3 Islands with Must-See Historic Sites in the Caribbean
Think Caribbean vacation. Historic sites in the Caribbean did not immediately come to mind, did they? While white sandy beaches, warm cerulean waters, and verdant tropical landscape often pop to mind immediately, a lot of the Caribbean islands have long histories as vibrant as their landscapes. 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 bunnies and history buffs. For the history buffs, plan a trip to these must see historic sites in the Caribbean while visiting Barbados, Cuba, and Curacao.
Located outside of the "hurricane belt", Barbados experiences little hurricane activity and lots of outdoor events, especially those centered around snorkeling and diving. Archaeological evidence suggests the island was inhabited as early as 350 CE. Though the Portuguese first discovered the island, the English were the first to settle it in 1627. With such a long history, it isn't surprising that Barbados is home to several historic sites.
Historic Sites in Bridgetown
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. Many of the buildings and sites from that mid-to-late 17th century period are the ones which 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.
Cuba holds a special place in my heart because it's where my family is from. With cruises now visiting the capital of Havana, many more visitors can see the amazing historic sites in Cuba. The island has a deep and rich history which dates back to the 4th millenium BCE. The archaeological site at Levisa dates back an incredible 5,000 years to 3100 BCE, making it the earliest known human habitation of Cuba. The first permanent settlement, established by Spain in 1511, eventually became Havana. Like Barbados, many of these early buildings and sites are the ones that would become UNESCO and historic sites in Cuba.
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.
Trinidad and Cienfuegos
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.”
One of the ABC islands of the southern Caribbean Sea, Curacao has little hurricane activity and an impressive historic background. Rock paintings from the Rooi Rincon site date back nearly 5,000 years with those early inhabitants believed to come from nearby Venezuela. Though the Spanish were the first European settlers in 1527, the island's Dutch influence reigns because they invaded and took over Curacao in 1634. As a result, many of the historic sites on Curacao are those built during this time.
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.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Cristina Vanthul