Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison represent a fortified port town designed by the British to safeguard their trade interests in the region.
Bridgetown was an entrepot for goods and enslaved persons, linked to the island's sugar industry and the rest of the Caribbean. The site comprises the old town, the port and the former garrison. The old town still has the medieval English-style street plan, and holds examples of creolized forms of architecture, including Caribbean Georgian. The former garrison protected the town and the port, and served as the headquarters of the British Navy in the region.
Map of BridgetownLoad map
I visited this WHS in January 2023. I wasn't expecting much but for one of my first Caribbean WHS, overall I was pleasantly surprised. Apart from the passage of time, extreme weather conditions and modernisation, the main threat to this and other similar Caribbean WHS is by far the huge impact of cruiseliner touch-and-go tourism. Very close to the core zone of this WHS there's the cruiseliner terminal which is a considerable hub and departure/arrival point for cruises.
With that in mind, I made sure to check the main cruiseliner companies' schedule and visited early mornings before the bigger arrivals or on the day of bigger departures. This might prove more difficult closer to the Xmas/New Year holiday period but it really worked fine towards the end of January. On our swimming days, we could easily see the countless numbered minivans and coaches unloading the equivalent of a small town's population, all pretty much doing the same all-inclusive rapid itinerary, precisely the reason why I always wanted to visit such places by plane. The core zone in fact is bigger than you would expect, and I covered quite a good number of kilometres on foot. Each inscribed neighborhood or area (such as Princess Alice, Dalkeith Road, Chelsea Road, Cheapside, Hastings, Kings Street on Baxter's Road, Garrison Historic Area) has its own UNESCO WHS inscription board with a map of the inscribed area and photos of the main sites to see on the back of each.
The main highlights are scattered mostly in the area known as Princess Alice. These are the Barbados Parliament buildings, the Mutual Building (now used by the West Indies University), the Carnegie Building or Public Library, St. Mary's Church, the Jewish Synagogue, the Town Hall and Gaol (being currently renovated by a very friendly former felon who let me in), the Spirit Bond and the Blackwoods Screw Dock. The other highlights are clustered around the Garrison Historic Area, namely the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, the barracks, the George Washington House and tunnels, the Clock Tower and Charles Fort. The Garrison Historic Area was quite pleasant overall although I really did an extra effort to turn a blind eye on some run-down places and focus mostly on the colonial buildings here and there.
The most unique highlight within this WHS to me was the Screw Dock and its rusty and quite rotten, yet original, screwlift dry dock mechanism. It really desperately needs a visitor centre or museum to explain this unique American invention of the early 19th century. The shiplift in Bridgetown uses screw jacks for lifting gear leading to an elegantly simple and durable system that remained in operation for nearly 100 years. It only became derelict when the owners were liquidated and the facility was abandoned. The "Screw Dock", as it is known locally, was built on the south side of an area known as the "Careenage" at the mouth of the Constitution river in Bridgetown by John Blackwood.
By visiting (mostly) during the limited time just before or after the cruise ship circus, I managed to enjoy this WHS and I think it deserves its place on the WH list. Perhaps by visiting on a tighter schedule, on a very crowded day or on a longer itinerary covering similar WHS in the region, my perception and score would have been worse though.
I visited Bridgetown (August 8th) and its Garrison (August 6th) during my 5-week trip to the Caribbean island of Barbados. If you’re wondering why I chose to spend 5 weeks on this small island: My girlfriend is from Barbados and after the pandemic this was (after 2 failed attempts) the first opportunity for us to travel to Barbados together.
In previous reviews, Bridgetown and its Garrison were not exactly positively evaluated by fellow World Heritage travellers. I would like to add some nuance, as I think that this site deserves a bit more. According to criterion ii, “Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison had a pivotal role in the development of the English colonies in the Atlantic World”. In fact, Bridgetown served as the main British base in the Eastern Caribbean, both militarily and in trade. It served as a link between the British isles and the other Caribbean island colonies. Sadly, not that much is left from this period. The UNESCO page states that “it has remained essentially unchanged for 200 years, and provides an outstanding glimpse into a pivotal period of British imperial rule and culture.” The first part of this statement is not very true, the last part, however, is.
I must admit that it does require a certain understanding of its role in British colonial history to enjoy a visit to Bridgetown.
