Heritage: something inherited; valued objects and qualities such as historic buildings and cultural traditions.

Bajans have at last recognised the value of our heritage. The definition above, with emphasis on the word value, expresses this recognition of the value of heritage, because until recently much of our history was unappreciated and undervalued.

On June 25th 2011, the important role of Barbados in the history of the Caribbean, the Americas and the European theatre of war in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in the sugar industry, was recognised by the inscription of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison as a UNESCO World Heritage site, joining 900 other properties world-wide. And the inscription summarises its importance:

“Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is an outstanding example of British colonial architecture – a well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which testifies to the spread of Great Britain’s Atlantic colonial empire. It includes a military garrison which consists of numerous historic buildings. With its serpentine urban lay-out the property testifies to a different approach to colonial town-planning compared to the Spanish and Dutch colonial cities of the region which were built along a grid plan.”

Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy has emphasised the key role of heritage tourism for Barbados: “The days of someone coming to Barbados and simply leaving with a tan earned on the sand and having a dip in the sea – those days are over.” But in fact, Heritage Tourism was the core of Barbadian tourism for a hundred years, long before beaches and bikinis! St. John’s Church and Codrington College were the “must see” places for every visitor, and they remain the top targets today, along with Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison.

The economic value of World Heritage sites is impressive, with many recording visitor increases of up to ten-fold. As Ralf Buckley, Director of the International Centre for Ecotourism at Griffith University in Australia writes:

“World Heritage and other international listings tell tourists a site exists and is worth visiting. In the nature and cultural tourism market it’s the top brand, a guarantee of superior quality … Tour companies and tourist accommodation with access to World Heritage areas advertise that in their marketing; and tourism developers pursue opportunities around World Heritage areas. World Heritage designation may therefore increase the number of tourists who visit it and the amount each will pay to do so.”

Barbados has also advanced the tentative nomination of our beautiful Scotland District and our Industrial Heritage (sugar industry) as World Heritage sites. The God-given beauty of the Scotland District and the historical legacy and skills of our ancestors – slaves, indentured and free – is locally and globally important. Hence my emphasis on value – both emotional, for blood, sweat and tears spent, and for the beautiful built relics of ages past – worth their weight in gold in heritage tourism.

We have a built legacy admired by all. From the striking Gothic grandeur of Parliament buildings in Historic Bridgetown’s centre, to 350-year-old St. Nicholas Abbey, with syrup factory and splendid rum distillery (possibly the best preserved, most beautiful, romantic and authentic historic site in the Caribbean), Barbados is rich in beautiful relics of our ancestors.

The Garrison itself, on 140 acres, has some 80 buildings and the satellite sites, The Pavilion, Pavilion Court, Gun Hill and Queen’s Park House comprise another 20 buildings – splendid relics of global battles for empire over 200 years. The Barbados Museum, the ancient military prison, is an architectural treasure housing thousands of other treasures. The Main Guard, with Clock Tower and cannon collection, is an impressive icon, with a weekly dramatic “changing of the guard.” And the many arcaded barracks, gems of Georgian design, for 2,300 soldiers, have inspired local architecture for two centuries.

Across the country are some 75 Gothic churches, 200 plantation great houses, hundreds of well preserved, classic “chattel houses,” Victorian villas, sugar mills, warehouses et cetera. On the other side, however, is evidence of lack of appreciation of value – abandoned buildings in danger of being lost.

A treasure like Farley Hill, our grandest Caribbean Georgian mansion, of “Island in the Sun” fame, was a fire victim 50 years ago, and is best preserved as a stabilized, romantic ruin.  But we’re in danger of losing gems such as Sam Lord’s Castle, the Old Eye Hospital, Culloden Farm, the Carnegie Library, Glendairy Prison and Errol Barrow’s birthplace.

We must be “strict guardians of our heritage” because this is the answer to the revival of tourism. Heritage tourism is no longer a niche market, it is integral to our brand, as in Mexico, Britain or Egypt, with many, many profitable aspects.

About the Author

Senator Henry Fraser
Senator Henry Fraser -

Senator Professor Emeritus Sir Henry Fraser is retired Dean, Faculty of Medical Sciences; Founding Director, Chronic Disease Research Centre, UWI; author of 110 medical papers and many books; Sunday columnist, former UWI and National Public Orator, writer, artist, architectural historian, TV film maker / presenter (Treasures of Barbados, Pillars of Worship & Parliament 375 for CBC-TV); Past President, Barbados National Trust.