A city cannot be hid... but can be lost

Hugh DOUSE

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

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RECENTLY an entire Mayan Pyramid was bulldozed in Belize to make way for a road. I was horrified to hear this. Like the authorities in Belize, I wondered if the developer was unaware of the fact that this structure was centuries old, and of great historic value.


Then I thought of historic Spanish Town, with its decaying, collapsing, centuries-old structures. Spanish Town as a centre of the Jamaican civilisation predates the Spanish establishment of Villa De La Vega (Town on the Plain) in 1534, as the Taino inhabited the area on the west bank of the Rio Cobre long before the European arrivals. The oldest iron bridge in the Western World, the oldest train station outside of the UK and USA, the oldest site of both Spanish and British (Anglican) cathedrals, oldest Georgian square outside of Britain, are just a few of the list of dizzying historical notes to be found on a survey of the town's heritage.


I have seen the efforts of political representatives from both sides of the political divide to restore the image of Spanish Town. There have been efforts to have the area declared a UNESCO Heritage Site, an effort which, as an 2010 Observer article states, "violence and criminality" are preventing.


Spanish Town was a city when Kingston was still "Colonel Berry's Hog Crawle" on the map; aka bush. When the articles for capital city status were removed to Kingston, Spanish Town never ceased to be a city. For those who didn't know a city is defined as a Cathedral Town.Many have said the old uninhabited buildings in Spanish Town should be demolished, because they represent the core of colonial rule in the country and they are symbols of oppression. Others say they should be used as tools for a tourism product which could bring much revenue into the city and provide much needed employment.


I am not advocating restoration of the historic city of Spanish Town just for the sake of restoration, even though civilisations which revere the heritage of physical workmanship by their ancestors would deem that fact reason enough to do so.


What I instead suggest is the sustainable development of Spanish Town. A local or an offshore University, could, in these ancient walls, cater to the tertiary needs of the graduates of several high schools in the town and the wider parish of St Catherine, as well as the neighbouring St Ann and Clarendon.


As a central campus created along the lines of the University towns, this city's interaction with the academic community, which the layout of the town would easily allow, could give the well-needed excuse for the sustainable restoration of so many of these large, still redeemable, buildings. If an entity like HEART were to take this on, then it would allow the matriculation of many present residents in and around the city centre, whose very vocational practicum could include the very restoration of others of these older, beautiful, distinctly Jamaican buildings.


Making Spanish Town a University Town would be the restoration not merely of buildings, but of the noble and rich history and sense of worth that the city and citizens of Spanish Town occupies in any proper reading of the story of Jamaica. The tourism and other spin-offs are obvious.


Doing nothing to secure this city's heritage, however, would be no better than ignorantly bulldozing a centuries-old Mayan pyramid to build a road.


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