Of sun, sea, and historical sites

Travelling creates so many exciting experiences. Exploring new territories, savouring exotic foods, and taking in different vistas – it can all be quite exhilarating.  Of special interest can be sites of historical significance. They provide insight into the past and serve to educate visitors about the history of a country and its people.

And there’s no maybe about this: some people’s excursions abroad are specifically and carefully planned to take in the historical sites that have earned the distinction of renowned tourist attractions for many countries.

Among the most famous historical sites of the world are the Egyptian Pyramids, whose architecture continues to amaze; Mount Rushmore, located in Portland, Oregon USA, which features the faces of four of that country’s leaders; the Mayan ruins of Mexico and the awesome structure of Rome’s Coliseum, which has held up to 50,000 spectators.

Along the way, cemeteries have also carved their niche among the tourist attraction markets of the world, mainly because of the stories told on tombstones of the dearly departed.

Here in our twin-island state, we have quite a few historical sites of our own. They include Fort James and Rat Island (the hill above Deep Water Harbour) – which served as outer and inner defence points for St John’s. Rat Island, in the early 20th century, also served as a home for male lepers, before leprosy was stamped out in Antigua & Barbuda.

The structure east of the Ramco Building referred to as Black Man Lighthouse once serviced the harbours of St John’s for over 100 years. The British government had Nelson’s Dockyard as its naval station. Above Dockyard, at Shirley Heights, several regiments of the defence force were stationed. Ruins of those structures can be observed from Clarence House on the route to the restaurant located at Lookout point. Approximately 100 yards before the eatery, on the western side of the road, is an obelisk, which commemorates the lives of military officers who died in the Yellow Fever epidemic which swept over the area in those times.

However, the difference between our historical sites and those more internationally renowned is that the latter are better preserved and documented. Efforts are made to restore missing pieces, regular paint jobs are applied, rotting wood is replaced, delicate historical items are encased, shrubbery is regularly groomed and broken areas are mended. In addition, and perhaps most important, information documenting the history behind the site is placed in a prominent area for visitors’ viewing.

Over the years, there have been many appeals for Antigua & Barbuda’s historical sites to be restored. Letters to this paper have expressed this sentiment, as well as callers to OBSERVER Radio talk shows. Past president of the Museum of Antigua & Barbuda’s board, Agnes Meeker has repeatedly suggested officials try to diversify the tourism product to truly reflect our motto, “the beach is just the beginning”. Sugar mills have been left to erode and are surrounded by overgrown bushes. Many tourists have no clue of their historical significance and a visit to one leaves them no more enlightened, because there are no conspicuous signs or labels.

Those are just a couple of examples of the nation’s sites of historical interest that have been going to waste. As a result, not only is the value of our tourism product diminished, but our national heritage endangered. The good news is that efforts are under way to restore these historical treasures.

For example, the Clarence House restoration project has just been completed, and its recent grand opening coincided with the visit of Prince Harry’s visit to Antigua & Barbuda. In its previous glory, Clarence House had once been the weekend residence of the British governors of Antigua.

With regard to other sites of historical interest, archaeologists are currently assessing them to determine which gets priority. At the helm of the project is archaeologist Reginald Murphy, also current president of the museum’s board.

What’s slowing progress, according to the authority, is lack of funds. So, in a sense, this places the ball in the court of all who call Antigua & Barbuda home. A contribution would help to move things along.

There is much more to Antigua & Barbuda than sun, sea and sand and getting this message out would redound to the benefit of not only this generation but also those to come. 

Just as the Ministry of Tourism puts efforts into circulating glossy shots of our pristine waters, or colourful photos of our great summer festival, so too it should highlight these historic sites.

Preserving our national heritage would not only enhance Antigua & Barbuda’s visitor experience, it would serve to educate our people as well.

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