While it was known to seafares on their way between the African mainland and Asia, and used to stock up on water and other supplies, Mauritius was first colonized by the Dutch. Contrary to other colonies, there were no inhabitants at the time. The Dutch constructed a fort at the port on the southeast side of the island, and called it Fort Frederik Hendrik, naming it after the stadtholder back in the Netherlands, the brother of Prince Maurice after whom the island got its name. Unlike other colonial forts which often defended against subordinate workers, the function of this fort was to protect against possible invaders from the ocean. It was therefore ironic that, in 1695, an uprising of slaves resulted in the burning of Fort Frederik Hendrik. The French would later build a new fort on top of the ruins of the old one.
Sitting on a local bus, I get off right in front of the entrance of Fort Frederik Hendrik. Before exploring the ruins, I decide to visit the museum. Opened in 1999, it does a great job at explaining the history of the fort, showing the influence of the Dutch colonialists, with quite a few interesting items on display. I found the 17th century drawing of daily life fascinating, as it offered an insight in Mauritius as it was just after it was discovered - before much of the island's original forest was taken down to make room for sugarcane plantations, with the dodo and other endemic animals still walking around. It makes you realize just how much this island has changed - indeed, it has changed considerably even since my first visit in 1999. I study the map of the ruins before heading out to explore the grounds.
Close to the museum, I find the ruins of the bakery and a small prison. A little further down, I see impressive, blackened walls standing: the remains of the fort which the French built right on top of the ruins of the burnt down Fort Frederik Hendrik. The different buildings can still be identified. At one part, where the walls are gone, I can see two different foundations in the ground: one belongs to a French building, the other to a Dutch building. The latter is therefore considered the oldest remains of any building on the island. At the seaside, I see the ruins of what once was the jetty of the fort. I walk back up, sit down under one of the pavilions, watching beautiful red birds fly around in the pleasant gardens, and then walk back towards Mahébourg. A few kilometres down the road, I stop at a monument marking the exact spot where the Dutch landed in 1598, well before the establishment of Fort Frederik Hendrik. The rest is history.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Fort Frederik Hendrik (Mauritius). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Fort Frederik Hendrik. Read more about this site.