The mosaic history of this little island and its extraordinary wealth are built into its varied architecture. You will find mansions and public buildings in the early 19th century neo-classical style popular under British colonial rule (eg St James Police Barracks, Port of Spain General Hospital). Governor Ralph Woodford also sponsored the construction of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (built 1816–1832) on Independence Square and the Anglican Holy Trinity Cathedral on Woodford Square (completed 1818 in the Gothic Revival style). Virtually all of the important buildings from the 19th century were either ecclesiastical or public buildings. Decades later, the buildings became more elaborate (the Red House, former Houses of Parliament, opposite Woodford Square, and Queen’s Royal College).
If you walk down Frederick Street, above the shiny glass windows of modern stores you will see the distinctive style of verandahs extending over the pavements that shade and shelter pedestrians. Inside large atriums with high clerestory windows used to provide ventilation and light. You will also spot Victorian elements of wooden fretwork, steep pitched gables crowned by finials and decorative cast iron columns and balustrading.
One remaining example of a great house from the days of sugar and cocoa plantations is the Boissiere Estate House in Maraval, which is now the Trinidad Country Club.
The 20th century brought various contemporary architectural styles, including art deco (Treasury Building on Independence Square and the McEnearny buildings in Port of Spain and San Fernando), and later the modernist movement (Eric Williams Financial Complex) and post-modern architecture (new offices in the St Clair suburb).
Here are some more treasured buildings and sites, with much to recommend them beyond their architecture.
Mount St Benedict
This 600-acre property has a commanding view of the central plains, and from its perch at 245m/800ft one can see as far south as San Fernando. Founded in 1912, it is the oldest Benedictine monastery in the Caribbean. Early morning mass at the iconic church is still a must for Catholic devotees, as is afternoon tea on a Sunday at its cosy tea house. You can have scones and coffee while you admire the mountains from the back porch, where feeders attract hummingbirds at close range. The on-site Pax Guesthouse is a quiet retreat for birders and walkers, but be sure to go on the trails in groups or with a guide.
Our Lady of Montserrat church
Known for its beautiful stained glass windows, bought in France over 100 years ago, this little wooden church is located high on a ridge of the Central Range in the village of Tortuga. It is one of the most wonderful places to watch the sunset as it faces westward towards the Gulf of Paria. This Roman Catholic church was built by its first priest and architect, Fr Marie Jules Dupoux, and blessed on 24 December, 1878. A special festival is held every year on the Sunday nearest to 8 September and is attended by hundreds from all over Trinidad. It’s also known for the wooden figure of the Black Virgin.
The Temple in the Sea at Waterloo
A monument to the indomitable human spirit, this Hindu mandir stands on the edge of the Gulf of Paria, jutting out into the sea. It was built by one man, Sewdass Sadhu. Banned from building a temple by the British colonial authorities, this hardworking sugar worker spent many years laboriously carrying bricks, cement and sand to the unused swamp land, laying the foundation for what would become a beautiful beacon for all. Born in 1901 in the city of Benares on the Ganges, Sadhu used to save his meagre wages and return to India every few years to worship at the holy shrines there. Eventually, as the cost of the pilgrimage became too much, he decided to build a temple in Trinidad instead. After he died in 1970, it was left in the hands of the sea, until 1994 when work began on restoring his temple. A year later it was finally opened, and a statue of him now stands watch over his work of heart.
Hanuman Murti (statue) & Dattatreya Yoga Centre
Donated by an Indian swami, this 26m/85ft statue of Hanuman (the Hindu monkey god of strength) is reputed to be the tallest of its kind outside India. It towers above the adjoining Dattatreya Yoga Centre in Carapachaima.
The “Magnificent Seven”
These colonial-era homes on the northwestern edge of the Queen’s Park Savannah are in varying degrees of repair and use, reflecting their diverse histories and ownership. From south to north: Queen’s Royal College (1904, boys’ secondary school); Hayes Court (1910, Anglican Bishop’s residence); Milles Fleurs (1904, law association headquarters); Roomor (private home); the Roman Catholic Archbishop’s residence (1903); Whitehall (1907); and Killarney or Stollmeyer’s Castle (1904).
For much more on touring Trinidad’s heritage, click here.
Written by Nazma Muller and Caroline Taylor