Historic Inner City of Paramaribo
Historic Inner City Of Paramaribo
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Cultural Suriname Latin America And The Caribbean District Of Paramaribo

Paramaribo is a unique example of the contact between the European culture of the Netherlands and the indigenous cultures and environment of South America in the years of intensive colonization of this region in the 16th and 17th centuries. The gradual fusion of European architecture and construction techniques with indigenous materials and crafts led to the creation of a new architectural idiom.

From the beginning of the 17th century, colonization of the Wild Coast was directed towards the cultivation of sugar cane and tobacco. European governments encouraged settlers to establish plantations in order to exploit the region. The Dutch, in search of tobacco and hardwoods, had settled as early as 1614 on the Corantijn River and near the Indian village of Parmarbo or Parmurbo on the banks of the Suriname River. Suriname remained a Dutch possession for the next three centuries. Paramaribo began when Fort Zeelandia was built in 1667 on a promontory on the left bank of the Suriname River. In 1683 Van Sommelsdijck, the first governor and joint owner of the colony, laid out a planned town.

In addition to Fort Zeelandia, Paramaribo was also protected by the Nieuw-Amsterdam Fortress at the confluence of the Suriname and Commewijne rivers, near the coast. Because of these strong defensive works, it was not necessary for the town to be fortified, which allowed it to be laid out in spacious lots along wide streets. By the end of the 18th century, settlers who had hitherto lived on their plantations began to migrate to Paramaribo, leaving the running of the plantations to managers. As a result, the plantations began to decline, but the town grew, with many fine houses built along tree-lined streets. Disastrous fires in 1821 and again in 1832 led to much of the existing town being destroyed.

The economic situation of Suriname worsened as the plantations declined, with beet being replaced as the source of sugar, and the situation deteriorated further when slavery was abolished in 1863. Their owners and the freed slaves moved to Paramaribo, which expanded rapidly. To replace the slaves, the government brought in labourers to work the remaining plantations, first from China and the West Indies and later from India and Java, increasing its cultural and ethnic diversity.

The layout of the Inner City consists of a main axis stretching north-west behind Fort Zeelandia (the group of public buildings here is the central ensemble in the town plan), with streets crossing at right angles. To the north of Fort Zeelandia is the large public park known as the Garden of Palms. The wide streets and the public open spaces are tree-lined, giving a serene and spacious townscape. The larger public buildings, such as Fort Zeelandia, the Presidential Palace, the Ministry of Finance, the Reformed Church, and the Roman Catholic cathedral, were built from stone and brick in traditional Dutch style but increasingly incorporating native elements. Thus, the ground floor of the Presidential Palace is of stone but its upper storeys are of wood. Interestingly, the neoclassical Reformed Church is built from brick but the neo-Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral is entirely of wood. Most of the buildings in Paramaribo, both commercial and residential, are built entirely from wood, the majority of them following the 1821 and 1832 fires. The work was carried out by local craftsmen. They all conform to a general layout: they are rectangular and symmetrical in plan with steep roofs and brick substructures. Both these and the public buildings are generally painted white, the brick elements being highlighted in red. Doors and window shutters are in dark green.

There has been considerable restoration work on a number of other, non-listed, buildings;this has preserved the traditional style but has made use of contemporary materials, such as concrete simulating wood. Nevertheless, the overall urban fabric of Paramaribo, which dates from 1680-1800, still survives virtually intact and the authenticity of the townscape is exceptionally high.

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