Historic Architecture of Belize City
Belize City was established in the mid-seventeenth century as a trading post for precious woods from the Central American hinterland. Located on a low-lying coastal site at the mouth of the Belize River, physical expansion of the city was slow, as land had to be reclaimed from the mangrove swamp and the sea. Although Central America was under Spanish rule, the British challenged the rival empire and secured logging concessions. Belize City grew through the lucrative trade of logwood and mahogany, and, after a long period of quarrels between the two nations, Belize became a British colony in 1862.
In addition to nineteenth-century civic and religious landmarks like the Government House and St. John’s Cathedral, many traditional houses of the same period survive today in Belize City. Most are raised above the ground, clad with weatherboarding, and covered with steeply pitched corrugated metal roofs—a style appropriate to the tropical climate that has been called Creole Colonial. Today, the city’s traditional buildings have yet to be studied in detail, and many are fast deteriorating. An inventory and protection strategies are greatly needed to ensure the preservation of these historically significant houses. Such efforts could serve as model for many Caribbean urban areas that are rapidly losing their traditional architecture. Evaluation of and investment in this built heritage would provide social rewards by telling the story of these buildings and their residents, and could benefit tourism, the largest industry in the modern economy of Belize.