Bermudas storied past
St. George gains World Heritage status
By Toby Saltzman
When UNESCO the United Nations Educational, Scientific &
Cultural Organization, designated Bermudas historic town of
St. George as a World Heritage site, it officially recognized the
pristine preservation of the islands first capital.
St. George, first settled in 1609, is the oldest continuously inhabited
town of English origin in the Western Hemisphere. Untouched by modern
development, the town and its surrounding buildings, monuments and
structures illustrate four centuries of the residents lifestyles.
The forts of St. George demonstrate the complete range of British
coastal fortifications and artillery from 1612 to 1956.
UNESCO awards World Heritage status to "cultural properties
of outstanding universal value" in attempt to protect them
from potential damage. Now St. George shares this prestigious appellation
with some 630 sites around the world, including the Great Wall of
China and Indias Taj Mahal.
Responding to the UNESCO announcement last November, Bermudas
Premier Jennifer Smith said, "The designation will do much
to promote interest in Bermudas history, architecture and
heritage throughout the world."
Indeed, while St. George is a treasure trove of architectural details,
Bermuda is known more as an elegant holiday playground.
In reality, Bermuda is at it seems: almost too good to be true.
Theres no visible poverty. Locals are welcoming and polite.
Wild bougainvillea, hibiscus, oleander and morning glory perfume
the air. Houses and buildings are picture-perfect, with sherbet
facades and white limestone roofs.
The beaches are gorgeous, from intimate coves to long swaths of
pink sand. The surrounding reefs teem with brilliant sea creatures.
Temperatures range from 20C to 29C. Mark Twain summed it up when
he wrote, "You go to heaven if you want. Id rather stay
here in Bermuda."
Situated about 1,000 km off the coast of North Carolina, this elegant
British Dependent Territory is actually a narrow chain of some 180
isles, most of them uninhabited, with St. George straddling a rocky
spur of land fringed by treacherous reefs at the eastern point of
the main island.
If the heavy stone fortifications overlooking the reefs suggest
a history mired in battles, truth is, Bermuda was ever prepared,
but never at war.
You might say Bermuda owes its peaceful fate to a string of misadventures
caused by perilous reefs. After being discovered in the early 1500s
by a Spanish mariner named Juan Bermudez, Bermuda became a navigational
mark for sailors crossing the Atlantic to the New World.
A century later, when a group of British settlers en route to America
straggled ashore after their vessel, the Sea Venture, crashed on
the reefs, they found nothing but birds, wild hogs and skinks (a
type of lizard). In 1612, 50 settlers returned on another ship and
declared St. George (named after the patron saint of England) the
capital of the British Colony of Bermuda.
Fearing Spanish invasions, the first Governor, Richard Moore, ordered
stone fortifications built at Point St. Catherine and Gates
Bay. He soon realized that forts werent needed, because the
point was well buffered by perilous reefs.
Over the next 50 years, various governors replaced the batteries
with a circular fort and installed five large rifled muzzle-loading
guns, each weighing 18 tonnes. More forts were erected in the 1700s
to protect Bermudas new Royal Dockyards and counter possible
threats from the French and the newly independent United States
By the time World War I was in full swing, Bermuda had built more
forts, installed powerful breech guns, and the island was dubbed
"Gibraltar of the West." During World War II the Americans
armed Bermuda to keep the Atlantic Sea lanes open.
Since Bermuda never suffered the ravages of war, and the capital
was moved to Hamilton in 1815, the old town of St. George and the
fortifications remain virtually intact. You can easily explore St.
George on foot.
The streets and alleys of St. George span out from King's Square
where the Town Hall holds court over a picturesque port. Most days
at noon, a town crier urges visitors to try the original wooden
stocks, pillory and ducking stool where justice was done to pirates
Lining the square, the old Globe Hotel, circa 1700, which was used
as an office of the Confederacy, now houses the Bermuda National
Trust Museum. Its major exhibit, "Rogues & Runners"
paints an interesting picture of Bermuda during the American Civil
Strolling around St. George you will see interesting architectural
details ranging from quaint roofs and verandahs to neo-classic embellishments.
The 18-century Tucker House is a hive of antiques, silver and family
portraits. The simple exterior of Somers Garden belies a lavish
interior. The prized little cottage known as the Old Rectory, circa
1699, is Bermudas oldest house. Behind the Town Hall sits
the State House, circa 1620. One of Bermudas oldest stone
buildings, this original government house is now rented to the Masonic
Lodge for "the lordly sum of one pepper-corn per annum."
If anything illustrates the absolute authenticity of St. Georges
original architecture (and the mindset of the people who maintained
it) it is the simple structure of St. Peters Church. Established
in 1612, the oldest, continuously used Anglican Church in the Western
Hemisphere was originally built of native cedar posts. The present-day
structure, rebuilt in 1713, was almost abandoned in the 1870s when
its congregation planned a move to a new massive gothic church on
a hilly crest behind the town. When arguments ensued, the members
abandoned construction and stayed put, but left the ruins of the
Unfinished Church as testimony to the consequences of parish infighting.
Before leaving St. George centre, stop at the waters edge
for a cool drink at the White Horse Tavern.
Then cross the bridge to Ordnance Island (where villains were hanged)
to see the replica of the original Deliverance, which was built
in 1610 by the shipwrecked survivors who eventually sailed to Jamestown,
Later on, make your way to Fort St. Catherine. You will find it
peaceful as you ramble through the tunnels, see cannons peaking
through the ramparts, and view military exhibits and replicas of
Mind you, beware of George, the resident ghost.
Located 2.5 hours by air from Toronto, the 35-km stretch of Bermudas
islands is surrounded by a vast, 518-km coral reef plateau. Sailing
in the protected waters between the isles is fairly safe.
Since Bermuda does not allow rental cars, tourists can takes taxis,
buses, cross from one part of island to another by ferry, or scoot
around the island on motorcycles. (Beware: Bermudans drive on "the
British side" of the road!) Along the way, stop if you see
a moongate one of those semi-circular gates dotting the island.
According to Bermudan legend, lovers who pass through a moongate
will be forever blessed with happiness.
Bermudas harbourfront capital has a decidedly British air,
complete with a "Bobby" directing traffic from a "birdcage."
Local maps denote architecturally significant buildings: City Hall,
Sessions House, Secretariat, Bermuda Historical Society, and the
landmark shops on Front St. (With Bermuda and US dollars at par,
stylish British Isles items are a fair buy.)
Play thrilling, 18-hole championship golf at Port Royal. Or play
the Fairmont Southampton Princess 18-hole par-three, a delightful
executive course. (Book tee times ahead. Call: 1-800-Bermuda.)
Lurking 24 metres underground, Bermudas caves are a spelunker's
dream with vast caverns of stalagmites and stalactites.
The Underwater Exploration Institutes fascinating exhibits
include a 1900s diving suit and shrunken human heads showing the
gruesome effects of deepwater pressure. You can ride the world's
first simulated "deepwater submersible" down to the 3,800-metre
base of the Bermuda Sea Mount.
At Dolphin Quest, swim face-to-face with live bottlenose dolphins.
For free guided tours, check the current "This week in Bermuda"
guides, available at most shops, for times and meeting places of
"walkabouts" for St. George, Hamilton and nature walks
from the Royal Naval Dockyard. (Or call: 236-6483)
For more information call a travel agent or 1-800- 237-6832 or
Be sure to visit The
Best of Bermuda on travelterrific for great travel ideas.