Located in the western North Atlantic Ocean, Bermuda is Britain’s oldest remaining colony. An archipelago the shape of a fishhook, it is comprised of seven islands and about 170 named islets and rocks. Just twenty-four miles long and less than one mile wide, Bermuda is very densely populated, with some 64,000 residents from a mix of British, African and Caribbean origins. The official language is English, which combines characteristics of Caribbean, American and British English.
Originally discovered in 1503 by Spanish explorer Juan de Bermúdez, Bermuda gained a reputation for being a fearsome, even cursed place. Mariners called it the Isle of Devils because of its howling winds, screaming seabirds and a treacherous ring of coral reef that encircles the archipelago and that could cause shipwrecks.
In 1609, a commercial trading ship called Sea Venture ran aground on Bermuda in very rough seas. When the storm calmed, its passengers discovered beautiful pink sand beaches formed of pulverised coral and shells, and subtropical flowering shrubs including Easter lilies, hibiscus and poinsettia. Once the hurricane season had passed, the passengers of Sea Venture found Bermuda’s climate agreeable, and some became permanent settlers on the island. In 1707 it became a British crown colony.
US AND UK
Today, Bermuda is a self-governing British Overseas Territory. Bridges connect its bigger islands. Main Island is the largest, where mountain The Peak, at 259 feet (78.9 metres), is the highest point. Situated between the US and the UK, Bermuda has played a prominent role in the two countries’ political and military histories. The British attacked America from the archipelago during the American War of Independence (from 1775 to 1783), and rum was smuggled into the US from Bermuda during the Prohibition period (from 1919 to 1933.)
Bermuda’s former capital, St. George’s, was established in 1612 and its fortifications are now a Unesco World Heritage site. In 1815, the capital was moved to Hamilton, its financial centre today. The Bermuda Library and the Historical Society Museum in the Par-la-Ville Gardens are key sites in the small city, which is home to just over a thousand inhabitants. Archetypal Bermuda houses are painted in pastel shades and have white sloping coral roofs designed to catch rainwater. Their walls are structured to restrict damage from hurricanes and are required to withstand wind speeds of over 100 mph (160,9 km/h).
The Bermudian economy has evolved over the years from agriculture to shipbuilding to salt trading. In the 20th century, Bermuda’s tourism economy began to thrive, and today this and the international financial services sector employ virtually all the Bermudan workforce. The country has a zero per cent tax rate and no personal income tax, and as such has come under criticism from organisations such as Oxfam, who say this benefits only the super wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
With scarce resources, most food must be imported into Bermuda. Fresh vegetables, bananas, citrus fruits, milk, eggs, and honey are produced locally, however, and there is a small fishing industry. Bermudian food combines African and European cooking, with traditional dishes including codfish and potatoes, Hoppin’ John (peas and rice), pawpaw casserole and Bermuda fish chowder.
The Bermuda Triangle
Bermuda has piqued great interest through the centuries as a strange, wild and magical place. In the early 17th century, the news of the Sea Venture’s dramatic arrival in Bermuda was to inspire William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the archipelago appears in John Donne’s evocative poem The Storm. In the 1950s and 1960s, Bermuda was to attract attention again as the site of a number of high profile and still-unexplained naval and aviation disappearances. In 1964, an article in the magazine Argosy indicated a “Bermuda Triangle”, a geographical area with Bermuda at its northern point, bordered to the east by the US and to the south by Puerto Rico, where many mysterious disappearances had occurred. Theories have included magnetic anomalies, massive rogue waves and, inevitably, UFOs. However, the fact that this area is heavily trafficked by air and by sea, and swept by hurricanes may explain why more accidents appear to happen here.
Bermuda shorts: a brief history
Bermuda shorts are a popular style of summer wear where the leg length should fall no more than a modest six inches (15.2 cm) above the knee. The invention is attributed to native Bermudian and teashop owner Nathaniel Coxon, who in 1914 cut the uniform trousers of his employees shorter, allowing for more comfort in the heat. The British Army, stationed in Bermuda during World War One, adopted the shorts for wear in tropical and desert climates. The style took off in the 1950s, when men and daring women, especially in the US and UK, began wearing Bermuda shorts to evoke the opulence of the luxury holiday destination.