Historical Nassau

Looking out at Parliament Square.
Looking out at Parliament Square.
Map of Nassau.
Map of Nassau.
The Queen's Staircase from the top down.
The Queen's Staircase from the top down.
Parliament.
Parliament.
Along Rawson Square.
Along Rawson Square.
Government House.
Government House.
Christ Church Cathedral.
Christ Church Cathedral.

Overview. Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas and a quaint city that has first class resorts but also a beautiful collection of British colonial architecture that is worth seeing. Many of the buildings house various branches of government. The Bahamas became an independent country in 1972 after having been a British crown colony since 1718. It maintains its ties with Britain as a Commonwealth country. Nassau retains a strong blend of colonial charm and British influence in its buildings, laws, culture, and language, which is officially English. Before it became a British crown colony, it was however, a pirate's haven - lawless, rowdy, and uncouth. Larger-than-life characters such as Henry Jennings and Edward Teach, a.k.a. "Blackbeard", operated from New Providence Island. Today, most Bahamians are the descendants of African slaves who were originally brought here to work sugar plantations. They replaced Native American Lucayans, who were decimated mostly by the Spanish. You’ll find Bahamians relaxed, friendly, and welcoming. Located 188 miles from Miami, Nassau, is located on New Providence Island and is a popular travel destination and a busy cruise port. Many cruise ships embark from Miami, and other terminals along the eastern seaboard, and make the run to the islands in two and three day trips. Tourism and banking are the biggest industries of the Bahamas.

Fort Charlotte was built starting in 1787 and is the largest of Nassau’s fortified masonry structures. Located on the western harbor and named after King George III’s consort, it was built by Governor Dunmore, who was the last royal governor of New York and Virginia. Dungeons, cannon, and underground passages are part of the fort’s tour. Fort Fincastle is an easy ten minute walk from Nassau’s main harbor area at the top of the Queen’s Staircase. Constructed in 1793 by Lord Dunmore, it offers panoramic views of Nassau and its prominent bow is said to be patterned after a Mississippi steamer. Fort Montagu, the earliest of Nassau’s remaining forts, was built in 1741, and is located on the island’s east side. The Fort’s interior cannot be accessed but the surroundings are interesting enough to justify a visit. Rawson Square in downtown Nassau is a perfect spot to begin a walking tour of the city. It is the heart of the city. Located on the square is the Churchill Building, the office of the prime minister. Parliament Square is marked by the requisite statue of Queen Victoria and the House of Assembly, the oldest governing body in continuous session in the New World. This collection of fine Georgian buildings dates to the late 1700s. The Supreme Court and Senate chambers are also located in adjacent buildings. The buildings of the Nassau Public Library and Museum is a showpiece unto itself. Built in 1797, it once housed the Nassau Gaol (jail) until it became the public library in 1873. The library is famous for its collection of colonial documents and prints. Books now line the walls of what once were prison cells. One of the most unique sites in the city is the Queen’s Staircase, hewn out of the limestone hill, or cliff, which it ascends. Located at the end of Elizabeth Street, this well traveled path is a quick way to arrive at Fort Fincastle. It was built in 1793 by slave labor, who cut 66 steps into the rock. St. Andrew’s Kirk is a Presbyterian church and the first non-Anglican church built on the islands. The Church dates to 1810 although it has seen extensive modifications since. Government House commands a great view from the heights looking down on Nassau. This beautiful pink neoclassical residence dates to the early 19th century and is the official residence of the governor-general of the Bahamas - a mostly ceremonial office which acts as the Queen’s representative. Graycliff stands upon the foundations of probably the oldest extant structure in the city dating to the 1720s. This Georgian-style hotel is famous for some of its more notorious guests such as Polly Leach. It stands near the site of where the city’s oldest church once stood commemorated by a plaque. Built between 1885 and 1886 St. Francis Roman Catholic Church was the first Catholic Church in the Bahamas. It sits west of Graycliff on Delancy Street. The British Colonial Hilton has some history. It was constructed in 1923 and managed by Sir Harry Oakes. Oakes was later murdered in 1943 and to this day the crime has not been solved. It sits on the former site of Forty Nassau and it has also been featured in a number of James Bond films. Across the street from the Hilton is the Vendue House, one of Nassau’s earliest buildings. It was formerly the Bourse (stock exchange) and a slave market. Today it houses a museum to its past. The Christ Church Cathedral dates from 1837 and is a faithful example of Gothic revival. It is the Episcopal seat of the Bahamas and has hosted various state ceremonies. Woodes Rogers Walk and Prince Georges Wharf line the water. The latter anchors large cruise ships and will probably be the point of embarkation for many who visit the city. The former was named after the first royal governor of the Bahamas and is a good place to view the harbor, its various boats, and buy local goods and souvenirs at the stalls that line the wharf.

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