Welcome to St Barthélemy. You are in Gustavia, the island’s capital : To visit the town, please follow the itinerary indicated below :
After leaving the offices of the Tourism Committee, follow the Rue du Bord de Mer Then turn right. You will be on Rue Samuel Fahlberg, and on your left, you’ll find :
The Anglican Church was built over a period of five years, from 1853-1855. The walls of this small structure were built from local stone, except the façade facing the port, which is made of limestone. The roof was originally covered with wooden shingles that have been replaced with corrugated metal. The decorative bell cupola remains covered in wooden shingles as in the past.
On the other side of the street, next to the harbor, is a public garden, which is known as:
This public garden was renamed in August 2000, and was originally called ‘Place du Bicentenaire.' It’s new name recalls a major event in the history of Saint Barthélemy: The return of the island to France, after 93 years as a possession of the Swedish Crown.
Placed on a base for display, this iron anchor weighs ten tons, and was most likely made in England, with the words “Liverpool…Wood…London” engraved on it. It was discovered in 1981, when it was accidently picked up by a tugboat. No one knows if it was dragged from Charlotte Amalie in St Thomas by a container ship, or as some researchers like to claim, it came from a ship dating back to the American Revolutionary War.
From here you have a great vantage point to admire:
Less than 60 years ago, Gustavia was not much more than a tiny enclave of buildings clustered around the harbor. At that time, there were the ruins of old Swedish buildings, a few businesses, and several local houses. In the early 1980’s, to meet the increasing needs of tourism, the municipality made improvements to the infrastructure of the port. Over the years, Gustavia developed into an active little town where the present mixes with vestiges of a tumultuous past.
On your left, a wooden house, and a brick house:
This wooden house was prefabricated and built for the Dinzey family in 1830. It is the only one, among ten others that were similar, to have withstood various fires and hurricanes for more than 150 years. What is interesting about this house, it that it is one of the rare buildings from that era in Gustavia not to have the lower story built of stone.
This house was built in 1841. The owner and his family lived on the upper story, with its elegant balcony. The ground floor was used for business and warehouse space. Historically, stone was always a more expensive building material than wood. Covering wooden houses with stone was often a means of exhibiting wealth and prosperity. An interesting detail worth noting is the elegant solution found for rainwater, with gutters hidden behind roof moldings crowning the facades of the house.
At the end of the street, turn right after the post office, this is Rue Jeanne d’Arc. On your left:
Built circa 1820, this is one of the rare houses to have escaped the big fire of March 2, 1852. It is in very good condition, both the interior and the exterior, thanks to careful restoration by its current owner, who is also the Honorary Consul of Sweden. The building is also known as ‘The Brigantin’ (name of a restaurant there in the 1980s)
Continue straight,t then turn right onto Rue Augustin Cagan, At the end of the street, turn left and walk until you reach the stone building:
Welcome to Place Vanadis. It was inaugurated on November 20, 1996, and baptized after the steam frigate Vanadis, the last Swedish warship to leave Saint Barthélemy when the island was returned to France on March 16, 1878. The trident of Neptune in Place Vanadis was given to St Barthélemy by the Swedish "Neptuniorden" in honor of all sailors and the ongoing friendship between St Barthélemy and Sweden. The Order’s goal is to support sailors, their widows, and their children.
The stone building located on Place Vanadis is The Wall House, one of the largest structures in Gustavia. Yet its history is unknown. According to maps of Gustavia drawn by Samuel Fahlberg, some people think it served as a space for performances and entertainment, while others think it may have been a hotel, a place for political meetings, or simply a store. No matter what its origins, it is the only building of its kind in Gustavia.
The origin of the name "Wall House" is also unknown. It might have to do with Job Wall, an American who called himself the Consul of the United States in the late 18th century. It is also commonly thought that the name refers to the stone walls that were the only vestiges of the building which remained standing, after nearly one hundred years as a ruin. Today, the ground floor houses the historical museum of St Barthélemy. The upper floor houses the territorial library. In the courtyard one can see the ruins of an old bread oven made of stone and brick.
Behind The Wall House you’ll find:
Inaugurated in January 2002, this new town hall was renamed ‘Hôtel de la Collectivité’ in July 2007. At that time, the island evolved into an Overseas Collectivity per the organic law of February 21, 2007, under the name ‘Collectivity of Saint Barthélemy.’
Continuing straight on Rue Victor Schœlcher, take the third street on the left, (Rue des Marins): Here you will find the museum of “The Little Collector,” who has scores of objects from the island’s past, which he happily shares with the public. Return to Rue Victor Schœlcher, and go straight. Before arriving at the stairs to Fort Carl, on your right:
The ruins of a former water cistern, typical of those built during the Swedish period. Drinking water was always been a big problem in St Barthélemy. When rain falls, even in heavy squalls, it rapidly evaporates under the hot sun. That is why it is common in Saint Barth to use rooftops and gutters to collect rainwater and stock it in cisterns, which were once built of stone. Today, the residents of St Barthélemy also have usable city water produced via a desalination plant, located in the industrial zone of Public, which converts seawater into fresh water, using energy produced by the nearby trash incinerator.
