Must See Historical Sites in the Caribbean - Barbados, Cuba, & Curaçao
Thinking of going on a Caribbean holiday? Whereas the white sandy beaches, warm cerulean waters, and verdant tropical landscape may be the first images that pop to mind, a lot of the Caribbean islands have long histories as vibrant as their countrysides. Seventeen UNESCO World Heritage sites and many plantations, forts and towns from the 1600 and 1700s are found around the Caribbean, making this a tropical destination equally pleasing to beach bums or history buffs. For the history buffs, plan a trip to these must see historical sites while in Barbados, Cuba and Curacao.
Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, and its Garrison were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011. According to the UNESCO website, the city and garrison are “an outstanding example of British colonial architecture”. The town was first settled by the British in 1628. It is many of the buildings from this time period and shortly thereafter that are now protected. The Garrison Savannah and Historic Area was formerly the base and nerve center for the British West Indies Regiment in the 1700s and 1800s. Many of the notable buildings have been preserved, including George Washington House where George Washington spent six weeks with his sick brother, the main guardhouse, and the clock tower. The area also quarters the Barbados National Canon Collection which contains some of the oldest and rarest English cannons. This collection contains Royal Seals from: Charles II, Queen Anne, the King Georges, and Queen Victoria. The oldest in the collection is the Commonwealth Gun of 1650.
While in Bridgetown, don’t miss Nidhe Israel Synagogue.First built in 1654, the Synagogue was demolished by a hurricane in 1851 and then rebuilt.It is now held by the Barbados National Trust and is one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere.In 2008, a 17th century mikvah – Jewish ritual bath - was uncovered on the grounds.
Travel to Barbados
Of all the Caribbean countries, Cuba lays claim to the largest number of UNESCO sites, possessing a remarkable nine sites.One of the most fascinating is the old town of Camaguey.Envision discovering a town of blind alleys, forked roads, and several town squares of varying sizes.The bewildering design was a calculated defense mechanism when the town was rebuilt in 1528 after pirates assaulted and ravaged the original city.
Perhaps a more famous historic town is Old Havana.It and its defenses are also protected by UNESCO World Heritage status.The city was founded in 1519 by the Spanish with the principal design in the baroque and neoclassical style.In addition to the old buildings, many which have fallen into poor condition, the fortifications around Old Havana and forts around Havana Bay are of great historical interest and importance.Castillo del Morro which guarded the entrance to Havana Bay, La Cabaña on the eastern shore of the bay, and San Salvador de la Punta Fortress on the opposite shore from Castillo del Morro, were constructed in the late 1500s.At La Cabaña, soldiers don replica uniforms from the era every night and fire “el cañonazo de las nueve” – the gunshot at nine – which cautioned in historic times that the gates in the walls around Old Havana were closing for the night.
The towns of Trinidad and Cienfuegos are also UNESCO sites in Cuba.Trinidad was first settled in 1514 and is regarded as one of the best preserved old towns in the Caribbean. The old town is several blocks of pastel mansions, churches and cobblestone roads. Sadly, only this touristy part is well-maintained. A few blocks away the buildings stand in disrepair, mirroring the poverty of the country. Cienfuegos, though not settled until 1819, includes the biggest and most noteworthy group of neoclassical buildings in all of the Caribbean.The town was cited by UNESCO as “the best extant example of 19th century early Spanish Enlightenment implementation in urban planning.”
Travel to Cuba
The Caribbean invokes images of single-story brightly-colored buildings with wide covered patios surrounded by palm trees, but not in Curaçao. At least not in the historic area of its capital, Willemstad.Founded in 1634 by the Dutch, Willemstad’s notable buildings possess an extraordinary variety of pastel colors splashed on colonial architecture from many Dutch styles. Willemstad was named a UNESCO site in 1997.
Besides unique architecture, Willemstad is also home to Snoga Synagogue and to Queen Emma Bridge. Snoga Synagogue was built in 1692 and is the oldest surviving synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The Queen Emma Bridge is a pontoon bridge (some call it a boat bridge) which is still in use today.It was built in 1888.