Old Worlds, New City - Barbados Today

Old Worlds, New City

Article by
Published on

“Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is an outstanding example of British colonial architecture consisting of a well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries…”

– UNESCO World Heritage Committee

With its winding streets and busy sidewalks, checking out Bridgetown and its Garrison’s world renowned architecture could be a bit daunting.  Use your B&G Map to navigate the following selection of this city’s rare structures…

  1. The Old Town Hall (Vestry) and Gaol 

Look for: A grand, Georgian building with a 19th century veranda

Old World:

Front View of the Town Gaol and Courthouse, Bridgetown, Barbados

It was infamous for being both the place of Assembly and a jail house in the 17th century. One of the only 18th century survivors of the great hurricanes and multiple fires that plagued Bridgetown, it was last used by the Assembly in 1874. Governor John Pope Hennessy closed the common gaol in 1876, due to its inhumane conditions. Its name was changed to “The Law Courts” in 1958, but was commonly referred to as the “Court House”. 

New City:

Old Town Hall

In 2003, the building was partially restored. It is now home to the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc.

  1. The Mutual Building 

Look For: Ornate cast-iron work and twin silver domes 

Old World: 

The Barbados Mutual Life Assurance Society was the oldest surviving Caribbean insurance company. It was also a symbol of the elitist, prejudiced colonial value system. Established in 1840 after emancipation, it was the meeting place of the ‘Bridgetown Club’, located on the upper floor. The building is said to be the target of the Clement Payne/Golden Square organised labour rebellion in 1937. 

New City: 

Mutual Building

Now home to business establishments including First Citizens Bank and Western Union, it is also planned to house a new hall for the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus. 

  1. The DaCosta Colonnade Building

Look For: A classic Victorian commercial building with ornate cast iron decoration and shaded colonnade 

Old World: 

Exterior, DaCosta _ Co and Colonnade Shop_BMHS

Officials cite The DaCosta Colonnade Building as “testimony to the legacy of the relationship between island-based enterprise and regional trade networks in the late 19th century”.   It was a sister building to the warehouses lining the western end of the Bridgetown wharf. In 1898, the DaCosta Colonnade was built to store molasses and sugar, to be exported internationally.

New City:


Formerly called DaCosta’s Mall, the new DaCosta Colonnade is a popular and diverse shopping mall, and one of the Caribbean’s major duty-free outlets. 

  1. The Parliament Buildings

Look For:A grand, neo-Gothic building with stories woven into its intricately crafted stained glass windows, cast iron railings and a stately clock-tower on the West Wing.

Old World:

Parliament Building

Believe it or not, Barbados’ House of Assembly often met at different private houses and taverns. The current Parliament/Public Buildings were built in the early 1870s, in an area formerly known as the New Burnt District. They were erected to provide necessary accommodation for the Houses of Parliament and to centralise the main public offices.

New City:

The Parliament Building

Historic Bridgetown’s Parliament Buildings are home to the second oldest constitution in the Americas- Barbados’ parliamentary government system dates to 1639. The Barbados Museum of Parliament & National Heroes Gallery is located on its grounds.

  1. The Careenage / The Constitution River

Old World:

Careenage Lighters - Off Loading_The Careenage_Between Current National Heroes Square and Independance Square

The cultural atmosphere of the city revolved around Bridgetown’s status as a colonial trade and communications hub. Canoes and boats with various wares flowed from the Constitution River, to the bustling Bridgetown Careenage. Ships from all over the colonial world sailed into the Bridgetown careenage and had their vessels lifted out of the water for repairs and to be cleaned in the exemplary facilities of this dock.

New City:

The Independence Arch, the Chamberlain Bridge/Swing Bridge, the Charles Duncan O’neal Bridge and pleasure crafts are key features of the Careenage. Behind the bus terminal and along the River Road Van Stand, the Constitution River is currently being remodelled. By 2014, a beautiful roadside river will be flowing through the city.  

  1. Queen’s House & Park/ The Bandstand

Look For: A fascinating combination of Colonial, Georgian and West Indian vernacular styles

Old World:

Band Stand, Queen_s Park, Barbados

Queen’s Park was originally known as King’s House during the Georgian era, and then Queen’s House until 1909. It was a residence for the future commanders-in-chief for the region, and two staff quarters for senior officers, called “The Pavilion” and “The Retreat”, were erected.  After the withdrawal of British troops in 1905-1911, the Government of Barbados purchased Queen’s House and grounds in 1906. The Retreat was given to Harrison College, whereas the majority of the land was given to the St. Michael Vestry to convert to a public park. The area was opened as Queen’s Park in 1909, and owes its layout to Lady Gilbert Carter. 

New City:

More than any other site in the city, the architectural pleasures of Queen’s Park are best discovered by spontaneous exploration. It is truly a national treasure, with expansive manicured grounds, a playground and an ancient baobab tree. It’s the perfect location for an al fresco lunch, or relaxing with a book or newspaper.  A well-used thoroughfare for pedestrians, fitness enthusiasts and sportsmen, it’s also a great place to sit and watch the world go by!   

  1. The Garrison Buildings

Look For: Large ballast Garrison brick buildings, Caribbean Georgian architectural style of George Washington House, the Main Guard/Clock Tower (with a Roman arched portico and pediment, octagonal domed tower), the rare artillery collection at National Armoury, the Barbados Museum (formerly the Military Prison), the A and B Blocks 

Old World:

Savannah Club, The Old Clock Tower Main Guard

It started in 1605… by the 18th century this military complex was enclosed by walls, with the Garrison gate at a point just past the Government Information Service along Bay Street. Until the end of the 1800s, the complex was home to a garrisoning government, groundbreaking navigational/medical discoveries, grand expressions of empire and blatant psychological methods of social control exerted by the British state. This system was the source of a history of parody and contention throughout Barbadian folk culture, including the old time “Banja Man” buskers and the more recent Barbados Landship. 

New City:

Garrison Building

An increasing number of tours of the area introduce the textured history of “the most intact 18th-19th century British Colonial Garrison in the world”. [See “The Changing of the Guards” in this Mag’s People Section]. The largest green space in Barbados’ capital city, it is home to the Barbados Defence Force and the Barbados Legion of Retired Soldiers. It also boasts the oldest functioning savannah in the Americas. Recreational activities on its grounds range from the world class horse racing events to Easter holiday kite flying.

This story was originally published in the 2014 edition of Bridgetown & its Garrison (Map + City Guide)

Get the Historic Bridgetown & its Garrison Walking Map

Get inspired to travel around Barbados by signing up to our daily newsletter.


Explore More

Skip to content