The Bahamas is younger than you might think, at least as an independent entity. This chain of islands turned 42 Friday, having gained independence from Great Britain in 1973. The chain of islands, southeast of Florida and northeast of Cuba, is renowned to many mainly as a Spring Break and tourist destination. Far fewer are likely to be aware of its colorful history and development, before it grew famous for its picturesque getaways and throbbing nightlife. In honor of the islands' Independence Day, here are 10 key facts about this popular vacation destination.
1. In 1783, the British Empire declared the islands a colony. In 1964, the Bahamian government gained self-governance, and on July 10, 1973 became independent.
2. In 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed on San Salvador, one of the islands in the Bahamas, 40,000 Lucayan Indians were the local inhabitants. The Spanish raided the islands, taking the Lucayans and enslaving them. By the time the British arrived and began to settle the islands in 1647, they were uninhibited.
3. The Bahamas consist of a collection of roughly 700 islands, islets and cays.
4. It wasn't until the 20th century that the country's economic development finally began to enjoy any consistency, during Prohibition in the United States and then with the advent of tourism. In the centuries prior, the island's fortunes fluctuated, often with the wars of the times, such as the prosperity it gained when some British loyalists fled to the islands after the American Revolution and established cotton plantations there.
5. The islands are home to 321,834 inhabitants, the vast majority of whom live in Nassau, the capital, according to the CIA World Factbook.
6. English is the official language, but Creole is often spoken among Haitian immigrants.
7. Every year, 6 million Americans flock to its white sand beaches and pristine waters, according to the U.S. State Department.
8. The proper adjective to describe the country and its inhabitants is "Bahamian." The country's full and official name is the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
9. In the 1600s and 1700s, the Bahamas were a base for many pirates, including Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, and Sir Henry Morgan, meaning that the possibility of discovering buried treasure there is not entirely fantastical.
10. The islands' head of state is still Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.