjoy.  This value for education continues to make Barbados one of the most respected educational centres of the hemisphere. Looking to your left, crafts and vendors galore are found at the top of the steps. You’ll also see the Independence Arch stretched across Chamberlain Bridge, and maybe feel inclined to take a luxurious stroll along Bridgetown’s Boardwalk. To your right is the Charles Duncan O’Neal Bridge, another tribute to a National Hero. Pleasure crafts are bobbing in the Careenage. These sights, sounds and memories are pulled together by the mosaic of the national flag in the centre of the square.

  1. Jubilee Gardens

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Roadside Markets at Jubilee Gardens_BMHS
Roadside Markets at Jubilee Gardens

Across from The Old Town Hall, these gardens were created in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1886. The area was also the hot spot for market activities of the enslaved urban community of the colonial era. Although today’s Cheapside Market was declared the ‘official’ Vegetable Market by colonial authorities, it wasn’t a prime spot for having goods on show. This resulted in constant tension between the hucksters and colonial authorities- legislation to ban vending in the location tried and failed over 14 times.

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Old Town Hall
Old Town Hall

Today, its gardens, fountain and seating create a relaxing oasis in the so-called “birthplace” of Bridgetown. Have you spotted the glass case yet? It shows a bit of the original cobblestone roadway laid by English settlers in the 1700s. What it doesn’t show is the Amerindian relics that are likely below it. Back then, Barbados was called “Ichirouganiun”, linking the island to its Caribbean and South American neighbours.

  1. The Masonic Lodge at Spry Street

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MASONIC LODGE
MASONIC LODGE

Until 1870, it was the original location of Harrison’s Free School- what is today the prestigious Harrison College Institution. It is also the alleged birthplace of the notorious  Rachel Pringle-Polegreen, whose father Lauder owned the property around her birth in 1753.

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MASONIC LODGE
MASONIC LODGE

With its recent facelift, this three-storey brick building is a fine example of a contemporary spin on colonial Georgian style. It is also proof of the living legacy of Freemasonry in Barbados, and the influence of the largest secret society on the Atlantic World.

  1. The Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum 

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Jewish Synagogue

In the times of the Holocaust, a community of Sephardic Jews fled to Barbados in order to escape persecution in North-Eastern Brazil. By 1654, Kahal Kadosh Nidhe Israel (Holy Congregation of the Scattered of Israel) was established, and became the centre for rabbinical scholarship in this hemisphere. These groups also brought valuable knowledge and technology that propelled the sugar cane industry in Barbados.  After the 1831 hurricane, the Jewish Synagogue (1833) was rebuilt on the foundations of the 1654 synagogue. Gothic, Renaissance and Barbadian architecture fashion its unique architectural style.

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Jewish Synagogue
Jewish Synagogue

It is one of the more famous UNESCO protected properties in Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison. As one of the two oldest synagogues in the Americas, it is sacred in both the spiritual and cultural sense. Additions include its interactive museum and tour, led by Mr. Celso Brewster, which takes you on the journey of Barbados’ place in the history of Judaism. The site is also home to a 17th century mikvah, the oldest complete ritual bath in the Western hemisphere.

  1. St. Michael’s Cathedral

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The Magnificent Interior of St. Michael's Cathedral
The Magnificent Interior of St. Michael’s Cathedral

Established by Sir William Tufton in 1629, it is the first Anglican Church in the parish of St. Michael. The St. Michael’s Cathedral (1786) replaced the earlier parish church from 1665, after it was destroyed in the 1780 hurricane.  Its spacious galleries and grand pews give a clue about the rigid class hierarchy of early plantation society. As noted in old vestry minutes, churchwardens were to “take order for ye placing and seating of ye inhabitants according to their degree and quality”.

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Exterior of the church
The Magnificent Interior of St. Michael's Cathedral Now
The Magnificent Interior of St. Michael’s Cathedral Now

Surviving the notorious ‘Bridgetown Fires’ through the ages, St. Michael’s Cathedral is still standing tall. The placing of a chapel behind the High Altar in 1938 is the most contemporary feature of the building. The church remains an active place of worship and a significant example of a grand architectural style.

  1. St. Mary’s Church

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St. Mary's Church
St. Mary’s Church

St. Mary’s Church is the other Anglican church of Historic Bridgetown’s town centre. Built on one of the oldest consecrated grounds in the English Americas, it was a significant political and social site.  It was also used as a burial ground for the town’s enslaved and free populations. The grave of National Hero, the Rt. Excellent Samuel Jackman Prescod (1806-1871), the first non-white member of the House of Assembly, rests in the churchyard.

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St. Mary's Church Now
St. Mary’s Church Now

Sited on the Old Churchyard of the original St. Michael’s Church, St. Mary’s Church is a stunning example of Caribbean Georgian style. Its jalousied south porch and decorated, baby blue and white barrel-vaulted ceiling, and elaborate font make it one of the most gorgeous features of contemporary Bridgetown. Its sprawling, aged trees look onto Jubilee Gardens and the renovated Old Town Hall across the road.

  1. James Street Methodist Church

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James Street Methodist c. 1900
James Street Methodist c. 1900

The James Street Methodist Church was erected in 1830. National Hero The Rt. Excellent Saran Ann Gill is buried in its graveyard.

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Its bulls-eye window and venetian style portico make this classical place of worship a standout in Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison. Its Barbadian legacy as an early, colonial advocate of anti-slavery and religious freedom is a smaller piece of  international efforts to abolish slavery.

  1. St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral

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St. Patricks Roman Catholic Cathedral
St. Patricks Roman Catholic Cathedral

Named after Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick, the building is testament to the evolution of a former religious minority in Bridgetown. Unlike the Quaker society, for example, the Roman Catholic Church managed to maintain a permanent place in the town. St Patrick’s Cathedral (1899) was built on the site of the earlier 1848 structure.

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St. Patricks Roman Catholic Cathedral Now
St. Patricks Roman Catholic Cathedral Now

The building is an example of Barbadian Gothic architecture. Its combination of local coral limestone walls and the use of red Aberdeen granite in the interior is a flawless fusion. St. Patrick’s is another example of Barbados’ contribution to the popular medieval themes of 17th and 18th century architectural styles.

This story was originally published in the 2014 edition of Bridgetown & its Garrison (Map + City Guide)

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