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Spanish Town square, photographed on October 10, 2003. Andrew Smith/Photography Editor

Spanish Town to be restored

Janet Silvera, Hospitality Jamaica Coordinator

On the heels of the success of restoring the old colonial city, Santo Domingo, Cuba and Panama City, Panama, a master plan is being developed by the Spanish Government to restore Jamaica's first capital city, Spanish Town.

In an interview with Hospitality Jamaica recently, Spanish Ambassador Jesus Silva said his Government would be bringing in an expert who will work with the citizens of the old city on a restoration strategy.

In a town where artisans are hard to find, the Ambassador said plans were afoot to open a workshop school in the town square to teach young men and persons unemployed in restoration skills. "This will include forging, masonry and the intricacies involved in restoration of historic monuments and structures."

first of its kind

The project, which is estimated to cost US$75,000 initially, is the first of its kind to be embarked upon in the English-speaking Caribbean, the Ambassador said Spanish Town's rich history allowed it an automatic entry into a venture of this magnitude.

Not only is the project expected to bring economic activity to the city, but the Ambassador noted that in other areas where this type of venture has been initiated, 90 per cent of the young men usually find jobs after their training is completed.

"What they will be exposed to are skills that are loss, that are no longer being utilised by people."

History of Spanish Town

The Spanish settlement of Villa de la Vega was founded by Governor Francisco de Garay in 1534 as the capital of the colony. Later, it was also called Santiago de la Vega or St. Jago de la Vega. Indigenous Tiano had been living in the area for approximately a millennium before this, but this was the first European habitation on the south of the island.

When the English conquered Jamaica in 1655, they renamed the capital Spanish Town. Since the town was badly damaged during the conquest, Port Royal took on many administrative roles and functioned as an unofficial capital during the beginning of the English reign. By the time Port Royal was decimated by an earthquake in 1692, Spanish Town had been rebuilt and was again functioning as the capital.

Spanish Town remained as the capital until 1872, when the seat of the colony was moved to Kingston. Kingston had been founded in the aftermath of the earthquake of Port Royal.

The centre of the town boasts a few Regency buildings, including the Rodney Memorial and the façade of Old King's House, the residence of the governors until 1872.

Today, Spanish Town is sometimes referred to colloquially as "Spain Town" or "Prison Oval" within the confines of Jamaica. The latter nickname is a reference to the cricket pitch or oval located just outside the St. Catherine District Prison where some inmates can get a limited view of the sport through their cell windows. Football is also played at the Prison Oval.

street names

The history of Spanish Town lives on in the remains of the old buildings and in its street names that mark it as the start of Jamaica's overall history. Reminders of Spanish Jamaica include Red Church and White Church Streets, symbolic of the Spanish chapels of the red and white cross, as well as Monk Street, in reference to the monastery that once stood nearby. Nugent Street and Manchester Street were named for British Colonial Governors, George Nugent and William Montagu, fifth Duke of Manchester. King Street received its name because it runs past King's House and Constitution Street, near to the square, it also refers to the fact that the island's administrative centre used to be located there.

The population of present day Spanish Town is 148,845 (2006 population estimate).

Source: Wikipedia - the free encyclopedia.

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