When you’re taking a driving tour through Bermuda, it’s tough to envision this place as a strategic military outpost, but for most of its history, the island was actually a strategic naval center that played an important role in a number of wars. Bermuda, was really the Gibraltar of the West, as its proximity to the young American nation made it an ideal spot for Britain to station troops and arms during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, and it even became the Royal Navy’s Western Atlantic headquarters for many years.
During the American Civil War, the Confederacy relied on Bermuda as a checkpoint where British ships could evade the Union blockade and deliver goods to the South. The island also served as an important naval base during both World Wars. I would imagine that the water looked just as good as it’s looks now as it did then … but the forts of Bermuda wouldn’t have been so inviting.
It’s no surprise, then, that Bermuda is home to several historic forts that still stand today. Here’s a list of five forts of Bermuda worth a visit as you explore Bermuda’s rich history.
- Fort Hamilton, Pembroke Parish
Construction of this famous fort began in 1868, by order of the Duke of Wellington. Originally intended to protect Hamilton Harbour from an American invasion, the fort was already considered outdated before its completion in the 1870s. Outfitted with a moat, underground passageways, and 18-ton guns, Fort Hamilton has since been transformed into a lovely park filled with gardens. In summer, stop by at noon to watch the kilted Bermuda Isles Pipe Band perform a traditional bagpiping, or skirling, ceremony.
- Fort St. Catherine, St. George’s Parish
The largest fort in Bermuda, Fort St. Catherine towers above pink sand beaches, making it one of the island’s most extraordinary attractions. Constructed in 1614, Fort St. Catherine underwent numerous upgrades in the 19th century; today, its interior serves as a museum of Bermudian history
- Martello Tower, Ferry Reach, St. George’s Parish
With walls as thick as 11 feet, Martello Tower was built by the British to withstand potential cannon fire from French or American forces. Restored in 2008, Martello looks much as it did when it was built in the 1820s. It’s also Bermuda’s only egg-shaped fort, closely resembling the design commonly found along the British coastline.
- Royal Naval Dockyard, Sandys Parish
Although visitors to Bermuda may think of Dockyard as a centre of arts, crafts, and dining, the complex was initially constructed by the British Army’s Royal Engineers in the 1860s to protect against – well by now, you might guess – an American invasion. Today, the Dockyard, and area surrounding it, has become Bermuda’s top tourist attraction, housing the Bermuda Maritime Museum, the Bermuda Craft Market, Bermuda Arts Centre, and dozens of shops and restaurants.
- Great Head Battery and Park, St. George’s Parish
Located at Bermuda’s easternmost point, the Great Head Battery on St. David’s Island offers stunning views of the sea and St. George’s. Completed in 1910, the fort was designed to defend the Narrows Channel. Coastal defence guns lined the fort, although none were ever fired in combat. Today, the area is a 24-acre park that serves as a memorial to Bermudian troops.
All around the island, you’re going to see fortifications, cannons and remnants of battles fought.