Multiple human forces have been at play in the Caribbean over the last 7,000 years and discovering their legacy today is one of the great rewards of travelling to the region
Few parts of the world offer so many diverse cultures living side by side amid such gorgeous tropical scenery. And every Caribbean country has compelling sights where you can connect with the past, from military forts and the ruins of sugar mills to national museums and monuments that commemorate the struggles, achievements and personalities that have helped shape the Caribbean we see today.
In the beginning
The first inhabitants of the Caribbean were Amerindians and you can still see reminders of their presence. In Anguilla, the Fountain Cavern National Park has rock art dating from 400 AD that was created by the Arawaks in what is considered the oldest cave used for ritual ceremonies in the region. In southern Guyana, Makatau mountain has over 600 of their petroglyphs, dating from 30005000 BC. The descendants of the Arawaks’ successors, the Caribs, survive in the Kalinago Territory on Dominica, where you can visit a recreated traditional village, Kalinago Barana Autê, to learn about their culture. The Caguana Ceremonial Ball Courts Site in Puerto Rico dates back to the indigenous Taíno people in the 13th-15th centuries, while The Bahamas’ Clifton Heritage National Park has a replica hut recalling the days of the islands’ first settlers, the Lucayans.
The jungles of Belize contain a wealth of Mayan archaeological sites, including Caracol with its magnificent stepped pyramid rising to 140ft (42m).
A new world
The arrival of Europeans in the late 15th century, starting with the Spanish and soon followed by the British, French and Dutch, transformed the region and has left a treasury of historic sites to explore.
Cuba’s capital, Havana, is richly stocked with Spanish colonial architecture, including the massive Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, which was completed in 1774.
On St. Eustatius, Oranjestad is home to the ruins of a Dutch Reformed Church originally built in 1755, while Willemstad in Curaçao has examples of well-preserved Dutch buildings from both the 17th and 18th centuries.
The remnants of military forts survive on the French islands of Martinique and Saint-martin, while Fort Amsterdam, which dates from 1631, is a reminder of Dutch rule in St. Maarten.
Links with British colonial rule live on in Barbados at Garrison Savannah in Bridgetown, where military buildings and a horse-racing course from 1845 are still in use today.
On Jamaica, Greenwood Great House is a grand authentically furnished plantation owner’s residence, built in the 1800’s. Other nations that have left their mark include the Irish in Montserrat, where St Patrick’s Day is an annual public holiday. Never to be forgotten, the stain of slavery is remembered in the Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation in Nassau, in The Bahamas, while the Amazing Grace Experience Visitor Centre on St. Kitts reveals the island’s connection to this famous and inspirational hymn.
The colossal Citadelle Laferrière in Haiti bears physical testament to the slave revolution of 1804 that lead to the formation of the world’s first independent black republic.
On the west coast of Trinidad, the Indian Caribbean Museum documents the history of East Indians in the Caribbean, while daily life on a small island is poignantly captured in The Heritage Collection Museum in Anguilla. Elsewhere, many destinations also
have trails and national museums that reveal their complex history, such as the Georgetown Heritage Trail in the capital of Guyana and the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain with its haul of artifacts.
Heroes and leaders
Many remarkable individuals have left their stamp on the Caribbean – starting with the local currency in your pocket. In Jamaica, Queen Nanny – leader of the Maroon community of runaway slaves – features on its 500-dollar bill, while Nevis- native Alexander Hamilton, who rose to become the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury, is portrayed on its 10-dollar bill.
In Barbados, George Washington House is named after the first US President, who stayed here in 1751, while the British Naval commander Horatio Nelson is remembered in Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua. On St. Eustatius, the St Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum occupies the restored 18thcentury house of Simon Doncker, a wealthy Dutch merchant.
More latter-day heroes (and heroines) are celebrated in Havana’s Fidel Castro Museum in Cuba and Kingston’s Bob Marley Museum in Jamaica, while sports and music stars are often acknowledged out on the streets. In Grenada, Kirani James Boulevard celebrates the island’s Olympic medalwinning sprinter while last year, Rihanna Drive – a tribute to the superstar pop singer and proud island native – was unveiled in Barbados. •
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