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Historic Lighthouses of The Bahamas

Date of Submission: 09/11/2015
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
The Bahamas National Commission for UNESCO
Ref.: 6070

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Elbow Reef, Hope Town, Abaco, Bahamas               26 31 59          76 57 41

Elbow Cay (Cay Sal), Bahamas                                 23 42               80 24

Hole in the Wall, Abaco, Bahamas                            25 51 43          77 11 59

Gun Cay, Bimini, Bahamas                                        25 34 13          79 17 51

San Salvador, Bahamas                                             24 5 51            74 27 11

Great Isaac, Bimini, Bahamas                                    26 1 42            79 5 20

Cay Lobos, Bahamas                                                 22 24               77 32

Great Stirrup Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas               25 49 23          77 54 23

Castle Island, Bahamas                                             22 7 33            74 19 41

Inagua, Bahamas                                                       20 56 3            73 40 25

Bird rock, Crooked Island, Bahamas                          22 51               74 22

Being nominated are eleven lighthouses constructed by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service (ILS) between 1836 and 1887.  Prior, wrecks abounded throughout The Bahamas in the nineteenth century and concerned shipping interests implored the British to increase navigational aids in the colony. Although designed by Trinity House in England, these lightstations were built and manned by the hands of local British subjects, the ancestors of present-day Bahamians.  It has remained their daily job to keep international shipping safely off the reefs and sandbanks. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, the ILS updated all of the lightstations so that each had a Fresnel lens, a Chance Brothers mercury bath turning mechanism, and a mantle burning Hood Petroleum Vapor burner. Semi-annual inspection trips were made to each station by the ILS inspector from his home base in Nassau.

The ILS continued to manage the overall maintenance of the lighthouses until Bahamian independence in 1973. While it was the keepers’ job to maintain the lights every night, the ILS performed inspections, authorized and sent crews to supervise all major repairs and painting of the towers, lantern rooms and keepers’ quarters.

At independence, oversight for the lighthouses passed to the Bahamas Port Department and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. Eight of these eleven lights were automated to solar and battery power between 1973 and 1995. An additional lighthouse was automated in June 2012. All Fresnel lenses and burners were either destroyed or removed to Nassau as were some of the clock-work turning mechanisms. No remote monitoring systems were installed in the lighthouses at this time.

The Elbow Reef Lighthouse

The Elbow Reef Lighthouse, located on Elbow Cay, west of the harbour at Hope Town, Abaco, was erected in 1864 and is still active today.  The tower is 89 feet high and there are 101 steps up to the lantern room.  It emits five white flashes every 15 seconds at 120 feet above sea level, with a visibility of 15 nautical miles.  It is equipped with a revolving first order Fresnel lens, round masonry with lantern and gallery.  The lighthouse is painted with horizontal red and white bands while the lantern is painted with a grey metallic dome.  This is probably the most visited lighthouse in The Bahamas.

Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse

Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse is located on the Southern tip of Great Abaco.  It was erected in 1836 and is still active today.  The name  Hole-in-the-Wall referred to a limestone arch at land’s end near the lighthouse.  This lighthouse is one of the best examples of old-style British lighthouse architecture in the New World.  It is not the first lighthouse built in the country, but it was the first to be built in The Bahamas by the Imperial Lighthouse Service.  The red and white tower stands at 77 feet and 168 feet above sea level. As late as 1995, it was still fuelled by kerosene and lit every night by resident keepers. The lighthouse was automated in 1995.

Great Isaac Lighthouse

The Great Isaac Lighthouse is located 18 miles north of the Bimini archipelago.  It was erected in 1859. It has a 137 foot round cast iron tower with lantern and gallery, painted white.  

Great Stirrup Cay Lighthouse

The Great Stirrup Cay Lighthouse is located at the Northern end of the Berry Islands.  It was erected in 1863 and is still active today.  The lighthouse is a 17 m (56 ft) round stone or brick tower with lantern and gallery, painted white.

