Old meets new as you follow the EMR east across the bridge into ST JOSEPH, Trinidad’s oldest European town and first official capital. On the right is the elaborate Mohammed Al Jinnah Memorial Mosque, resplendent with a crescent- and star-topped main dome flanked by two minarets (there’s not much to see inside, but drop by the caretaker’s house behind the mosque if you want to take a look). The main streets, however, are on St Joseph Hill just to the north, lined with genteel colonial French and Spanish architecture jostling with newer concrete structures.
In 1592, Lieutenant Domingo de Vera founded a town on the site of an Amerindian settlement. Christening it San José de Oruna, de Vera built a church, a prison-cum-police barracks (the rebuilt remains of which are to be found directly opposite the mosque), a governor’s residence and a cabildo (town hall). In 1595 Sir Walter Raleigh attacked San José, burning down the church and the barracks, though by 1606 both were rebuilt, only to be destroyed by the Dutch in 1637 and ransacked by Caribs in 1640. During the eighteenth century, San José prospered as a plantation town, but in 1766 was hit by a devastating earthquake. It never really recovered, and eighteen years later the last Spanish governor relocated the capital to Port of Spain. The town’s troubles weren’t over yet, however; in 1837, a detachment of the British West Indian Regiment stationed here mutinied. Led by a Yoruba ex-slave known as Daaga, the soldiers were protesting against the apprenticeship system that kept freed Africans in a state of semi-slavery. They set fire to the barracks and fought for several days before being overwhelmed. In the aftermath, forty Africans lay dead, and Daaga and two of his comrades were executed by firing squad.