The two capitals of Montserrat are Plymouth and Brades, as the former was the island’s only capital and port of entry until 1997, when a volcanic eruption leveled the city and destroyed the entire southern half of the small island. All government offices were then moved north to Brades, which remains the de facto capital of Montserrat.
Plymouth is now a ghost town, marked by lava deposits from the 1997 eruption. Brades – also known as Brades Estate – has a population of 1000 and became the unofficial capital in 1998.
Read on to learn more about the two capitals of this small island nation and the unique history of each.
Where are the Capitals of Montserrat Located?
Unlike many other islands in the Lesser Antilles, Montserrat has a narrow, rocky coastline and has mountainous terrain. It is a tiny, pear-shaped island, being 11 miles long and 7 miles wide, with the southern end being uninhabitable due to the 1997 volcanic eruption that destroyed the capital city of Plymouth as well as many homes, businesses, and vegetation.
Plymouth is located on the southwestern coast of the island and was the only port of entry for Montserrat until 1997. It was also the site of the island’s lushest vegetation, nearly all of which was destroyed in the eruption.
Brades is located on the very northern part of the island at Montserrat’s narrowest point.
Brief History of Plymouth
This ghost town is the de jure capital of Montserrat – an island nation that is a territory of the UK in the Lesser Antilles island chain. Plymouth was the island’s only port of entry for centuries until the southern half of the island – including the capital – was evacuated when the island’s volcanoes began to erupt.
Before Europeans arrived, Montserrat was largely unoccupied save for the occasional visit from the Caribs – a warlike indigenous tribe known for attacking and raiding the other tribes on the many islands in the Lesser Antilles chain. However, archaeologists have recently discovered cave paintings and petroglyphs on the island, believed to be around 1500 years old.
Europeans first settled on Montserrat in 1632, and Plymouth was the site of the first European colony. The island had first been sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1493, but the first Europeans – mainly from Ireland – wouldn’t settle on Montserrat until about 150 years later.
One of Montserrat’s many nicknames – the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean – is due not only to the lush green tropical vegetation, but also Montserrat’s heavily Irish population.
The French colonized the island before the British, and to this day, Montserrat is still a territory of the United Kingdom.
Brief History of Brades
Brades is in the northern part of the island, which has been largely unaffected by volcanic activity. It is the largest city in Montserrat and contains a bank, schools, restaurants, and stores.
Brades became the unofficial capital of Montserrat in 1998 when a volcano destroyed Plymouth and the southern half of the island. Interim buildings were constructed to house the government offices. The move was intended to be temporary, and a new capital city is currently under construction in Little Bay – a short distance north of Brades.
After the volcano’s explosion, more than 50% of Montserrat’s inhabitants emigrated to the US, Canada, and the UK.
When did Plymouth Become the Capital of Montserrat?
Plymouth became the capital of Montserrat when Europeans first settled on the island in the 1630s. Because of Montserrat’s narrow coast and rocky shoreline, Plymouth was – at the time – the only suitable port and point of entry.
When did Brades Become the Capital of Montserrat?
Brades became the de facto capital of Montserrat in 1998 after a volcanic eruption destroyed the southern half of the island, including Plymouth, which had been Montserrat’s capital city.
Interim buildings were set up to house the government offices that were moved from Plymouth. The move was intended to be temporary while the capital was reconstructed, but Plymouth’s reconstruction never occurred and Brades has remained the unofficial capital city ever since.
The southern half of Montserrat is dubbed an exclusion zone due to pyroclastic flow, and both visitors and locals alike are banned from the exclusion zone. However, since the island is so small, the destruction of Plymouth can be seen from the northern half of the island.
Why are Plymouth and Brades the Capitals of Montserrat?
Since Montserrat is a rocky and mountainous island with a very narrow coastline, Plymouth was the only area that served as an adequate port and point of entry to the island. It made sense for the capital city to be at the main port of entry – especially for such a small island.
Brades, located at the northern part of the island, was suitable enough as a port of entry in 1998 for the government offices to be moved there when Plymouth was destroyed. It is now the largest city in Montserrat, with a population of about 1000 people.
While Brades is the unofficial capital of Montserrat, a new capital city is under construction in Little Bay. Until then, Brades will remain the de facto capital.
Best Places to Visit in Plymouth
- Remains of Plymouth – because Plymouth is a ghost town in the exclusion zone, visitors are prohibited from it unless they are accompanied by a tour guide. Check out the eerie abandoned buildings in this once-thriving city, including churches, homes, stores, and more.
Best Places to Visit in Brades
If you find yourself in Brades, there are a few unique places worthy of visiting.
- The Soufrière Hills Volcano – this composite volcano can be viewed from safe vantage points among the island’s lush natural greenery.
- The Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) – view the Soufrière Hills Volcano from a safe location while learning more about this volcano’s history and its effects on the island of Montserrat.
- Jack Boy Hill – observe Montserrat’s scenic beauty from one of the island’s highest points, with a telescope for extra viewing pleasure.
- Centre Hills Forest – this forest is home to several endangered species of birds, reptiles, and plants.