St. George’s: UNESCO World Heritage Site

February 21, 2011

800px-St._Peter's_Church_-1In 2000, Bermuda’s historic town of St. George and its related fortifications joined an elite group of global treasures including Stonehenge in the UK,  the ruins of Great Zimbabwe in Africa and the Great Wall of China as a World Heritage Site.    

The World Heritage Programme is coordinated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of outstanding cultural and natural heritage sites around the world.

 A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a specific site nominated and confirmed for inclusion on the list maintained by the World Heritage Programme.

“The town of St. George presents a unique opportunity for people to learn about and to experience Bermuda’s culture, traditions and heritage,” says the St. George’s Foundation, the historical and cultural charity established in 1995 which administers the East End’s World Heritage Centre. “After nearly 400 years of continuous occupation St. George’s remains a ‘living town’.

“Since its founding, the town has changed with the times, thriving and expanding in periods of prosperity and languishing in times of want.  It has had many roles from colonial capital to commercial centre and military and naval base.  The town today retains its tightly knit network of buildings, streets, alleys, parks, squares and monuments reflecting its long and varied past and the changing role it has played in Bermuda’s history.”

UNESCO describes St. George as a picturesque and outstanding example of the earliest colonial English urban settlement in the New World. Its associated fortifications graphically illustrate the development of English military engineering from the 17th to 20th centuries, being adapted to take account of the development of artillery over this period. 

The permanent settlement of St George began in August 1612 with the arrival of a governor, a clergyman, and 60 settlers, to be joined a few months later by 600 more people. A watchtower was built on Fort George Hill and the foundations of several forts were laid to guard the entrances to St George’s Harbour and Castle Harbour.

The Crown assumed responsibility in 1684 for the colony, of which St George remained the capital until the mid-19th century. During this period Africans and Indians were brought to Bermuda; their descendants make up the majority of the multiracial society of today. For the next century the economy of the island centred on the cedar tree, used for ship construction.

The mid-18th century was a time of economic stagnation for the town, but military activities during the American Revolution (1776-83) saw the beginning of a boom. The Corporation of St. George was formed in 1797. St. George was to remain a strategic military location for the next two centuries — including serving as a centre for blockade running during the American Civil War–  until the US Naval base established during World War Two was mothballed in 1995.

The economy picked up again with the development of the tourist industry in the later 19th century. The town and its Corporation’s efforts to save historic buildings began as early as 1920.

St. George was a garrison town from its earliest days, and military installations developed on the eastern side of the town. The first of many barracks were built on Barrack Hill in 1780. Residences for senior officers, officers’ messes, hospitals and a garrison chapel followed during the course of the 19th century.

These were constructed in standard British military style but using local materials. At the end of the American Revolution, Britain made St George’s Island its main naval base. Work on the dockyard began at the turn of the century, with drastic changes in the system of fortifications, with the construction of forts George, Victoria, St Catherine, Albert, and Cunningham (on Paget Island). The fortifications continued to serve until the coastal defence came to an end in 1956.

The architecture of Bermuda is unique, and has changed little in its basic elements since the end of the 17th century. The simple, well proportioned houses, of one or two storeys, are constructed with load-bearing masonry walls, rendered and painted in pastel colours, and roofs of stone slabs painted white. Some of the houses, such as Bridge House, the Hunter Building, or Whitehall, are impressive mansions, dating in their present form from the 19th century and embellished with imposing balconies and verandas. There are several churches, the most important of which is St. Peter’s Church, the oldest Anglican Church site in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere. The Ebenezer Methodist Church of 1840 is a fine building in neoclassical style.

The World Heritage site also comprises the fortifications on the island and a number of small islands commanding access to the town and Castle Harbour. The related fortifications, representing almost the complete range of British coastal fortifications and artillery overseas, are mostly ruined or exist as no more than archaeological sites. They are on Castle Island, Southampton Island, St David’s Island, Governor’s Island, Paget’s Island, Ferry Island and Coney Island. On St. George’s Island there is Gate’s Fort, Alexandra Battery, Fort Albert, Fort St Catherine. Fort Victoria is one of the few land forts at Bermuda. The town itself is defended by two forts, the Western Redoubt, Fort St George, Martello Tower, magazine, and lime-kiln built in the 1820s.

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Category: All, History

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  1. Triangle Drifter says:

    Americans, the educated ones anyway, love their history. Anything anywhere to do with the Civil War, & anything else that they have had to do with militarily, is big business.

    St Georges should try to capitalize om this interest, even though Bermuda was doing its best to help The Confederate States i.e. pro slavery states during the Civil War.

    Perhaps this is a business opportunity for a tour starting with the Gunpowder Cavern & ending with NASA on Coopers Island.

    The money spent today is green. Same colour for northern & southern states.