The Watch

Historic Architecture of Belize City

Belize City, Belize

2012 World Monuments Watch

Located on a low-lying coastal area at the mouth of the Belize River, Belize City was established in the mid-seventeenth century as a trading post for precious woods from the Central American hinterland. 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 their rival empire and secured logging concessions in the region. 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.

The city’s traditional buildings have yet to be studied in detail, and many are fast deteriorating. They were included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch to encourage the development of protection strategies and an inventory in order to ensure their preservation. Such efforts could serve as a model for many Caribbean urban areas that are rapidly losing their traditional architecture. Evaluation of and investment in this built heritage could benefit tourism, the largest industry in the modern economy of Belize, and would provide social rewards by telling the story of the buildings and their residents.

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