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Bermudian Architecture

The typical Bermudian building is built of limestone block, usually painted white or a pastel shade, with a prominent chimney and a tiered, white-painted roof that Mark Twain likened to "icing on the cake." More than just picturesque, these features are proof that "necessity" really is "the mother of invention." Limestone, for instance, was a widely available building material—and far better able to withstand hurricane-force winds than the old English-style "wattle and daub."

The distinctive roof, similarly, was not developed for aesthetic reasons. It's part of a system that allows Bermudians to collect rainwater and store it in large tanks beneath their houses. The special white roof paint even contains a purifying agent. If your visit includes some rainy days, you may hear the expression, "Good day for the tank!" This is rooted in the fact that Bermuda has no freshwater. It relies on rain for drinking, bathing, and cooking water, as well as golf-course and farmland irrigation. So residents are careful not to waste the precious liquid. The island has never run out of water, though the supply was stretched during World War II, when thousands of U.S. soldiers were stationed in Bermuda.

"Moongates" are another interesting Bermudian structural feature, usually found in gardens and walkways around the island. These Chinese-inspired freestanding stone arches, popular since the late 18th century, are still often incorporated into new construction. Thought to bring luck, the ring-shaped gates are favored as backdrops for wedding photos.

Other architectural details you may notice are "welcoming arms" stairways, with banisters that seem to reach out to embrace you as you approach the first step, and "eyebrows" over window openings. Also look for "butteries": tiny, steep-roofed cupboards, separate from the house, and originally built to keep dairy products cool in summer. If you wonder why, in this warm climate, so many houses have fireplaces in addition to air-conditioners, come in January, when the dampness makes it warmer outside than in.

Updated: 2014-03-11

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