Charming Charleston

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Story and photos by Diane Slawych – “Y’all probably didn’t know that Charleston sits on the second most active earthquake fault line in North America,” explains guide Stephen Rosling of the Old South Carriage Company. “We don’t put that on Trip Advisor,” he jokes. “The city thrives off tourism and we want y’all to come here.”

Some of the historic homes in CharlestonIt wouldn’t have mattered. My friend and I had read so many glowing reviews about the city we were determined to visit, even though we only had a weekend and had already booked our hotel in Myrtle Beach ­ a two-hour drive away.

Our Belgian draft horse “Tom” leads the way passed pastel-coloured mansions with elaborate wrought iron gates on streets lined with stately live oak trees. Here, gas lamps are lit 24/7, which Rosling says, gives the city a beautiful ambiance at night. I inhale the scent of jasmine flowers filling the spring air. It’s hard to imagine Charleston has not always been a picture of beauty and tranquility.

The city has survived wars (the Civil War started here), several great fires, earthquakes and hurricanes. Through it all, it has managed to become one of the top travel destinations in the U.S.

A horse and carriage ride through the city

One of the worst disasters was the big earthquake of 1886, which damaged 2,000 buildings, though it didn’t destroy the Old Powder Magazine ­ South Carolina’s oldest public building which also happens to have three-foot-thick walls, or the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, considered one of the most historically significant colonial buildings in the U.S.

Today you can see earthquake bolts (some of which resemble circular discs) on the outside of many historic homes. The bolts are caps for long iron rods, which run through the interior floors and are cranked regularly to straighten walls and correct other structural damage.

There is history at every turn ­ a graveyard on Meeting Street with headstones dating to the 1690s; the old jail, which resembles a castle, and is said to be the most haunted building in Charleston; and the Old Slave Mart Museum, located in a building where slaves were once bought and sold (forty percent of all slaves that came to the U.S. came through Charleston).

“If there’s one thing you should learn on this tour it’s that during the Civil War, Charleston was bombed by the north for 578 days straight,” said Rosling, as we pass Chalmers Street, the city’s longest cobblestone street.

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