Our first stop is at the Fort Zeelandia on the waterfront. The fort was built by the French in 1640 and taken over and reinforced by the English in 1651, who named it Fort Willoughby after their leader, but it was later renamed Fort Zeelandia when the Dutch conquered Surinam in 1667. Many changes have taken place to the fort over the centuries and since 1968 it has housed the National Museum, apart from a small period of eleven years when it was used for the detention and torture of political prisoners after the coup of 1980. The fort is pentagonal with five bastions, one on each corner, and the walls are made of shell-stone. The museum is housed on two floors and include such displays as Susanna du Plessis belongings (a rich and infamously cruel plantation owner), pharmaceutical jars, a bottle collection which includes modern Coke bottles, a model of the fort, a reconstructed Amerindian dwelling, guns, a cobblers workshop and an excellent photo exhibit on slavery in Surinam. No photos are allowed inside.
The bauxite export was probably Suriname's most important contribution to the allied forces during World War II. Aluminium, made from bauxite, was very important for constructing airplanes.
Suriname was on its own during the German occupation of The Netherlands (1940-1945). At the time The Netherlands got occupied, the Germans had a large ship, the Goslar, in Paramaribo. The captain of the ship managed to sink the ship before it could be taken over by the Surinamese authorities. The remains of the ship still lie in the harbor of Paramaribo.
The cathedral, from 1885, is the tallest wooden building in the western hemisphere. It is currently closed for renovation after an almost collapse during restoration work in 1979, the work is to financed by the EU. The cathedral has also suffered vandalism to the building and the Maarschalkerweerd organ.
The 1 ½ km long bridge spans the Surinam River, linking Paramaribo and Commonwijne. The bridge is 55m high and was built in Year 2000. Wydenbosch was president of Suriname from September 15, 1996 to August 12, 2000, The Surinam River carries mud from the Amazon, hence its brown colour.
The Palm Gardens behind the Presidential Palace were originally the private garden for the palace (then the governor's house), but were opened to the public in the beginning of the 20th century. The gardens are full of - you guessed it - palms, which are the home to many species of birds.
The Lodge House from 1836, was originally built to perform weddings, the tower being added to imitate the wedding hall in Vlissingen in Netherlands. Its bricks were the ballast from the ships that came from Europe in the years that Suriname was a Dutch colony. The building is now used by the Ministry of Finance an is found on Onafhankelijksplein (Independence Square), a grassy square that forms the centre of Paramaribo.
In front of the Ministry of Finance is a statue of Suriname's most famous politician Johan Adolf Pengel, a prime-minister of the sixties.
Susannah Maria Duplessis was an infamous plantation owner - infamous because of her horrendous treatment of slaves!
One of the stories about her tells how she became increasingly fed up with the baby of one of her slaves who was crying. When the mother was unable to silence the crying infant, Susannah insisted on her own method to stop the baby' screams - she held it upside down in the river until it was silent - for good!
Another story relates to he husband's alleged affair with one of the young female slaves. When Susannah heard her man tell his mistress that he "couldn't live without her beautiful breasts", she had them cut off the poor girl and served them on a plate for her husband's dinner!
The Jewish community of Suriname is one of the oldest in the Americas. During the Inquisition in Portugal and Spain around 1500, many Jews fled to Holland and the Dutch colonies to escape torture and condemnation to the stake.
The first synagogue was established in 1661and was the first Jewish settlement in the western hemisphere.
The floor consists of white sand, said to represent the journey by Moses to the Promised Land.
There are currently 500 Jews in Surinam, from a total of 719 in 1835. Service is held on the 1st and 3rd Friday every month, and the synagogue needs 10 people to be able to conduct a service. The synagogue is full during festivals only.
The synagogu is situated next door to the Muslim Mosque - the only other place in the world which this occurs, is in Jerusalem. The two religions live happily side by side!
The original Reformed Church - founded in 1668 - was destroyed by fire in 1821. The current building was completed in 1837 to a similar octagonal design.
