The capital, a busy commercial city of about 65,000 people (one-third of the island's population), wraps around sheltered Castries Bay. Morne Fortune rises sharply to the south, creating a dramatic green backdrop. The charm of Castries lies in its liveliness rather than its architecture, since four fires between 1796 and 1948 destroyed most of the colonial buildings. Freighters (exporting bananas, coconut, cocoa, mace, nutmeg, and citrus fruits) and cruise ships come and go frequently, making Castries Harbour one of the Caribbean's busiest ports. Pointe Seraphine is a duty-free shopping complex on the north side of the bay, about a 20-minute walk or two-minute cab ride from the city center; a launch ferries passengers across the harbor when cruise ships are in port. Pointe Seraphine's attractive Spanish-style architecture houses more than 20 duty-free shops, a tourist information kiosk, and a taxi stand. La Place Carenage, on the south side of the harbor near the pier and
markets, is another duty-free shopping complex with a dozen or more shops and a café. Derek Walcott Square, a green oasis bordered by Brazil, Laborie, Micoud, and Bourbon streets, honors the hometown poet who won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature—one of two Nobel laureates from St. Lucia (the late Sir W. Arthur Lewis won the 1979 Nobel in economics). Some of the few 19th-century buildings that survived fire, wind, and rain can be seen on Brazil Street, the square's southern border. On the Laborie Street side, there's a huge, 400-year-old samaan (monkeypod) tree with leafy branches that shade a good portion of the square. Directly across Laborie Street from Derek Walcott Square is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which was built in 1897. Though it's rather somber on the outside, colorful murals by St. Lucian artist Dunstan St. Omer decorate the interior walls. The murals were reworked prior to the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1985. The church has an active parish and is open daily for both public viewing and religious services.
Castries, Castries Quarter, St. Lucia