Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Citadelle Laferriere

This is the Citadelle Laferriere in Northern Haiti. I thought I would post the pics and a little background on it as Haiti has been in the news lately as a result of a massive 7.0 earthquake centered right below the capital of Port au Prince.

The Citadel was built between 1805 and 1820 by as many as 20,000 workers. It was built at the direction of Henri Christophe, who was one of the most important leaders during the Haitian slave revolt. The Citadel is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere and was awarded the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. It was built to withstand an attack by the French that never came. The site was chosen well, being several miles inland to protect from naval bombardment and sitting atop a 3,000ft mountain called Bonnet a L'Eveque. From this height it dominates the surrounding terrain and provides a lookout into the valleys that adjoin it. from the network of walkways that make up the roof, the city of Cap-Haiten and the Atlantic are visible, and on a clear day one can see the coast of Cuba, about 90 miles away.

Henri Christophe was a General in the Haitian Army and in 1806, he and Alexandre Petion instigated a coup against the Emperor of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. After Dessalines' death, the island was divided in two and Christophe declared himself King in 1811. Henri committed suicide in 1820 following a stroke and was interred in its courtyard to avoid his corpse being mutilated by his enemies.

Stacks of Cannonballs still sit in the Fortress

The Citadel's walls reach a height of 130 feet from the top of the mountain and the complex covers an area 108,000 square feet. The large foundation stones of the fortress were laid directly into the stone of the mountaintop and fastened using a mortar mixture which included quicklime, molasses, and the blood of local cows and goats. (Sounds tasty) The fortress was designed and stocked to be able to house a garrison of 5,000 troops for one year. It included a larges cistern and large warehouses for food and other supplies. The citadel also had bakeries, dungeons and sumptuous (for the time) apartments for the King and his family and retainers. It was armed with more than 365 cannons, of many different sizes and manufactures. Huge stockpiles of cannonballs are still stacked at the base of the walls.

In the event of an invasion, the plan was that the soldiers would burn the crops along the coast and then retreat to the fortress, setting ambushes along the sole mountain path leading to the Citadel. Whether this would have worked is in question as the French at the time had the world's leading artillery and military engineers, including massive mortars that could likely knock out huge chunks of the walls with each shot. By the middle nineteenth century, weapons like the Parrot gun and other large rifled artillery pieces could have very well destroyed the fortress. In effect, not long after it was built and stocked, it was obsolete. Still, it stands as a wonderful example of military architecture of the period.

The appearance of the Citadel assumes different geometric forms based on the one's point of view. It has been said that from the trail leading up to its base it resembles the prow of a ship. It is quite likely that this structure is still standing, as it was pretty far from the center of the quake and it is old enough to have withstood several other earthquakes in its time.

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