The capital of Barbados, Bridgetown, sits on Carlisle Bay on the southwest corner of the island and has a population of around 110,000. The centre is small and compact but always busy and full of life. Swan Street is a lively pedestrian street where Barbadians do their shopping and street musicians sometimes perform; on Broad Street you will find a whole range of sophisticated shops catering for tourists, with shopping malls, dutyfree shops and department stores.
On the northern side of the Careenage is National Heroes Square, which celebrates the 10 figures that shaped the modern history of Barbados, and the pleasant wooden Bridgetown Boardwalk, where old converted warehouses and restaurants overlook boats plying their trade on the inlet.
Another interesting place to visit is the Garrison Historic Area; inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, it has a horse-racing track and a number of fine old buildings dating back to the British colonial times. The suburbs of Bridgetown sprawl along the south and west coasts, and quite a long way inland; many areas are very pleasant, full of flowering trees and 19th-century coral stone gingerbread villas.
Bridgetown was once known as Indian Bridge, named after a basic wooden bridge across the Careenage. It is believed that the bridge was left behind by the Arawak Indians or Caribs who had inhabited the island before the 1500s. The British removed the structure and built a new bridge sometime after 1654 and the area became known as the Town of Saint Michael and, later, Bridgetown.
The Careenage is an inlet of water at the mouth of Constitution River, where schooners and trading vessels transporting sugar, rum and molasses to the larger ships in Carlisle Bay used to tie up. It got its name because the boats were careened onto their sides so that the hulls could be cleaned or mended.
In 1657, a portion of the waterfront was declared a public wharf; between 1837 and 1846 a new extended wharf was constructed under the direction of the Royal Engineers stationed with the British Garrison; and in 1889 the Bridgetown Dry Dock was added.
By the end of the 1800s Bridgetown was a major centre for ship maintenance and repair in the Caribbean; the island was often the first landfall for ships coming from Europe.
Nowadays, cargo and cruise ships dock at the Deep Water Harbour to the north, which is still one of the most advanced ports in the Caribbean; it has been dredged so it can accommodate the largest cruise ships in the world.
But the Careenage is still used for recreational and tourist-based small craft such as catamarans and sport fishing boats that tout their wares to visitors.
Two bridges now separate the outer and inner basins of the Careenage – Chamberlain Bridge and Charles Duncan O’Neal Bridge – and in 1999, the Wickham Lewis Boardwalk was built along Wharf Road on the northern side.