Off The Beaten Path: Exploring Trinidad’s Magnificent Seven
To say that Trinidad is the most culturally diverse island in the Caribbean could actually be an understatement. The larger sibling of the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad offers visitors the opportunity to experience, not only the the island’s own unique culture, but also to feel the influence of the many places that Trinidadians have originated from. With African, Indian, and Chinese cultures blended with the traditions of the native Arawak inhabitants of the island, and the influence of Spanish, French and English culture, Trinidad offers a rich cultural landscape on one of the most strikingly diverse islands in the Caribbean.
When planning a visit to Trinidad you’ll find that any time is a good time to explore the island. But, if you schedule your visit around Ash Wednesday you will get to experience one of Trinidad’s most well-known draws: Carnival. And once you’re done partying in the streets you’ll have plenty of time to behold the tremendous architecture which quietly stuns all over the island. And there is no better architecture in which to experience the full spectrum of cultural influences than at Port of Spain’s Queen’s Park Savannah: the Magnificent Seven.
Constructed between 1902 and 1910, each of the Magnificent Seven channels various international design elements: from Baroque to Baronial, Moorish and Indo-Islamic, German Renaissance to French Colonial. Each of the Magnificent Seven is not only a profound example of some of the world’s most enduring architectural styles, but perhaps more importantly, a shining testament of what beauty can be created when you mix traditions and cultural elements from around the world.
While some of these architectural gems are in decay, all are worth a visit into Trinidad’s rich and cultured history. Here are seven off-the-beaten path sites you should visit on the island:
1. Stollmeyer’s Castle
The oldest of all the Magnificent Seven, Stollmeyer’s Castle was the first residence ever constructed in the neighborhood of St. Clair. Believed to be based on a wing of the Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the Scots Baronial-style structure has seen many lives. Originally built by Charles Stollmeyer, he gifted the property to his son soon after its completion, whose wife gave it the name Killarney, for Killarney, Ireland. During WWII, US forces stationed in Trinidad commandeered Killarney, dubbing it “The Castle,” which evolved into “Stollmeyer’s Castle” after their departure. Purchased by the government in the late 1970s, Stollmeyer’s Castle has largely gone unused in that time. While the stone structure is in near-perfect condition, the inside has been said to be under renovation for nearly a decade.
2. White Hall
Named Rosenweg by its original owners, the name was changed to White Hall later due to the building’s use of white limestone. Built in the Corsican tradition of architecture, with influences from Venice, White Hall was a private residence for nearly forty years. But like Stollmeyer’s Castle, White Hall was commandeered by the United States during WWII and was used as a military headquarters. After the war, the Trinidad Central Library, the National Archives, the Government Broadcasting Unit, and the Trinidad Art Society all occupied space in White Hall before it was formally purchased by the government in 1954. After Trinidad gained their independence in 1962, Whitehall became the office for the new country’s Prime Minister. Currently undergoing significant repairs, White Hall remains unoccupied today but in 2008, it was reported that both it and Stollmeyer’s Castle will be used as residences for visiting foreign dignitaries.
3. Archbishop’s House
Built in 1903 by the fifth Archbishop of Port of Spain, the Archbishop’s House remains a residence for the highest-ranking Catholic in Trinidad and Tobago. Designed by an Irish architect, the Archbishop’s House draws heavily from Indian architecture while details such as the porticos and windows throughout the structure are reminiscent of Byzantine and Basilican architecture from the Roman Empire.
4. Mille Fleurs
Mille Fleurs, or “Prada House,” constructed by his wife for Dr. Enrique Prada, mayor of Port of Spain from 1914-1917, the French Provincial sprawling home was, upon its completion, a magnificent example of Caribbean architecture in that era. The hand-carved fretwork, ornate balustrades and intricate cast-iron columns are some of the finest finishes used in all of the Seven. Today, Mille Fleurs is deteriorating and is currently under threat of being demolished if restorations are not made to it soon.
5. Hayes Court
Named for Bishop Thomas Hayes, Hayes Court was the last of the Seven built after an anonymous gift was made in order to construct a home for the Anglican Bishop of Trinidad. One of the more modest of the Magnificent Seven, a blending of French Colonial and English design elements, along with traditional Caribbean details like Demerara windows sets the residence apart. Hayes Court is currently undergoing restoration, and upon completion will continue to act as the residence for the current Anglican Bishop of Trinidad and Tobago.
6. Queen’s Royal College
Home to one of Trinidad’s most prestigious boy’s secondary schools, Queen’s Royal College, more commonly referred to as QRC, is one of the most well-maintained of the Magnificent Seven. Originally known as Royal College, the school was conceived nearly 50 years prior to its opening by the acting British Governor; saying that it would be a school whose ”advantages should be open to those of every race and every religion, and that the education given should be of a decidedly superior character.” With allusions to the German Renaissance and Venetian Gothic styles, QRC is nothing short of a spectacle.
The sole member of the Magnificent Seven which remains a privately-owned residence, Roomor, or Ambard’s House, has been referred to as a “queen of architecture.” And from a glance, that title seems well-deserved. Channeling French Second Empire style, the home, one of the most well-maintained of the Seven, is an imposing and yet delicate ode to design. Almost all of its materials were imported: the marble from Italy, cast-iron from Scotland, and the tiles and lumber from France. Its primary component is wood, making maintenance in the Caribbean environment near-constant.