The city of Bridgetown is Barbados’ largest city, and the commercial centre of the island. Currently with an estimated population of 90,000, this St. Michael town carries within it strong English and Barbadian influences. Established by the English settlers in 1628, it is the second town to be settled in Barbados after Holetown, or as it was called in the 17th century, James Town.
When these settlers arrived to what is now called Bridgetown, they discovered a basic bridge built over the Careenage swamp, located in the heart of Bridgetown. They believed this bridge to be built by the Arawaks, an indigenous Indian people who once resided in Barbados, and as such they named this area ‘Indian Bridge’. This name was later changed to St. Michael town in 1654. Bridgetown was coined, and the town was renamed such. A manual swing-bridge, The Chamberlain Bridge, was built over the Careenage in 1872 by the British, and was replaced by a modern lift bridge in 2006. The layout of Bridgetown also betrays its English origins, as it was originally designed to resemble a 17th century English town.
Today, Bridgetown is a hive of activity, and there are many sights for a visitor to see and enjoy. As the commercial centre of Barbados, there is no lack of shopping, from high-end boutiques to your basic street vendor. Visitors can enjoy duty-free shopping, and also enjoy many of the historic and cultural significant sites and monuments that abound in Bridgetown.
National Heroes Square
Once called Trafalgar Square, this historic site is positioned in the heart of Bridgetown along Upper Broad Street and is on the northern shore of the Careenage River.
It was renamed National Heroes Square in 1999, in honour and celebration of Barbados’ most outstanding heroes. These esteemed individuals are widely recognised for their crucial and critical roles played in the continuing development of Barbados.
This square is not without its controversy. One of the historically significant monuments placed within this square is the The Lord Nelson Statue. This statue actually predates the more famous Nelson's Column, which is located in London, England's Trafalgar Square, by just under 30 years. It is felt by some Barbadians however, that this statue should be removed from this square as Lord Nelson is not recognised as a National Hero. However, to date this statue still holds a position within this historic centre.
Other culturally significant monuments located within National Heroes Square are The Barbados Cenotaph, which commemorates Barbadians who died in World War I and II, and The Barbados Dolphin Fountain, a commemoration of the introduction of piped water in Bridgetown.
The Barbados Cenotaph
Located in National Heroes Square, Upper Broad Street, Bridgetown, this four-sided war memorial was originally built in 1921 to commemorate the Barbadians who died in World War I (1914-1918), but has since also been inscribed with the names of Barbadians who died in World War II (1935-1945). Constructed with grey granite and coral stone, this structure is in the shape of an obelisk but, however, differs from other obelisks located around the world in that it does not have a pyramid-shaped top. In addition to these names, the cenotaph also features Barbados’ Coat-of-Arms. In tribute of the Barbadians who died in the war and the war veterans, a service is held at the Barbados Cenotaph every Remembrance Day. Also known as Poppy Day, Remembrance Day is held every November 11th in memory of the end of World War I. Although not a public holiday in Barbados, a ceremonial parade is done on Remembrance Sunday and ends at this site. Wreaths are laid at its base by Governor General, the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Opposition Leader, diplomats and other dignitaries at the end of the Two Minute Silence.
The Lord Nelson Statue
Another one of Britain’s pervading influences can be seen in the Lord Nelson Statue in National Heroes Square, Bridgetown. This bronze likeness was erected in March 22, 1813, making this statue older than the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square in London by just under 30 years. Interestingly, National Heroes Square was formerly called Trafalgar Square, before it was renamed in 1999.
This Lord Nelson Statue has been at the centre of controversy among Barbadians for quite some time now, with a general feeling towards its removal. Indeed, as the Square has been renamed National Heroes Square, it is felt that the Lord Nelson Statue does not belong in this location.
However, to date, the only changes that have been made in that direction are the ceasing of the traditional wreath laying on the anniversary of Trafalgar and the change of direction in which he faced.
The Barbados Dolphin Fountain
This monument, located in National Heroes Square Bridgetown, commemorates the introduction of piped water in Bridgetown in 1861. It was erected four years after this occasion in 1865. It features three dolphins spewing water from their mouths into the base pool. In commemoration of the piped progress, The Water Works Company in Barbados agreed to supply the water to the fountain for free.On it there is a plaque that reads "This fountain was erected by public subscription to commemorate the bringing of piped water to the City of Bridgetown on 29 March 1861. Opened by acting Governor - Robert Miller Mundy ESQ. on the 27th July 1865 who accepted custody of this fountain on behalf of the Government of Barbados." A plaque placed below the first reads: "The pump for this fountain was installed by the Barbados National Trust with a grant from the Advocate Company Limited. (Established 1895)" This monument is within very close proximity to other National Heroes Square monuments- the Barbados Cenotaph and the Lord Nelson Statue.
The Bridgetown Synagogue
This Jewish Synagogue is said to be the first synagogue built in the Western Hemisphere, indeed it is one of the oldest. The Synagogue was built by Jews from Recife, Brazil who were fleeing from harsh Dutch treatment and looking for somewhere to settle. They brought with them their skills and expertise in the sugarcane industry, previously unexplored on the island.
Built in 1654, this Synagogue was destroyed by a hurricane in 1834, rebuilt and subsequently disregarded and ultimately sold off in 1929. After changing hands quite a few times, the Jewish Synagogue was then seized by the Barbados Government in 1983. Through a petition by the Jewish community, the Barbados Government handed over the property to the Barbados National Trust in 1985.
The architecture of this building has some Gothic features, and the building has been restored with a museum, and a spring-fed mikvah (ritual bath). This 17th century mikvah was discovered by an American archaeologist, Michael Stoner, in 2008 who was excavating the former rabbi's house on the premises.
