By Marion Ali, Staff Reporter
Belmopan – the nation’s capital, turned 45 years-old on Saturday.
The “new” capital, or Garden City, as it is called, came about after Hurricane Hattie in 1961 destroyed 75 percent of the wooden houses and businesses in Belize City.
Belmopan now has a population of over 20,000 – the smallest capital city in the continental Americas by population, It is the third-largest settlement in Belize, after Belize City and San Ignacio. It was founded in 1970, and is one of the newest national capital cities in the world.
Since 2000, Belmopan has been one of two settlements in Belize to hold official city status, along with Belize City. It is located just east of the Belize River, 50 miles inland from Belize, in the Cayo District and has an altitude of 249 feet above sea level.
The government was moved to Belmopan in 1970. Its National Assembly Building is designed to resemble a Pre-Columbian Maya temple.
After Hurricane Hattie, the government, headed by then Premier George Price, proposed the building of a new capital city on better terrain, that would entail no costly reclamation of land, and would provide for an industrial area. In 1962, a committee chose the site now known as Belmopan, 51 miles west of the old capital of Belize City.
Since Belize was a British colony (known as British Honduras) in 1964, Mr. Price led a delegation to London to seek funds to finance the new capital. Although they were not ready to commit to funding such a large project, the British government showed interest, due to the logic of locating the capital on high ground, safe from tidal waves. To encourage financial commitment from the British government, Premier Price and the PUP government invited Anthony Greenwood, Secretary of State for the Commonwealth and Colonies, to visit Belize. One of the highlights of this visit was the unveiling of a monument at mile 49 on the Western Highway. The monument records that Lord Greenwood dedicated the site for the new capital on October 9,1965.
The name chosen for the new capital, Belmopan, is derived from the union of two words: “Belize”, the name of the longest river in the country, and “Mopan”, one of the rivers in this area, which empties into the Belize River. The initial estimated cost for building this new city was $40 million Belize, but only 20 million Belize dollars were available.
In 1967, work began – the first phase of the new city was completed in 1970 at a cost of $24 million Belize dollars.
From 1970 to 2000 the administration of Belmopan was managed by the Reconstruction and Development Corporation, known as “Recondev.” Recondev was vested with the power and authority to provide, or cause to be provided, the municipal functions necessary for the smooth running of the city’s business and infrastructure.