Eastern Caribbean Stories and Tips

Impressions Of Charlotte

Steep Streets Of Charlotte Amalie Photo,

The chief port and capital Charlotte Amalie has been a haven for seafarers from all over the globe since 1600. The harbour is beautiful and especially so at night as lights twinkle across the island. It was reportedly the homeport of pirates, Captain Kidd and Blackbeard being the most notable, from this lair Sir Francis Drake launched his attacks on Spanish Galleons on their way to Spain. Today Thousands of cruise ship guests and other visitors descend on this island daily and the old warehouses that once stored the pirate’s booty contain many of the town’s boutiques and shopping arcades.

The best way to explore the town is on foot, we had spent five hours at Coki beach and on our way back to the ship asked the driver drop us close to Emancipation Park, so named because Seventeen years before emancipation the Dutch governor freed the slaves of the Virgin Islands. A replica of the liberty Bell and a sculpture of King Christian the fifth are on display.

Across the street is the islands oldest building and landmark Fort Christian, which dates back to 1672. It was built to protect the island from European armadas; the fort is a beautiful deep red stone, a very handsome edifice. At one time the fort was used to house the governor and has served as a church, police station and local prison. Today it is a national site and houses a museum. Unfortunately the fort was closed for renovations but is expected to re - open in June 2006.

The vendors market across the street from the Legislature building was once the busiest 18th century slave market in the West Indies, in those dark days of slavery humans were bought and sold into untold hardships and horrors, today a sea of colorful tee shirts and cheap souvenirs attract consumers.

The green Legislature building is a 130-year-old Italian Renaissance structure once used as a barracks for Danish police, when the US acquired the building it housed U.S. Marines. The 1917 ceremony transferring ownership of the islands to the U.S was signed here. The building is open to visitors.

We have been to St Thomas many times but this was our daughter and grandsons first visit, they are really more interested in beaches than towns but they said they did enjoy walking the town and visiting its shops, while they shopped Neil and I found a nice patio bar where we sat and had a cold one and watched the sun play over the interesting buildings. Much of the stone on these restored 17th –18th century warehouses were built with stone from ships ballast and coral resulting in interesting light shadows. Navigating through the narrow alleyways of the town will give its visitor a real flavor of what used to be. Saying that, on cruise ship days the place is a beehive of hustle and bustle and wall to wall hawkers, traffic snarls along its small street is commonplace so take that into consideration and give yourself ample time to re - join your ship.

There is of course more to see around this town, on our last visit we climbed over a hundred steps to see " Blackbeards" Castle and government house. I can recommend the climb for the vista that waits at the top. We also visited St Thomas Synagogue, it is the oldest synagogue in continuous use under the American flag and the second oldest continuously used synagogue in the western Hemisphere. I remember it had a floor of sand. During the Spanish inquisition Spanish and Portuguese Jews needed to muffle the sound of their services. The Synagogue is located on Crystal Gade and is a steep climb up from the main street.

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