For all of the outsized touristy glitz embodied in the gaudy mega-resorts, bustling cruise ports, and all and sundry tourist traps that have in large part come to define Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas is actually a prime destination for history lovers keen on exploring African roots and the legacy of slavery in the West Indies. These stairs are but one example.
Officially known as the Queen’s Staircase, the dramatic passage located within the Fort Fincastle Historic Complex in Nassau is named for Queen Victoria, who ruled Great Britain from 1837 to 1901. The Staircase, though, precedes her reign, having been constructed between 1793 and 1794.
*Fun fact: The Queen’s Staircase is also commonly referred to as the 66 Steps. If you count them as you make the climb (or decent), though, you’ll only find there’s 65. That’s because the bottom step was paved over years after the Staircase was completed.
Like a lot of the most enduring aspects of the ancient fortifications around the West Indies, the main purpose of the Queen’s Staircase was defense. The passageway provided a faster, more direct route from Fort Fincastle’s perch atop Bennett Hill to Nassau City below, making it easier for soldiers to defend the city in case of attack.
The African connection, of course, is that slaves were made to build the structure.
Carving a gorge more than 100 feet deep into the unforgiving Bahamian limestone, slaves armed solely with hand tools hewed the steps into being.
The dichotomous legacy of the Queen’s Staircase is palpable; the amazing strength of the Africans underscored by the abject horror of slavery intertwined with a lasting vestige of the vaunted British Empire.
On the surface, it’s a beautiful place. Dramatic shade trees, vines, and exotic plants give the Staircase an almost rainforest feel; like it should be far from Nassau’s downtown urban sprawl. This makes for one of the more uncommon photo-ops in Nassau… made even more so when you know a bit of the history here.
*Photo credit: Flickr user arctic_whirlwind.