The small port of Basseterre is the capital and largest town. By West Indian standards, it is quite big and as such has a quite different feel from its close neighbour, Charlestown. It was founded some 70 years later in 1727. Earthquakes, hurricanes and finally a disastrous fire destroyed the town in 1867 and consequently its buildings are comparatively modern.
There is a complete mishmash of architectural styles from elegant Georgian buildings with arcades, verandas and jalousies, mostly in good condition, to hideous 20th-century concrete block houses. In recent years, the development of tourism has meant a certain amount of redevelopment in the centre. An old warehouse on the waterfront has been converted into the Pelican Mall, a duty-free shopping and recreational complex. It also houses the tourist office and a lounge for guests of the Four Seasons Hotel in Nevis awaiting transport. A new deep water cruise ship berth has been built on the waterfront on 25 acres of reclaimed land between Bramble Street and College Street in the heart of Basseterre, capable of accommodating the largest ships afloat, together with a sailing and power boat marina, and berthing facilities for the inter-island ferry, the Caribe Queen. An expanded shopping area with space for craft vendors and small shops is under construction.
The Circus, styled after London’s Piccadilly Circus (but looking nothing like it), is the centre of the town. It is busiest on Friday afternoon and comes alive with locals ‘liming’ (relaxing). The clock tower is a memorial to Thomas Berkely, former president of the General Legislative Council. South down Fort Street is the imposing façade of the Treasury Building, to be converted into a museum of national culture and arts by 2000, with its dome covering an arched gateway (it is equally impressive from the bay). Next door is the post office Weekdays 0800-1500, 0800-1100 on Thu, 0800-1200 on Sat. Head north up Fort Street, turn left at the main thoroughfare (Cayon Street) and you will come to St George’s church, set in its own large garden, with a massive, square buttressed tower. The site was originally a Jesuit church, Notre Dame, which was raised to the ground by the English in 1706. Rebuilt four years later and renamed St George’s, it suffered damage from hurricanes and earthquakes on several occasions. It too was a victim of the 1867 fire. It was rebuilt in 1856-69 and contains some nice stained glass windows. There is a fine view of the town from the tower.
Independence Square was built in 1790 and is surrounded now by a low white fence; eight gates let paths converge on a fountain in the middle of the square (it looks like the Union Jack when seen from the air). There are gaily painted muses on top of the fountain. Originally designed for slave auctions and council meetings, it now contains many plants, spacious lawns and lovely old trees. It is surrounded by 18th-century houses and at its east end, the Roman Catholic cathedral with its twin towers. Built in 1927, the Immaculate Conception is surprisingly plain inside.
At 10 North Square Street you can visit the very attractive building housing The Spencer Cameron Art Gallery. See Rosey Cameron-Smith’s paintings and prints of local views and customs as well as an impressive selection of the work of other artists too, T/F4651617. On West Independence Square, the courthouse reflects the old one which burnt down in 1867. It is an impressive building in the colonial style. The Bank of Nova Scotia houses some interesting paintings of Brimstone Hill by Lt Lees of the Royal Engineers, circa 1783. St Christopher Heritage Society, Bank Street has a small, interesting display of old photographs and artefacts. They work on conservation projects and are grateful for donations. Off West Independence Square, PO Box 338, Basseterre, T4655584. Mon-Tue, Thu-Fri 0830-1300, 1400-1600, Wed, Sat, 0830-1300. Basseterre is very quiet on Sunday and most of the restaurants are closed, but with the increase in tourism, more places are opening on Sundays, especially if a cruise ship is in.