My highlights of this site:
- The Parliament Buildings, which can be visited on a short tour for only 10 BBD (5 USD). (Make sure not to visit on a Tuesday or Wednesday, as it is not open to visitors on those days).
- The screw dock, a very vulnerable heritage site, and the only one in the whole world.
- The Barbados Museum: A small museum, but it did help me understand Barbados’ history.
- Swan Street in Bridgetown: A very bustling street with a lot of vendors.
In short, the historic significance is very clear, but Bridgetown might not exactly be what you would expect from a Caribbean historic centre.
Bridgetown was by far the least impressive of the WHS I visited in the Caribbean so far. It has no doubt historic significance, but what I got to see was disappointing. There are many modern and ugly buildings between the often not well maintained colonial buildings. The only visual highlight for me was the parliament with its decoration in the national colours. The only thing that hinders you from ticking off this site within about 30 minutes is the distance between the town center and the Garrison.
I visited Barbados in August 2014 as a member of a wedding party. We did not stay in Bridgetown, but I visited it twice during the week. The first time, two friends and I caught a lively bus to the colourful town centre where we ate a lunch of jerk fish, cow heel soup and fried chicken in an orange sauce.
A few days later we bussed again down the island's main highway to the sound of bashment music. We walked along the beach from the city centre and through the Barbados Yacht Club to see the garrison (taking care to avoid stepping on any evil Stonefish). On arrival we found a square of colonial-era buildings around a racecourse, which was rather underwhelming. The Barbados Museum cost B$12 to enter, and gives a decent overview of the island's history. Of particular interest to me were the theories as to what caused the extinction of the indigenous Amerindians, who has completely disappeared by the time the Brits arrived.
Read more from Tom Livesey here.
Just observing the Careenage, and the Parliament Building should have drwn your attention to an island that has no interests,and is only 166sq.miles. Then, the Garrison says why Barbados should be on the UNESCO's World Heritage List.That wooden house that was shown shows the fortitude of Barbadians,especially the slaves that were there for hundreds of years before emancipation.
We traveled the length of the Antilles from Trinidad to Puerto Rico in 1993 using a LIAT Airpass during which we visited all the different countries., so Barbados was another “stop over” on the way north. We found each of the islands surprisingly different in geography, culture and atmosphere but I can’t say that Barbados was a “highlight” for us. We had a rentacar and took in all parts of the island – including Bridgetown. The only photo I have been able to find of that visit is a nondescript “family snap” of yours truly leaning against a cannon at the Garrrison Savannah Racecourse! Perhaps that says something about the sights on offer. Discussing our memories after 18 years with my wife she only remembered our coffee in the open air café at the Hilton! You should perhaps be aware however that what is “on show” is “The Barbados National Cannon Collection, with some of the most rare and oldest English cannons” (Wiki!). The country was notably wealthier than many of the others we visited and also busier and more developed. Bridgetown has its interests but has received a fair amount of modern development and lacks the “atmosphere” of less busy towns and capitals on other West Indian islands. I am sure Barbados has much to offer many tourists but cultural sightseeing is not its strong suit.
I was so surprised this one got in, I did not even prepare for it. I had to search old photo albums and digital collections for some pictures. In the process, I even retrieved a long-lost copy of my Bangladesh photos, so at least something good has come out of it! Finding Bridgetown photos proved to be hard ("Is this Bridgetown, or Speightstown?"). I never had gotten to paste the pics into the photo album and write captions. So I just guessed from the order they were in and double-checked them with photos of Bridgetown on the internet.
I went to Barbados for a week in the autumn of 2003. It's a tiny island, very built-up and touristy in some places. I did not enjoy my stay here, and even "fled" for a couple of days to the paradisiacal neighbouring island of Dominica.
But of course (and fortunately now) I did go to visit the capital Bridgetown. I went on a Sunday, and it was completely deserted. A bit rundown and spooky too. The only memorable part was visiting the Barbados Museum - located in the former prison of the Garrison. It shows the island's history, from the slaves to the cricket players.
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2011 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS recommended Deferral - OUV case not made, management issues, factual errors. Cam, Chi Mal, Eti, Tha, Irq, SA ("important for enslaved peoples") et al inc Fra, Brz support. Sui, Rus less convinced but were outgunned!
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