This site contains the ruins of Fort Carl, named for Duke Carl, the brother of Swedish King Gustaf III. The fort was never too impressive, and in the beginning its arms consisted simply of two canons and four pounds of powder. A small guard house was built when the city militia started standing guard in 1809, but it quickly disappeared. In 1844, it was reported that the fort had neither a flagpole nor any buildings. All that remains today are some stones from a powder house and the paved yard.
When leaving the site, turn right, follow Rues des Dinzey, turn right onto Rue Victor Hugo, then left into Rue de l’Eglise. There, on your right:
The Catholic Church, ‘Our Lady of The Assumption,’ took five years to build and was completed in 1829. The style shows a Spanish influence, which is unusual for a religious edifice in the French West Indies. Thanks to a meticulous restoration in 2006, the church has been returned to its original beauty. On the other side of the street you’ll see a funereal chapel that was built in memory of Sister Armelle, who died in 1947, and a rotunda of the Sacred Heart that honors the sailors of Saint Barthélemy. On the hillside behind the church sits the rectory, as well as the bell tower, which was built on the hill to avoid damaging the church in the event that the bells would fall during a hurricane. The height also allows the bells to heard everywhere in town.
When leaving the church, follow the street to the steps that lead to the Swedish bell tower:
Like many other buildings in Gustavia, the bell tower was seriously damaged by a hurricane on August 2, 1837, but it was quickly restored. The bell served to call the faithful to religious services, a signal given previously by drummers in the garrison. Since it was restored again in 1931, the bell tower has had a large clock on the façade facing the center of town.
After the bell tower, as you continue to mount the hill, you will find on your right:
In the early 1800s, construction began on this solid stone building, which was planned as the first school on the island, but was used instead for meetings, parties, and galas. In 1819 it became the local prison, and during the 20th century served as a school and school cafeteria for short periods of time. Since 1975 it has served as the administrative headquarters for the French governmental services in St Barthélemy
Walking down the Rue Lubin Brin, turn right, then left and on your right:
This house was built circa 1790, for the first Swedish pastor in St Barthélemy. He lived there for about a year, before being replaced by a different priest. After the death of Father Thorell in 1792, the house was vacant for some time. It was then rented to various people, including a doctor, and surveyor Samuel Fahlberg, who lived there until 1803. After suffering damage in a hurricane on September 21, 1819, the vicarage was restored and used as a school for boys and girls separately. This school was reserved for the children of “good families.” The former vicarage now houses one of the oldest restaurants on the island.
Further along in the same street, on the right:
A typical merchant’s house from the 1780’s, this building was completely reconstructed in 2006. It was originally built for the Town Major, who was responsible for the garrison and the police. The house was damaged during a hurricane in 1937, but was restored and served temporarily as an administrative building and offices for the governor. Here, in this house on March 16, 1878, the act of retrocession, returning Saint Barth to France, was signed. It later served as school, a tribunal, and during the 20th century, as the island’s fire station.
Across the street:
The house across the street from that of the Town Major was built circa 1786 for the island’s judge. In 1805, The Swedish West India Company deeded the house to the Swedish crown. In 1833, the post of judge was eliminated and the house began to fall into disrepair. It was eventually renovated and became the house for the governor. Later it was sold at auction to the Harbor Master, who in turn sold it to the French government when the island reverted to France in 1878. Today it is a private home.
Continuing along the same street, on the left:
This building, which belonged to the Swedish West India Company, was built to serve as a Customs House. When the privileges of the Company ended in 1805, the Swedish Crown transformed it into offices and archives. In 1862 it was transformed once again into the home of governor Carl Ulrich, who moved in with his family. When St Barthélemy was restored to France, this house became the property of the French government. Until 2001, it served as the island’s town hall, but was abandoned with the construction of a new building near the Wall House on the far side of the port. This house is on the list of historic monuments, and will most certainly be renovated for use as a Swedish Cultural Center.
Continue quite a distance along Rue August Nyman until you reach the lighthouse. Behind it you’ll find Fort Gustaf:
This was the most important fort in Gustavia during the Swedish period. It was built on the ruins of a fort originally constructed by the French in the late 17th century. It comprised a caserne and other buildings such as a stone guard house large enough for 12 men, and a wooden barracks. Toward the end of the Swedish era, the fort fell into ruin, and all that remains of Fort Gustaf today are sections of the stone guard house, and the cisterns at the back of the weather station which sits near the old fort. Fiberglass canons recall the era when Gustavia was a fortified town. In 2004, the weather station was renamed "Espace Météo Caraïbe," and turned into a meteorology museum and meeting space.
By following the road toward St. Jean, at the traffic circle, you will see :
Symbol of “the soul of St Barth,” this warrior armed with a lance in his right hand protects his ‘rock.’ With his conch shell, he sounds the cry of nature. At his feet, a pelican, the symbol of the island, which evokes the milieu of the air, and survival by fishing. The iguana symbolizes the earth, but also the wisdom and patience that we all need to have. All three are supported by a simple rock, which when seen from the sky, is in the form of St Barthélemy.
Texts based on the book, Gustavia, by Jenny Stenning
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