San Salvador Island Lighthouse

The San Salvador Island Lighthouse is located at Dixon Hill, San Salvador, which is the highest point on the island at the north-eastern side of the island.  It was erected in 1887 and is still active today.  It is a 22 m (72 ft) round tapered brick tower with lantern and gallery, painted white.  The lighthouse is fuelled by kerosene and refuelled, by hand every 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Bird Rock Lighthouse

The Bird Rock Lighthouse, Crooked Island, was constructed in 1976.  It has a 30.5 m (100 ft) round tower with lantern and gallery, painted white.

Castle Island Lighthouse

The Castle Island Lighthouse is located off the southwest tip of Acklins Island.  The lighthouse was constructed in 1868. It has a first order Fresnel lens a 34 m (112 ft) round brick tower with lantern and gallery, painted white.

Cay Sal Lighthouse

The Cay Sal lighthouse is located on Elbow Cay, at the western end of the Cay Sal Bank about 80 km (50 miles) off the Cuban coast and 130 km (80 mi) southeast of Key West, Florida.  The lighthouse was constructed in 1839 and marked the southern entrance to the Florida Straits from the Gulf of Mexico. The tower stands at 60 feet. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1934

Cay Lobos Lighthouse

The lighthouse at Cay Lobos ordered by the British colonial authorities and completed in 1869. Its round cast iron tower stands at 45 m (148 ft), with lantern and gallery, painted white.  The tiny cay is, a famous hazard to navigation, is located in the Old Bahama Channel only 50 kilometers (30 miles) off the north coast of Cuba, but it is owned by The Bahamas. For lighthouse keepers, it was the most isolated posting in The Bahamas. Today the light is automated and solar powered.

Southwest Point Lighthouse

The lighthouse at Inagua is located at the south-western tip of Great Inagua near Matthew Town.  It was constructed in 1870. It is a round masonry tower that stands at 34 m (112 ft) with lantern and gallery painted white. The lighthouse is fuelled by kerosene and turned by hand-cranked mechanism.

Gun Cay

The lighthouse at Gun Cay was erected in 1836. It is located at the south end of Gun Cay, which is less than 10 miles south of Bimini.  The 77 foot round old-style stone tower is surmounted by a short square pyramidal skeletal tower. The upper half is painted red and the lower half white.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

For over 150 years, British Imperial Lighthouse Service lights have been a constant in Bahamian maritime history. They are sources of pride and visible symbols of the unique heritage of a maritime nation as well as the nation’s colonial past.

There are only a few of these hand-wound kerosene-burning lighthouses left in the world and they are found in The Bahamas.

The selected lighthouses were all originally built by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service (ILS) between 1836 and 1887. The lighthouses were built and manned by the hands of local British subjects, the ancestors of present-day Bahamians.  It has remained their daily job to keep international shipping safely off the reefs and sandbanks.

These lighthouses embody the nation’s rich cultural and historical past, playing a crucial role in the development of The Bahamas and surrounding colonies.

Criterion (iii):  The extensive placement of imperial lighthouses throughout the Bahamian archipelago is testimony to the use of lighthouses in antiquity and to The Bahamas as a maritime nation.  The lighthouses are proof of the continuity of the Bahama Channels as shipping lanes and routes by all nations in and out of the New World.

Prior to the installation of lighthouses throughout the Bahama Islands by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service, wrecking was a cultural tradition that defined the way of life in the Bahamas during the 18th and 19th centuries.  This tradition and economic industry, as it has been defined, atrophied with the installation of the lighthouses. The testimony of this tradition, in the form of the lighthouses themselves, is their memorial.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The authenticity of the 11 properties is attested in form and design, location and setting, spirit and feeling.

The architectural integrity of the majority of the properties, in the sense of a structurally complete building, and its functional integrity are satisfactory. The properties have required numerous renovations over the years and nine of the eleven lighthouses have been automated in recent years.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Tower of Hercules, Spain, is the only lighthouse represented on the World Heritage list to date.  It is the only fully preserved Roman lighthouse that is still used for maritime signalling, hence it is testimony to the elaborate system of navigation in antiquity and it provides an understanding of the Atlantic sea rout in Western Europe. As with the imperial lighthouses of the Bahamas, it is nominated under criteria iii, as testimony to the use of lighthouses in antiquity.