Belize City is the former capital of Belize, the largest town in Belize and was first known as “Belize Town” by the first British settlers, the “Baymen”. Prior to this, however, Belize City was inhabited by the Mayans who called the area Holzuz, and then by the Spanish who conquered the Mayans during the 16th century.
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In 1970, Belmopan replaced Belize City as the capital of Belize due to the excessive devastation caused to Belize City by Hurricane Keith and Hattie in 1931 and 1961 respectively. Hurricane Hattie was a Category Four hurricane and had sustained winds of 140 miles an hour with gusts of up to 180 miles per hour. The death toll after Hurricane Hattie’s hit was over 400, while over one thousand Belizeans were left homeless.
Belize Town had developed into Belize’s most important town as it was used as a base for from which attacks on Spanish ships was planned and the defense of the British settlements was conducted from , once the British had established themselves in Belize. The Haulover Creek, one of the Belize River’s tributaries played a major role in the economic and social development of the town since it gave access to the interior forests of Belize and was used for the transportation and trade of logwood and mahogany conducted by the British.
The exportation of mahogany became the mainstay of Belize’s economic, social and political life during the 20th century due to its high demand in Europe for furniture making, ship construction and railroad development. This activity led to the expansion of Belize City and other new settlements since it required vast areas of forested land, a lot of skilled workers and capital. The result was the rise of a small bourgeoisie to whom most of the land and labour force belonged, including a lower class of forest workers and slaves whose quarters were found in the neighboring areas.
However, the lack of infrastructure and roads for the transportation of agricultural produce hindered the town’s economic growth. The farmers’ lack of knowledge on different ways and means for plot cultivation and expansion also negatively affected the agriculture industry. This had a domino effect on the political and social life of the people especially as Belizean society was one made up of people of different backgrounds: European, Asian (indentured labourers), African (African slaves) and Mayan (descendents of the indigenous people). The society was thus divided by race and class, especially as skin colour was a factor that influenced economic and social freedom and standing. Religion was also an element of social division since each cultural group kept to their traditional religious practices and did not easily adapt to those that were being enforced by their European superiors.
Belize City is located in the Belize District, is divided into the Northside and the Southside, and has 10 political divisions. The main areas within the city are connected by three main bridges such as the Belchina Bascule Bridge, the Belcan Bridge and the Swing Bridge, situated at North Front Street and Market and Market Square. In addition to Haulover Creek, there are the Burdon and Collet Canal, which are all found in the southern part of Belize City.
Belize City has a population of about 70,000. Belize City has two major airports, namely, the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport and the Belize City Municipal Airport. The Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport is situated in Ladyville, the largest village in Belize, about half an hour away from Belize City and was named after Philip Stanley Wilberforce Goldson, who was a prominent figure in Belize’s newspaper editing, activism and politics. He died on October 3, 2001. The Belize Municipal Airport is roughly one mile away from Belize City and mainly offers scheduled flight services to the various cayes that are not easily reached by boat. The two main carriers that operate from the Belize City Municipal Airport are the Maya Airways and Tropic Air.
The Maya Airways began operating in 1962 and replaced British Honduras Airways, which was a subsidiary of British West Indies Airways (BWIA), and provides flights to main island attachment or cayes of Belize: Ambergis Caye, Caye Caulker, Placencia, Punta Gorda, Caye Chapel, Savannah and Dangriga. Tropic Air also flies to the different cayes found off the Belizean coast and also flies into the Belize International and Kanantik.