Latitude 14° 00′ N / Longitude 60° 59′ W
Capital City of Castries named after the Marechal de Castries; a French minister of the Marine.
In the heart of Castries you will find Derek Walcott Square, nested between the uniquely ornate Roman Catholic Catheddral (built 1897) and the Castries Central Library. The Square was renamed after the second Nobel Prize winner from St Lucia. That’s right; this little island boasts two Nobel Laureates. Sir Arthur Lewis for Economics and Derek Walcott for literature in 1993.
Here you may also stroll in amongst some of the oldest French colonial architechture remaining in the capital. Castries suffered two very debilitating fires in recent history almost leveling the town and crippling the island.
Today she is a bustling Centre with a natural harbour welcoming several cruise lines from around the world. Offering excellent shopping in the town market for fresh produce and arts and crafts, Duty Free centres and even a glimps at the process of the fine art of silk screening. The cool shade of this 400 year old Samaan tree is far too tempting.
A little bit of its history: Castries is the capital, commercial center and main cruise port of St Lucia.
The town was founded by the French in about 1768 under the name Car’nage and renamed after a French official in 1785. The earlier settlement across the harbor at Vigie, started in 1651, was abandoned after the devastating hurricane of 1780.
From 1803 to 1844 the British made the town a major naval port and built fortifications on Morne Fortune, the mountain which overlooks this important harbor. By 1844, Castries had a population of 4,000. By the end of the century it had become a major coaling station, because it was the only port in the Caribbean capable of holding the whole British navy.
During WWII, a German U-boat sailed into Castries harbor and sank two allied ships. Castries suffered major fires in 1796, 1813, 1927 and 1948 which have shaped its development.
Castries – sights to see & visit
The capital city of Saint Lucia plays host to an array of interesting points. Castries, the heart of commercial activity, provides the Vendor’s Arcade, Castries Market and La Place Carenage. All are major shopping hubs. In addition to shops, the La Place Carenage is home to the Animation Center, a 3D simulation entitled, “Castries, the Crossroads of the Caribbean”. The simulation explains the history of Castries from 2000BC through the 20th Century fires that almost extinguished the city.
Architecture buffs will enjoy the architecture of the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, known as The Cathedral to locals. Building this structure, the largest cathedral in the Caribbean, took an absurd 72 years to complete!
Visit Derek Walcott Square, christened after one of Saint Lucia’s noble laureates in literature. Bask under the 400+ year old Saaman tree. Locals call this tree the Massave Tree, meaning “I don’t know”.
Carnival, a major Saint Lucian festival, celebrates island tradition. Carnival festivities include competitions and performances by masquerade (Mas) bands, calypso and soca singers, steel bands, and beauty contestants.
The extravaganza in July unites locals and tourists from around the world. Topping off the bazaar is a grand parade of dazzling colors and intricate costumes.
The Jour Ouvert street jump up is a wild affair of pulsating soca and calypso music and dancing in the streets of Castries. Revelers wear whatever they wish, and are judged for the best, weirdest outfits (referred to as Ole Mas). During that same afternoon (Monday), Mas bands parade through Castries to be judged at the Mindoo Philip Park. Tuesday, all Mas bands parade through the streets for judging ending in numerous ‘Last Lap’ circuits round the city; a massive “conga line”.
Carnival Parade of the Bands
The climax of the Saint Lucian Carnival celebration is not to be missed. During parade days revelers take to the streets in a flood of color and music, enveloping bystanders in a cloak of authentic joy and celebration as each band competes for the coveted “Band of the Year” title.
Creole Heritage Month
The Folk Research Centre, responsible for preserving and promoting Saint Lucia’s cultural heritage, organizes events throughout October celebrating Creole culture. Events are held in communities across the island. Creole Heritage month culminates with International Creole Day, Jounen Kweyol, a worldwide celebration by all countries that speak the Creole language.
Folk Research Center
Housed in a 19th century colonial building, situated among striking gardens on the historic Mount Pleasant, with stunning views of Castries the Folk Research Center (FRC) inspires preservation and promotion of Saint Lucia’s cultural heritage. The center specializes in storing and organizing vast data and materials encompassing the whole of Saint Lucia Folk history. Specific areas include dance, music, instruments, folk tales and the kweyol language.
Experience Saint Lucia from the frigate birds’ perspective. Tours depart from Castries and Soufriere, as well as a few other ports. North and south island aerial tours are available. Observe cliffs, mountains, and sun-kissed coastlines while relishing (and learning from) the lively commentary of the knowledgeable and friendly local pilots.
59 Howelton House
High upon Morne Fortune this stylistic Victorian abode 102 years old is home of Caribelle Batik. Visitors are invited to witness the batik process, from tracing patterns onto large cloth pieces to using hot wax to shield the areas not to be dyed. Each piece is carefully handcrafted, creating uniquely individual pieces.
Guided Jeep tours offer an exhilarating off-road adventure. Safari across a tropical landscape, through rainforests and over banana plantations. Ride in an open-air vehicle on whole or half day adventures. Customized tours are often available.
La Toc Battery
An admirable example of Saint Lucia’s turbulent military history, the La Toc Battery is built on a hillside overlooking Castries. The fort enjoys British engineering at its finest from thick, reinforced walls to the mysterious underground labyrinth of rooms and tunnels reminiscent of English castles.
A budding yachter’s paradise, the tranquil, picturesque bay was once home to pirates. Hollywood also appreciates the unspoiled beauty of the bay. Pictures such as the original Dr. Doolittle with Rex Harrison, Water with Michael Caine and Fire Power with Sophia Loren were all shot on location. Restaurants, shops, a supermarket with wine shop, a bank, and a bar and coffee shop populate the modest village while black sandy beaches emphasize the perfect Caribbean green waters.
Experience the view shared by the imposing Government House, home to Governor General Her Excellency Dame Pearletter Louisy. A small, roadside overlook delivers the most magnificent panoramic view of Castries.
Boasting the best Duty-Free shopping on the island Pointe Seraphine is a quick jaunt by water taxi from Castries. Newer Caribbean cruise routes have acquired a stop at the beautiful Pointe Seraphine.
Rhythm of Rum
Rhythm of Rum is a driving tour through the history of rum. A staple of island cuisine, the rum tour incorporates sightseeing through Castries, Roseau Valley, and one of the island’s largest banana plantations. The journey includes a detailed distillery tour and a chance to sample some award winning rums and liqueurs.
The Vigie Lighthouse presents a bit of history and a breathtaking view, notably golden sands stretching into the green sea off Vigie Beach. Nearby lays a small powder magazine built by the French in 1784. Both the lighthouse and the beach are less than 10 minutes from the bustling town’s center of Castries.