Saturday, July 5, 2008

Historical Port of Spain

This one's for Blue.

This is a condensed version of a piece that I wrote for a magazine some years ago, my friend Blue wrote about her mom's experience at the old National LIbrary Building and it got me thinking. So I dusted this off and cut it down by a hundred or so words for her.

Woodford Square:

London has the lengendary Hyde Park and New York City is home to the famous Central Park, but anyone who has visited Port of Spain's Woodford Square will agree that this park certainly wins in the charm category. Nestled in the city block bordered by Abercromby, Frederick, Knox and Hart Streets, it is an inviting, green jewel lodged in the heart of a very busy city.

There is always an air of tranquility here. On sunny days you'll find a wide cross section of the of the city's population lazing in the shade provided by the scores of large, luxuriant trees; lounging on the benches or gathered around the whimsical mermaid splashing in her fountain, centre Square. Several times a year, people gather to enjoy the various musical events that mark our calendar, held in the elegant wrought iron framed bandstand near City Hall.

The Square has had a long, rich history; housing the homeless after the Great Fire of 1808 which destroyed large parts of the city; and today, sadly, it still houses some of the city's indigent population. Governer General, SIr Ralph Woodford was the architect in re-building Port of Spain after the fire and is responsible for the City's current grid pattern of streets running north to south from the docks to the Savannah and east to west, again from the docks to the foothills of Laventille.

It was under the Governer's personal direction that the Square was laid in 1816 with trees procured from Venezuela and neighbouring colonies. The process was not without controversy in that it also included the re-location of the new Anglican Cathedral, which had been built amidst protests from the community in the middle of the Square, to its current location. The building had been almost completed when Governor Woodford had it demolished and new plans drawn up and the church was completed in its current location in 1808. The seat of the Angilican See is a lovely building of hand cut stone, surrounded by verdant gardens from which emanates the melodious voices of the choir.

Bordering is the Red House, seat of Government. The current building, constructed after the original was gutted by fire during the Water Riots of 1903; closed the archway that had been formerly open to traffic and a fountain similar to the one in the Square sits alone under the rotunda. Of course the Riots started when crowds gathered in the Square to protest in equities in water distribution. Due to it's central location and proximity to the seat of power, the Square has often been used for trade union rallies, peace protests, candlelight vigils, Government events Other buildings of note around the Square; the Hall of Justice, City Hall and the National Library Building.

Also known as the University of Woodford Square, the benches on the east end are home to debates that rival those taking place in Parliament. If you want an accurate barometer of what happens in TnT, go visit the speakers spot and listed to the debaters, the pace is lively! Only the strong of heart need speak lest you be cried down by the more robust opinions.

This is my city.

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