- Jamaica possesses numerous historical buildings, artefacts and monuments, which have piqued the interest of visitors and locals alike.
- They are tangible representations of aspects of the country’s diverse culture and history, and must be preserved.
- Two of the nation’s most notable spaces, known as heritage sites, are the Seville Heritage Park in St. Ann and the Underwater City of Port Royal.
Jamaica possesses numerous historical buildings, artefacts and monuments, which have piqued the interest of visitors and locals alike.
They are tangible representations of aspects of the country’s diverse culture and history, and must be preserved.
Two of the nation’s most notable spaces, known as heritage sites, are the Seville Heritage Park in St. Ann and the Underwater City of Port Royal.
These sites are located on the Tentative List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites. A World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by UNESCO as being of special cultural or physical significance. The Tentative List is an inventory of properties which each State Party considers to be cultural and/or natural heritage of outstanding universal value and therefore suitable for inscription on the World Heritage List.
Technical Director of Archaeology, Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), Dorrick Gray, tells JIS News that the heritage sites are physical representation of the past and should be preserved and protected, as they “represent where our people slaved and worked to build this country.”
Describing the Seville Heritage Park as the “genesis of the Jamaican people,” Mr. Gray notes that the archaeological evidence garnered from the site shows a diversity of cultures dating back to the island’s first settlers, the Tainos.
Located on the historic Seville Estate, Mr. Gray says the major attraction of the park is the collection of artefacts on display in the Great House, which depict various aspects of the life of the Tainos, Africans and Europeans (Spanish and English).
On the park, which overlooks the beautiful Caribbean Sea, are the relic of a water wheel used to operate the old sugar mill, the Overseer’s House and a barbecue.
“Of the main core of activities that took place at Seville Heritage Park, there is nowhere else in Jamaica that we have been able to find, through the archaeological investigation, this span of various cultures and this is why we say that (it is) for me, the genesis of the Jamaican people, because it is where our people began from the various cultures that came in,” he says.
In the meantime, he notes that Port Royal, dubbed as once the ‘wickedest city and richest city on earth’ was by the 1680s the most important English city in the Americas and was a fortified epicentre for trade and commerce, among other things, because of its geographical and strategic location.
During the 17th Century, it was the virtual capital of Jamaica, and also the headquarters for buccaneers and pirates who brought in much of the treasure they looted on the Spanish Main. Chief among the buccaneers was Henry Morgan, who was later knighted and made Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. He died at Port Royal in 1688.
Mr. Gray tells JIS News that all of the core activities which centred around trade and commerce in Port Royal came to an end on June 7, 1692 after a major earthquake and tidal wave struck the city and destroyed ships and buildings, killed over 2,000 and injured over 3,000 persons.
“It was really a tragic event but for us archaeologists, we always say sometimes it’s the tragic events that enable us to understand what happened during that period and before,” he says.
He further notes that when the earthquake occurred, 13 acres of land sank into the sea. He says the sunken city of Port Royal has been kept almost exactly as it would have looked in 1692 and this has fascinated people all over the world.
“We have conducted a number of investigations which has revealed to us the reason why this town is so important. We have been able to recover over 2,000 artefacts. We have also been able to uncover approximately five buildings underwater with their floors (storeys) and some of the wall intact and this is why up until now, a lot of the information that we have been getting, places Port Royal on the front page as being exactly one of the next application for the World Heritage Site,” Mr. Gray says.
Port Royal has become a quiet fishing village, but it is one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in Jamaica, as for over 200 years, it was England’s biggest naval base in the Caribbean.
Some of the other heritage sites which are located across the length and breadth of Jamaica include, but are not limited to: sugar works, statues and memorials, special communities, railway stations, parks and gardens, national heroes’ sites, mineral spas, lighthouses, historic schools, historic districts, great houses, free villages, forts, courthouses, clock towers, churches, cemeteries, caves, bridges and archaeological sites.
Mr. Gray says the island’s heritage sites are crucial reminders of the nation’s struggles and successes and should be protected and preserved.
“We normally get information of our country from history books, in terms of what has been left behind and what it was like then…but the heritage sites around the country are living examples of history and heritage that our people were involved in,” he notes.
He says the JNHT is cognizant of other protected areas across the island, and as such whenever there is a request to do any form of development in particular areas, the agency would go to that locality to ensure that historical sites are preserved. “We are still finding sites, for example on highway 2000 that is now being built and we are recovering and ensuring that these sites are protected,” Mr. Gray tells JIS News.
The primary functions of the JNHT are: to promote the preservation of national monuments and anything designated as protected national heritage for the benefit of the island; and to conduct such research as it thinks necessary or desirable for the purposes of the performance of its functions under the Jamaica National Heritage Act.
Other functions include: to carry out such development as it considers necessary for the preservation of any national monument or anything designated as protected national heritage; to record any precious objects or works of art to be preserved; and to identify and record any species of botanical or animal life to be protected.