Wars, Views and Backwards Forts

View of St George’s - The city on the hill. Photo Rosie Burr

Guarding the entrance to St George’s harbour, on the hill to the west of the capital city, is Fort George. It is the oldest standing fort in Grenada, originally named Fort Royal, it was built by the French in the early 1700s to protect the inner harbour. It has changed hands several times over the centuries from the French to the British, back to the French and to the British again. For over 300 years it has stood watch and witnessed many military and political events including the Grenada Revolution, when it was renamed Fort Rupert, and became home to the People’s Revolutionary Army and saw the execution of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and others in 1983. Today, its weathered buildings are home to the Royal Grenada Police Force and it stands as a slightly worn monument to what once was. Parts of the fort are open to the public, and it is well worth the effort to walk up the short but fairly steep steps near the Sendall tunnel to explore the crumbling ruins and marvel at the cannons, some of which are in working order. History aside, the amazing views of St George’s and the southern coastline of glorious Grand Anse beach and beyond are worth the climb.

Some of Fort George’s cannons are kept in working order and fire salutes on special occasions. Photo Rosie Burr
Some of Fort George’s cannons are kept in working order and fire salutes on special occasions. Photo Rosie Burr

The problem with Fort George was that although it was able to protect the town and inner harbours from a sea attack, it was unable to defend itself from troops approaching overland –as the French happily discovered when they retook it from the British. To prevent such a situation happening to them, the French set about building fortifications on the higher ground at Richmond Hill, east of the harbour, to defend from inland invaders. So it’s a curious fact that Fort Frederick, on the hill of St George’s, is built back to front with its cannons facing inland, hence gaining the nickname of ‘backward facing fort’. In fact a series of forts were built in this location: Forts Matthew, Frederick, Lucas, Adolphus and Morne Cardigan. Although it was the French who started building the forts, just four years later Grenada was handed over to the British under the treaty of Versailles. The British who now, of course, understood the importance of defence from the interior continued the work until the forts were completed. Interestingly, none of these forts has ever been under attack or fired a shot in anger and have simply stood quietly year after year peacefully guarding their capital. Fort Matthew has had an interesting past, from lunatic asylum—which was relocated after being mistakenly bombed by the US in the 1983 invasion, killing several inmates—to becoming a bar in later years. It is now a crumbling relic with an eerie maze of tunnels and cells but with commanding views of the harbour.

Fort Matthew and Fort Frederick at the top of Richmond Hill over-looking St Georges Harbour. Photo Rosie Burr
Fort Matthew and Fort Frederick at the top of Richmond Hill over-looking St Georges Harbour. Photo Rosie Burr

Fort Frederick, which is right next to Fort Matthew on top of Richmond Hill is in better condition. The views in every direction are incredible from the lush, green topography of the hillsides inland to the sprawling town below, with its church spires and colourful buildings, and out beyond to the majestic panoramas of the ocean. It is the ideal place to watch the sun go down.

For over 100 years Fort Matthew was used as a lunatic asylum. Photo Rosie Burr
For over 100 years Fort Matthew was used as a lunatic asylum. Photo Rosie Burr

All the forts are open to the public during the day with a small admission charge of $2US or EC$5 and are well worth a visit.

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