We begin our tour standing on the corner of Broadway and South Quay facing the Lighthouse, one of Port of Spain’s most iconic landmarks. Now used by most Trinidadians as the unofficial marker to the city’s entrance, the lighthouse was originally erected around 1842 to safely guide incoming ships from the Gulf of Paria into the city’s harbour. This historic lighthouse was once connected to the city by a long wooden jetty which stretched from what is now the Brian Lara Promenade.
If you look to the right, you will see the Museum of the City of Port of Spain, which now stands at the site of the last surviving fort from the period of the Spanish occupation of Trinidad, Fort St. Andres. The fort was originally built to defend the harbour against naval attacks and stood as the only line of defense for Port of Spain. Take a closer look, and you will see several of the fort’s original cannons.
To the left of the lighthouse is the grand Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) building also known as City Gate. Designed by German architect David Hanh and originally completed in 1924, the building’s neoclassical design was meant to reflect the strength and order of the colonial government of the day. The initials TGR, Trinidad Government Railway, can still be seen above the entrance. It was at this site that the country’s once thriving railway ran until it closed its doors in December of 1968.
The Brian Lara Promenade
Now, let’s turn and walk north toward the Brian Lara Promenade. Now known as Broadway, this stretch was once called Almond Walk, a wide avenue with two rows of shady almond trees planted in the middle where many residents of the developing city would enjoy taking leisurely strolls.
Brian Lara Promenade, previously known as Independence Square and before that, Marine Square (Plaza del Marina), this bustling promenade, was once an area of coastal wetlands and mangrove forests. At the turn of the 19th century, the British Governor Sir Thomas Picton began a major reclamation project of the city which saw the tidal mudflats being filled with landfill from the hills of Laventille. As the city developed, business places came to occupy both sides of the square, and the once wild swampland was transformed into the city’s main thoroughfare. In the 1880s a fountain was erected in the middle of the square. Today this area is the site of the statue of Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani (1875-1945), one of Trinidad and Tobago’s original activists for the working-class people and former Mayor of Port of Spain.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Now let’s head eastward on Independence Square South towards the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. This beautiful cathedral, built from blue metal stone from the Laventille quarries, is one of the island’s oldest religious buildings and was commissioned by the country’s first civilian governor, Sir Ralph Woodford, to cater to the predominantly Roman Catholic population of the time. It is here in the cathedral’s underground crypts where the city’s Catholic archbishops and high-ranking Catholic officials are laid to rest.
This end of the city is most significant, since just east of the Cathedral was the start of our capital. By 1757, San José de Oruna (St. Joseph) had fallen into delapidation, and the then Governor Don Pedro de la Moneda moved his seat to the village of Puerto d’España, which consisted of two streets, Calle de Infante (now Duncan St) and Calle Principe (now Nelson St), a couple of little wooden houses and mud-huts, some 400 mostly Spanish-Amerindian settlers and three shops.
Although much of the city’s original architecture has been lost, there still exist many small clues that point to its origins. Walking towards the cathedral you can spot some of the original stone and iron fretwork which remain on a few buildings. In the distance, facing north, you might make out some of the overhangs and raised central roofing that was once a key feature of many of the city’s buildings. These features were not only aesthetically pleasing, but also served to keep the city’s buildings well-ventilated and its pavements cool. They are some of the vestiges of the original eco-friendly design of Port of Spain.
The Treasury Building
Exiting the Cathedral, we head westward along Independence Square North towards the Treasury Building which is located on the corner of Treasury Street. The names of many of the nearby streets reflect the country’s colonial past: the first four streets are all named after British royals (King George, Queen Charlotte, Prince Henry and Prince Frederick); then we cross Chacon Street which stands in remembrance of the city’s last Spanish governor, Don José Maria Chacon, and finally Abercromby Street, named after Sir Ralph Abercromby who led the British naval force which invaded Trinidad in 1797, forcing the outnumbered Spaniards to capitulate. If you stand on the southern corner of Abercromby St and Independence Square South, you can still see the original street sign and may even make out the original date which reads, “anno domini (the year of our Lord) 1822”. The crumbling sign also displays the original name of the road, King Street.
The Treasury Building is a site of great historical significance, as it was here on an August morning in 1838 that the Emancipation Proclamation was read, finally putting an end to over three hundred years of transatlantic slavery in the British West Indies. Trinidad and Tobago still prides itself on being the first country in the world to commemorate the abolition of slavery with a public holiday.
The Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity and A Short Architectural Detour
Turning north on Abercromby street, we make our way to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, which was built over a seven-year period beginning in 1816. This elegant cathedral which contains elements of Gothic, Victorian, as well as late Gregorian style architecture, is the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago. Badly damaged in the 2018 earthquake, this stunning cathedral which is home to one of the island’s most magnificent pipe organs, currently remains closed to the public due to the damages sustained. As we turn left onto Hart Street, we make our way past the Old Police Station Headquarters.
The Cabildo House and Police Memorial
As we walk northwards past the Old Police Station Headquarters, which was twice gutted by fire, once in 1882, and then again at the onset of the attempted coup d’état in 1990, we swing left onto Sackville Street. There we will notice a small memorial dedicated to the officers of the Police Service of Trinidad and Tobago who lost their lives in the line of duty, including the sentry, who was killed at this very site during the attempted coup.
Not too far from the memorial take note of a small terracotta-coloured property. Known as the Cabildo House, this building is one of the last remnants of Spanish architecture in the city. Deceptive in size, the structure, whose façade comes right up to the pavement, boasts a large inner courtyard typical of colonial Spanish architecture.
As we retrace our steps, we head towards Woodford Square. This historical landmark was once known as Brunswick Square until the outbreak of World War I, which saw a huge rise of anti-German sentiment sweep across the British colonies and led to the renaming of the square in honor of Sir Ralph James Woodford, the governor credited with much of Port of Spain’s early development.
It is at this very site that some of the most instrumental developments in the modern era of Trinidad and Tobago’s political landscape began to stir. This grassy area was dubbed the University of Woodford Square as it was here that the country’s first prime minister, Dr. Eric Williams, would give passionate lectures to the public and engage in fiery debates concerning the future of an independent T&T.
From the vantage point of Woodford Square, we can see many of the city’s most important buildings including, the National Library of Port of Spain, which has expanded considerably since its inception in 1851; the Red House, which is the traditional seat of Trinidad and Tobago’s parliament; and the Hall of Justice.
St. John’s (London) Baptist Church
Our short tour ends at a little known, but historically significant Baptist church which lies just opposite the Hall of Justice on Pembroke Street. This beautiful church, which is a fine example of 19th century religious architecture in Port of Spain, also tells a deeper story of the Merikin community in Trinidad for whom the Baptist faith played an indelible part in their development.