Belize City Feature
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The Maya had long had small fishing camps—but no large cities—near the present-day site of Belize City, but they abandoned the area in the 1600s. A few English adventurers and pirates then established camps at the mouth of the Belize River and on cayes just offshore. They began cutting logwood, which was valued in Europe as a source of black dyes. In the 1700s the Bay Settlement, as it was called, received influxes of new British settlers, termed Baymen, and African slaves from Jamaica.
Spain claimed Belize as a minor backwater of its New World domain, but Spain's influence dwindled after some of its Navy ships were defeated by a ragtag group of Baymen in 1798 at the Battle of St. George's Caye, 9 mi (15 km) off Belize City. Belize Town, as it was then called, became the main export center for logwood, and, later, mahogany. Belize City became the capital of the British colony of British Honduras in 1892, and by 1904 its population had grown to about 10,000.
Belize was one of Pax Britannia's most neglected colonies. The British, who were usually generous in such matters, left little of either great beauty or interest in their former colony's capital. Belize City's rough reputation began after two devastating hurricanes caused authorities to move the capital to Belmopan.
Press accounts of street crime made Belize City sound like south-central Los Angeles, though it was never as bad. In 1995 a Tourism Police unit was created to help cut down on crime, and officers on foot or bicycle patrol are now a familiar sight. To make getting around the city easier, roads were resurfaced and traffic lights were installed. More and more colonial buildings were restored, making the Fort George area an increasingly pleasant place to stay. Casino gaming was legalized.
The city now gets around 600,000 cruise-ship passengers annually. Late 2001 saw the unveiling of a cruise-ship terminal and shopping area called Fort Point Tourism Village, and Carnival Cruise Lines announced plans to build a new US$50 million terminal in the Port Loyola area, but if and when this will be completed is a matter of speculation.
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