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Haiti: Citadelle La Ferrière

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Citadelle La Ferrière | Haiti | Americas

[Visited: July 2007]

We were determined not to take any guide, and also to walk all the way up to the Citadelle, before we arrived. As we entered Milot, the starting point of the path to the Citadelle, two men came on the bus who approached us to convince us that going without a guide was impossible, and that it was way too far to walk. Once we got rid of them, we still faced more guides offering their services and horses, our best response was a polite thank you, while we walked on. To be honest, the morning sun was burning on our back and we were sweating it out as the climb is steep mostly in the beginning, from the Palace Sans-Souci in Milot. Once we got a little higher and the trickle of guides had dried up behind us, we went a little slower and took some breaks to drink; we were very thirsty. A little higher, women emerged from their huts trying to sell us all kinds of self-made jewellery. We ate the mangoes we had harvested that morning from a tree right out of our room in Cap Haïtien, and took a drink for the last stretch. The drink vendor tried to convince us that we had "a serious problem" and definitely needed a guide as the last stretch was "very dangerous".

Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Citadelle la Ferrière with piles of cannonballs

We declined, and it proved to be the best stretch, furthermore, offering great views of the Citadelle. It rose like a magnificent ship high above us, docked forever on the top of the mountain. Once up on the roof of the Citadelle, we sat down and read about the history, which, in fact, is amazing. When Henri Christophe ruled the northern part of Haiti, he wanted to build a solid protective castle against the French whom, he was convinced, would attack again in an attempt to retake the colony they had lost in the slave revolution. He chose the top of a mountain, at around 900 metres, and ordered a massive defensive structure to be built. After our climb up, we could well imagine the hardship involved in constructing this enormous building. In fact, Henri Christophe shot himself with a silver bullet in the year the Citadelle la Ferrière was finished - some say, in the Citadelle itself, to avoid facing the revolt that was being raised against him.

Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Sharply defined wall of the Citadelle la Ferrière

The structure is very impressive, it dominates the entire top of the mountain; with massive walls that are up to 4 metres thick and 40 metres high, it was impenetrable and invincible. However, it was never put to the test, since the French never came back to reconquer Haiti (instead, Haiti had to pay an astronomical sum of money for indemnity). Still, the masterpiece of Citadelle la Ferrière, the largest fortress of the western hemisphere, had taken 15 years to complete, by 20.000 workers - many of whom died in the effort. It was designed to hold food stocks for 5000 people for one year, and included special rooms for the king, as well as dungeons, bakeries and bathing facilities. We were overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and feeling of history of this monstrous fortress, as well as feeling sorry for the poor Haitians who lost their lives in its construction. But what a unique beauty it is! No wonder that Haitians call it the 8th wonder of the world.

Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Citadelle la Ferrière looming over the footpath leading up to it
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Southern side of the Citadelle la Ferrière: cannons
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Citadelle la Ferrière dominating the hill
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Ready for action but never used: cannons in the Citadelle la Ferrière
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Detailof cannon in the Citadelle la Ferrière
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): View from the Citadelle la Ferrière
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Close-up of cannonballs of Citadelle la Ferrière
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Path leading up to the Citadelle la Ferrière
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Walls of the Citadelle la Ferrière are massive as shown here
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Cannon of the Citadelle la Ferrière: ready for the enemy
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Detail of the roof of the Citadelle la Ferrière
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Citadelle la Ferrière has plenty of rusty cannonballs
Picture of Citadelle La Ferrière (Haiti): Tree with cannonballs at the foot of Citadelle la Ferrière

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