Until around year 1850, the church was a state church (the state was paying for the clergy and running costs) and was used almost exclusively by the elite of the city with all services conducted in Dutch. After the 1850s the church opened its doors to African slaves and the lower classes. “Negro-English” — a pidgin language used by the slaves — was introduced in the services.
As a Reformed Mosque, women are allowed to pray inside, in fact the mosque is quite unusual in that the women's section at the rear of the hall is raised above that of the men's area at the front.
The mosque took 20 years to build as the use of machinery was not allowed and everything had to be constructed by hand.
It is the largest mosque in the Caribbean.
Also within the Fort Zeelandia Complex is a statue to the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina.
Queen Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Orange-Nassau (August 31, 1880 - November 28, 1962) was Queen of the Netherlands from 1890 to 1948, tghus also reigning over Surinam which at that time was a Dutch colony. She is revered in Surinam, although not everyone shares the pride in the Dutch heritage. Whilst standing by her statue, we encounter a deranged local man who shouts and swears that Surinam is South American, NOT Dutch.
On 1 January 2004, the Surinam Dollar replaced the Surinam Guilder as the new monetary system. It was decided to make the change for two reasons, firstly as the Netherlands no longer use Guilder since the introduction of the Euro, and secondly to bring Surinam in line with the other Caribbean countries which all use dollar as their currency. Notes are in denominations of SRD100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of 250, 100, 25, 10, 5 and 1 cents.
Guilder notes and coins are still in circulation, however they have been re-valued to a ratio of 1000 Guilder per 1 Surinam Dollar.
I was very interested to see square coins on display in the museum.
The Central Market is a typical city produce market, with fish, meats, produce, as well as dry goods. Upstairs, there is a labyrinth of corridors and stalls selling clothing, shoes, and accessories.
They market opens early and closes early. Best to get there in the early morning before things close and while the temperatures are still more comfortable.
The all-wooden Sts. Peter- and Paul-cathedral is said to be the largest one in South-America. It was built in the 19th century (inaugurated in 1885), and nowadays in dire need of restauration. The danger of collapse has been diverted by numerous supports on the inside, but the real restauration work has yet to begin.
It is worthwhile to see the interior, with scaffolding, supports and all. There is a tombstone of Peerke Donders, the priest who ran a leper colony in the 19th century.
You may go up to the organ gallery (the organ pipes have been stolen). And if you are not afraid of heights, you may climb one of the towers. The caretaker, mr Grunberg, won't come up with you - he is a bit too old for that. But please, do not forget to give him a tip. Entrance to the church is free.
UPDATE 2013: Since we wrote this tip, the church has been beautifully restored. In April 2013 no more scaffolding inside, but there was outside for a new coat of paint. Peerke Donders is honoured with a new tomb. And now you can attend a concert in the cathedral, see the relevant tip.
On our second visit to Suriname in 2012 a friend took us to the Neotropical Butterfly Park. Based on a butterfly breeding and exporting firm since 1996, it had been opened as recently as July 2010
Breeding butterflies still is the core business of Ewout and Amira Eriks. But they have added red-tailed boas (boa constrictor constrictor), land turtles as well as plants. It is especially interesting to see how the butterflies lay their eggs on food plants, the caterpillars are fed with daily fresh leaves, the pupae are collected and hung from branches with a bit of glue, and newly emerged butterflies are transferred to the environment where they will live their lives of a few weeks and mate. Of the pupae 70% are exported, the remainder reserved to hatch the next generation of butterflies.
Part of the grounds consists of secondary forest. Following the guide through the forest and the breeding facilities is compulsary. But then one is free to roam the insect museum, the butterfly garden and the panorama. The latter is a 360 degree painting by father Wim Eriks, depicting the various landscapes of Suriname with its animal inhabitants: not to be missed!
Open: Mon thru Sat 8:30am - 4:30pm (no admission after 3:30pm), Sun 9am thru 3pm (no admission after 2pm)
Admission: SRD 30 (January 2012).