Barbados: The Seven Wonders Of Barbados
By : Bob Morris / Photos by j. kevin foltz
There’s plenty to love about Barbados: great beaches,
delicious food and all those rum distilleries. But visitors to this sun drenched island with its distinct British flair should also take time to sample what locals proudly refer to as “The Seven Wonders of Barbados.” From architectural splendors and historic relics to natural phenomena and tasty treats, these wonders will enrich any traveler’s experience of this friendly island.
Although first mentioned in historical documents as early as 1795, one of the island’s most notable attractions lay virtually forgotten until it was “rediscovered” by Barbadian Tony Mason and Danish speleologist Ole Sorenson in 1976. Officially opened to the public in 1981, Harrison’s Cave has thrilled visitors with its dazzling stalactites, stalagmites, streams, lakes and waterfalls. Located near the geographic center of Barbados in the parish of St. Thomas, the cave offers visitors an entertaining video presentation on cave formation and geology before letting them embark on a guided tram ride through the underground world. Among the attractions are the Great Hall, a cavern half the length of a football field with a ceiling 100-feet high; the Rotunda Room, notable for its many stunning formations; the Explorers Pool; and dazzling Twin Falls, where the cave’s two rivers join together.
There are only three 17th-century Jacobean mansions left in the Western Hemisphere, and two of them are on Barbados. Built in 1660, St. Nicholas Abbey is distinguished by its curved Dutch gables, chimneystacks and coral ornamentation. It was built by Colonel Benjamin Berringer, who was killed in a duel with a man he had accused—rightly it turns out—of committing adultery with his wife. The other mansion, Drax Hall, is believed to have been built by two brothers, William and James Drax, in the 1650s. Both are open to the public and house many fine examples of period antiques.
Ancient Baobab Trees
While baobab trees are perhaps associated more with Africa where they are called the “Trees of Life,” they also flourish in Barbados. Here they are known as the “monkey-bread trees.” The largest specimen is on display in Queen’s Park in Bridgetown. With a girth of more than 50 feet, it takes at least 15 adults holding hands to encircle the tree. Another baobab, off Warren’s Road in St. Michael’s, bears a plaque stating the tree is believed to have been brought as a seedling from Guinea, Africa, in 1738, meaning it will celebrate its 300th birthday in the not-so-distant future.
Hundreds of Rare Cannons
It really should come as no surprise that Barbados boasts one of the world’s most unusual collections of old cannons. The island was long a British military outpost, and ships of other flags often docked here during the colonial era. A few years ago, a movement began to round up and catalogue all the old cannons on the island to create a National Ordnance Collection. More than 400 of them were documented, including the rare “Commonwealth Cannon,” of which there are only two in the world, the other being in London. The oldest one dates to the 1620s, and while most are of British origin, cannons from Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands are also part of the collection. Twenty-six of the more notable cannons are on display in front of the historic and elegant Main Guard House in Garrison Savannah.
Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill
Despite its long sugar-plantation heritage, there are only two intact and restored sugar mills in all the Caribbean. One is on Antigua, and the other is the Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill, in St. Andrews, on the northeastern part of the island. Built in 1727, this wind-driven mill could, at its peak, grind as much as five tons of sugar cane per hour, which ultimately produced molasses and rum. Set on a scenic hilltop, the mill offers panoramic views of the Bathsheba Coast. A display inside depicts life during the plantation era.
The Caribbean’s Oldest Synagogue
Sephardic Jews from Brazil were some of the earliest settlers in Barbados, arriving in 1628 to lend their expertise in the sugar industry to the British, who came to the island just the year before. By 1654, Bridgetown boasted its own synagogue, the first one built in the Western Hemisphere. An adjacent cemetery was started at about the same time. Over the years, however, as the Jewish population dwindled, the synagogue fell into disrepair and was no longer used. This explains why Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Curaçao, established in 1732, can lay claim to being the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Caribbean. In recent years, however, thanks to the motivation and hard work of the Jewish community in Barbados, along with more than $1 million in fundraising, the old synagogue has been preserved with some of its original artifacts returned and the cemetery saved from destruction. True to its original design, the Bridgetown Synagogue still lacks air conditioning. While it’s open year-round to the public, religious services are only held during the cooler winter months.
The Birth of the Grapefruit
Even Texas, which boasts that it produces the sweetest grapefruit on earth, makes no claim to having created this luscious pink-flesh fruit. That honor lies with Barbados. While precise documentation is unavailable, it is believed the first grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) was created somewhere in the Welchman Hall Gully region around 1750, the result of cross-pollination between the pommelo (Citrus grandis), a fruit that had been brought here from Indonesia by the British, and the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis). At any rate, the grapefruit, so named because it grows in grape-like clusters, arrived in Florida by the 1800s, where it soon flourished. Visitors will find plenty of these native-grown specialties on the island. To enjoy grapefruit like a local, serve them with a splash of Angostura bitters, from nearby Trinidad.
American Eagle serves Barbados via San Juan, and American Airlines serves Barbados from Miami and New York (JFK). Book your next trip online at www.aa.com, call American Reservations at 1-800-433-7300, or please call your travel agent for more information.
Book your trip today! Visit www.aa.com, call American/American Eagle reservations at 1-800-433-7300, or call your travel agent for more information.