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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.