The bicycle ride from Paramaribo to Leonsberg is easy: traffic thins out fast, and when I walk to the pier with my heavy bike, a boatman approaches me for the ride across the Suriname River. He takes me to a small pier right at the star-shaped fortified wall of Fort Nieuw Amsterdam. I cycle through the village for a first impression, then park my bike at the entrance to the open-air museum of the fort. I walk past a collection of cannons and artwork, and reach two water reservoirs. Right next to them, an information board about the sugar industry that flourished in Surinam, but that also caused the Dutch to take slaves from Africa to work at the plantations, as the aboriginals of Surinam were not strong enough to do the hard work. The region east of Fort Nieuw Amsterdam has lots of plantations of coffee, sugar and other commodities, which were established once the fort was completed, and the museum offers an insight in their history and workings.
Walking through a gate, I come to several buildings. On my left, I see an old workplace; on my right, the prison that was established in the 19th century, after the abolition of the slave trade. Some of the isolation cells can be seen, a small window high up on the wall, stark walls that must have made an impact on whomever was imprisoned here. The museum is still under repairs, and some of the cells are filled with furniture and other items, and most are quite messy. In the small hospital next door, there are exhibitions about the various groups living in Surinam: the aboriginals, people from West African origin, the maroons (escaped slaves), the whites, people from the Far East. It again makes you realize the rich diversity of the people of this relatively small country in South America. I exit the prison on the other side, see some modern art objects on the grass, and walk past aboriginal dwellings to the second powder house.
Surrounded by a pond with victoria amazonica, the largest lilies in the world, the powder house can be reached through a wooden bridge. Building of the fort was more complicated than imagined: bricks could not be baked using the local mud, and this powder house in an example. The surrounding moat and the humidity made it impossible to actually store gunpowder here. I see a seal of the West Indian Company high up on the facade of the building that only has narrow windows to protect the gunpowder. A little further on, I come across the first gunpowder house, which now holds an exhibition on Surinam during World War II. I learn that the US had 2000 soldiers stationed here, to defend the bauxite trade which was vital for the construction of their warplanes. Next door, I find several coaches, some of them used for burials, parked in a Koesthuis, or Coach house. I walk back to my bike, and cycle a narrow, grassy path over the bastions that make the five-pointed star of Fort Nieuw Amsterdam. Cycling next to the Suriname and Commewijne river, it is easy to see the strategic importance of the fort: the confluence of two big rivers with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. The museum of Fort Nieuw Amsterdam has had some serious problems, and I can only hope that this historic structure and its interesting open-air museum will be preserved for the future.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Fort Nieuw Amsterdam (). 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 Nieuw Amsterdam.
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