The Barbados Parliament Buildings
Originally called the Public Buildings, the Parliament Buildings date back to 1874. Its architecture is Gothic and it was constructed using coral limestone. It is the seat of the Parliament of Barbados, and has been the meeting place for both chambers of Parliament since 16 June 1874.
The Parliament Buildings were constructed to serve the purpose of adequate accommodation for the Houses of Parliament, security of Barbados’ Public Records, and centralised principle public houses. One of the Parliament Buildings’ most striking features is its clock tower, currently relocated to its West Wing. The pendulum is 14 feet long and dials are made of copper and are 7 feet in diameter.
The Parliament of Barbados is the 3rd oldest in the Commonwealth, behind Britain and Bermuda, dating back to as early as 1639. Barbados has over 370 years of Parliamentary tradition- certainly by no means an easy feat.
St. Mary's Church
Located on the western side of Lower Broad Street, Bridgetown, this Anglican Church was built in 1825, and subsequently consecrated on July 27, 1827 by Bishop William Hart Coleridge. It was constructed entirely out of brick, has a large red roof and its architecture favours a Gregorian style.
St. Mary’s Church was constructed on the grounds of St. Michael’s Parish Church. St. Michael’s Parish Church, then a wooden church, was to be relocated, but was ultimately destroyed by a hurricane in 1780. However,, it would not be until another forty-five years until St. Mary’s Church was constructed on that site.
St. Mary’s Church is on the second oldest piece of consecrated land, behind the St. James Parish Church in Holetown. There is a majestic silk cotton tree located on the premises that carries with it an interesting story. This tree was known as the ‘Justice Tree’ and was used for public hangings back in the day. Former Governor of Barbados, William Tufton, was said to have been shot under Justice Tree on allegedly fabricated charges by his predecessor.
Buried in the graveyard lies Samuel Jackson Prescod, a National Hero and the first non-white to be elected in the national parliament.
This beautifully built church was also sturdy enough to withstand the great 1831 hurricane. It features a jalousied south porch, a barrel-vaulted ceiling and more recently this century, a clock attached to the church tower. There is also an electric lamp strung over the top of the gate entranceway of the church.
The Chamberlain Bridge
The Chamberlain Bridge, built in 1872, is located in the heart of Bridgetown by the Careenage River, also known as Constitution River among locals. Named after Joseph Chamberlain, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, this bridge allows entry into the inner basin from the outer basin of the Careenage. This bridge also gives rise to the name of its city, ‘Bridgetown’.
Originally, when it was constructed in 1872 it was a manually-operated swing bridge, but was reconstructed in 2006 to a lifting bridge with the state-of the-art modern technology of an all-composite single-leaf bascule design. It is a horizontally swinging bridge, 39 feet long.
An engaging fact is that the original swing bridge actually replaced an older, cruder bridge built by the Arawaks, or Taino as they are also called, who had at some point resided in Barbados. It is said that they were forced to flee to the island to avoid conflict with a fiercer, more war-like Tribe, the Caribs (or Kalinagos). The early British settlers aptly named this wooden bridge ‘Indian Bridge’.
Today, Careenage River is a safe harbour for many catamarans, fishing boats and other pleasure vessels. With the exception of hurricanes or unusually rough seas, most of these crafts harbour in the outer basin. The Independence Arch can also be found to the south end of the Chamberlain Bridge.
The Independence Arch
This Bridgetown monument can be found at the south end of the Chamberlain Bridge. Erected in 1987, The Independence Arch commemorates Barbados' 21st anniversary of Independence. Barbados was regarded a British colony up until November 30th, 1966 when she gained her political independence. As such, the Independence Arch has several symbols of Barbados’ heritage and culture designed into it.
At the top of the arch you will find the Coat of Arms bearing the national motto ‘Pride and Industry’. Along the two sides you will see three national symbols- the broken trident (symbolises the break away from Britain), the dolphin (for Barbados’ fishing industry) and the pelican (for Pelican Island), and the Pride-of-Barbados flower.
At the base of the arch you will also find the words to Barbados’ National Pledge. Each side of the arch also carries a picture of the late Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, also called the Father of Our Nation. He was the first Prime Minister of Barbados, pivotal to Barbados’ independence.
As part of the Independence celebrations that take part every year in November, the Independence Arch is usually seen outlined in lights of Barbados’ national colours- blue and yellow.
Located just east of the Independence Arch, Independence Square is a waterpark by the Careenage waterfront in Bridgetown. It is a peaceful place to relax, an oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. There are two large fountains, an amphitheatre, glazed walls, sculptural seats, paving mosaics and a toilet block. Its architecture seems to mirror colonial days in a modern light.
Nearby to the west of the square, there are a number of vendors positioned by Independence Arch who sell a wide range of Barbadian arts and craft. Around November, Independence Square is lit up in Barbados’ national colours of blue and yellow, which are then replaced around Christmas time with more festive colours.
Before Independence Square became what it is today, it had been used as a carpark. It is now landscaped with plants and trees, supplemented with benches. A main feature of this square is the 9ft Statue of The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow who was the first Prime Minister of Barbados, National Hero and Father of Barbados’ Independence.
Located in Bridgetown next door to Barbados’ main post office, The General Post Office, the Cheapside Market is a marketplace where vendors offer their wares and produce as early as 6:00 am.
This area was designated by the Barbados Government to small street vendors, and is a great place to cop many items capturing the spirit of Barbados. Ground provisions are sold in abundance here, in addition to jewellery, leatherworks and other forms of arts and craft. Vendors are friendly and are usually also open to price negotiations.
The busiest day for this market is Saturday, as this is when Bridgetown is its busiest and liveliest. This is a great place for fantastic deals and competitive prices.