I spent the Christmas holidays strolling through SoHo, hailing cabs on Broadway and taking in the elaborate window displays down 5th Avenue. It was the eve of the New Year and the new decade, and I was feeling hopeful about what 2020 would bring. I was also feeling particularly proud of myself for having cleverly paired my New York trip with a quick jaunt to Bermuda. Culminating my vacation with my feet covered in pink sand was the gift I was most eager to unwrap.
And it was as glorious as I thought it would be.
I considered phoning some friends to let them know I was on the island, but Bermuda was so quiet (in comparison to the island of Manhattan) that I selfishly wanted her all to myself. I’ll catch up with them the next time I’m here, I thought as I sipped a rum swizzle and gazed at the ocean through a moon gate at the pretty-in-pink Princess Hotel.
Moon gates are circular structures that are synonymous with Bermudian architecture. Having visited Bermuda a few time before, I had surely noticed them. Yet, this time, I couldn’t get enough of them.
Over the next three days, I photographed several moon gates around Hamilton, stole a kiss inside of one, made a wish while walking through another, and even purchased a painting of moon gate at the Clocktower shops of Royal Naval Dockyard.
What was it about this little circle that surreptitiously stole my heart?
At the end of my journey, while sitting at the departure gate and thinking about my newfound appreciation for these silly circles, I managed to jot down the following note:
“Next trip to BDA, ask Colin re: moon gates.”
Colin is my brilliant friend who also happens to be an accomplished architect based in Bermuda. If anyone was going to help me understand the lure of the moon gate, it was him. As I watched the tiny island disappear from my window seat, I made a tentative plan to return to Bermuda in the late spring and convince Colin to take me on an impromptu moon gate tour around Hamilton.
But we all know what happened to our travel plans in 2020.
Instead of zooming down Front Street on a scooter, however, we settled for a Zoom virtual happy hour and I finally got to broach the subject of moon gates.
“Colin, tell me everything you know about moon gates.” To that he answered, “First tell me everything you know about moon gates.”
Admittedly, I thought I knew a lot about them because I had read an article or two online about the origin of these circular features. But, when I recited my findings, Colin shook his head in disappointment.
It turns out moon gates in Bermuda were not brought to the shores of St. George’s by pipe-smoking, white-bearded sea captains who had noticed them during their travels through Asia. Instead, it was the design of an imaginative English master gardener in the early 1920s. While his identity is difficult to ascertain, his original moon gate still stands today at the center of Hamilton’s Queens Park, the former site of the Bermudiana Hotel. This magnificent property welcomed affluent visitors arriving on first-class ship liners who would stay for a weekly rate of $1,000 (equivalent to about $16,000 in 2021).
“The circular shape was probably very fashionable at the time, and there was a push to incorporate interesting architectural designs after World War I,” Colin added.
A century later, that shape continues to be in vogue across Bermuda. Colin’s architecture firm has been responsible for quite a few moon gates. He even designed a home around an existing moon gate for a home owner who wanted an unobstructed view of the circle from his bedroom.
“Building a moon gate from Bermudian limestone can be quite the challenge if you are unfamiliar with the stone. Additionally, to support the keystone at the top, you need to provide structural support for the midsection, otherwise your circle will buckle, and your luck will run out.”
Far removed from its beginnings as an interesting garden feature, the moon gate is deeply rooted in Bermuda’s culture as an iconic symbol of good fortune and love. It is a local tradition for newlyweds to walk underneath the moon gate together, even have their wedding celebrations with these circles in the background.
“As silly as it may seem, Bermudians still like it,” Colin said. “In some ways, the moon gate represents a softer, kinder world, where anything is possible. It’s as if hope can be captured in this little circle.”
Special thanks to Colin Campbell, senior architect and director of the prestigious design firm OBM Bermuda, for sharing his insight and expertise.