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What is Citadelle Laferriere?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Citadelle Laferriere is an enormous fortress on top of a mountain in Haiti. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1982. The site is located a few miles from the town of Milot, in the northern part of Haiti. The World Heritage Site also includes the Palace of Sans Souci and the structures at Ramiers.

Citadelle Laferriere is the largest fortress in the Western hemisphere, and is a site well worth visiting, even if it is a bit out of the way. The Citadelle Laferriere stands atop Bonnet a L’Eveque, a 3000 foot (900m) mountain, miles off of the coast. From this peak, a great deal of Haiti is visible. The city of Cap-Haitien, more than 17 miles (27km) away, can be seen, as can the ocean. In fact, it is said that on a clear day one can see the coast of Cuba, more than 90 miles (145km) away, from the Citadelle Laferriere.

Mules can be hired to bring people to Citadelle Laferriere.
Mules can be hired to bring people to Citadelle Laferriere.

During the French Revolution, Haiti experienced a great deal of political and social upheaval. The nation went into revolt against their French rulers near the end of the 18th century. When Napoleon took power, he tried to retake the island, ultimately failing. Independence was declared on New Years Day of 1804, and slavery was abolished, making it the first nation in the Western hemisphere to abolish the practice.

The threat of the French retaking the island led to the construction of Citadelle Laferriere, as a place for the government to retreat to should it become necessary, and to spy any approaching invasion force. More than 20,000 workers undertook its construction, which took more than a decade. The Citadelle Laferriere was one of a number of structures built at the time to protect Haiti from a possible French invasion, which also included Fort Alexandre and Fort Jacques. The efficacy of Citadelle Laferriere was never tested, however, as a French attack never arrived, and a treaty was in fact signed between France and Haiti in 1825.

The fortress itself is equipped with more than 350 cannons, and copious amounts of cannonballs are stacked in gigantic pyramids around the compound. The walls are more than 130 feet (40m) tall, and Citadelle Laferriere covers an enclosed area of some 108,000 sq. ft (10,000 sq. m) or roughly two and a half acres. The foundations of Citadelle Laferriere are embedded straight into the stone of the mountain, deep below the dirt.

In the event of an invasion, the theory behind the Citadelle Laferriere was that the Haitians would burn the surrounding farmland and flee into the citadel for protection. The storehouses and cisterns inside Citadelle Laferriere are build to hold enough food and drink for over 5,000 people for a full year.

The Citadelle Laferriere is without a doubt the most popular historical attraction in Haiti, and has become a sort of national icon. Guides can be hired in the nearby town, and mules can also be hired to help with the arduous climb to the top of the mountain. These days, Citadelle Laferriere is often nearly empty as well, because of the turmoil in the central part of Haiti, but the surrounding region and the citadel itself are relatively peaceful.

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    • Mules can be hired to bring people to Citadelle Laferriere.
      By: chiarafornasari
      Mules can be hired to bring people to Citadelle Laferriere.