Bridgetown, the capital city of Barbados, is named after an Amerindian bridge that originally spanned the Constitution River which snakes through the city. It has since been replaced by two new bridges, the Chamberlain Bridge and the Charles Duncan O’Neil Bridge.
The first settlers arrived in Carlisle Bay at the mouth of the Constitution River in 1628. Since that time the City has grown and, like many other British cities, seems to have been planned after a long day in the local pub! By the mid 1660’s there were more than 100 drinking houses which worked out to about one house to every twenty residents, or to put it another way, 100 drinking houses to every 1 city planner! Streets run this way and that seemingly without any reason or design.
Over the years the city has been the victim of a number of fires which burnt down large portions of the city. In 1668 80% of the city was destroyed, and in 1766 twenty-six and a half acres were destroyed including 1140 buildings and all the public offices.
To take a historical tour of Bridgetown start at National Heroes Square, known as Trafalgar Square until 1999. The square, a tribute to Bajan heroes, is host to a statue of Lord Horatio Nelson erected in 1813, preceding the column in London by thirty years. The cenotaph commemorates Bajans killed in the two world wars, and the fountain commemorates the first running water in Bridgetown, piped in from Benn’s Spring in the parish of St. John.
From there walk to the Parliament buildings, built in 1871, after the fire of 1860. The original clock tower was demolished in 1884 and rebuilt in 1886. The west wing houses public offices and the east wing, with stained windows depicting British monarchs, houses the Senate and the House of Assembly.
Leave the Parliament buildings and walk east to St. Michael’s Cathedral. The original wooden church could seat about 100 people but was destroyed by a hurricane in 1780. It was rebuilt in 1789 with money raised in a lottery and finally became a cathedral when Bishop Coleridge arrived in Barbados in 1825. Famous Bajans including Sir Grantley Adams, the island’s first premier and leader of the Federation of the West Indies, and his son Tom Adams, Prime Minister of Barbados from 1976 – 1985 are buried in the cathedral’s grave yard.
Continue east to Queen’s Park, the two story house, built in 1786 was home to the commander of the British troops stationed in the West Indies, and now houses a theatre and art gallery. The Baobab tree in the playground measures eighteen metres in circumference and is believed to be more than 300 years old, having arrived in Barbados from Africa during the early days of slavery.
Go back along Constitution Road to St. Michael’s Row and turn right on Marhill St. then right again on Palmetto St. left on Bruce Alley and you arrive at the historic Bridgetown Synagogue. The Synagogue dates back to 1627 and is the oldest in the western hemisphere. The grounds include a cemetery with graves of Jewish settlers dating from 1630. The Synagogue was destroyed by a hurricane in 1831 and rebuilt in 1837, abandoned in 1929 almost demolished in 1983 but was finally restored and is now protected by The Barbados National Trust.
From the Synagogue head west on James St. and north on Coleridge St. and you come to the public library, the law courts and the central police station. The library, funded by Andrew Carnegie, the Law Courts, and the Royal Barbados Police Force Headquarters Central Police Station adjoin each other and are fronted by the Montefiore fountain, a drinking fountain built by John Montefiore in memory of his father, in 1864.
Finally head south on Prince William Henry Street till you come to a street, originally called Cheapside, then Exchange Street, New England Street and now Broad Street. On the far west end of the street is the Mutual Building built between 1894 and 1895, this large green building with a silver dome is one of the most impressive buildings in Bridgetown. Then walk east until you come to a building with a pink and white façade, this is DaCosta’s Colonnade, home to DaCosta’s Mall, a shopping mall that offers everything from fine crystal and jewellery to novelties, clothes and rum. Finally, head south to the Careenage, for a well deserved drink and dinner by the water.