Where: Parc National Historique, Cap-Haitien, Haiti, Caribbean
When: Early 19th century constructed fortress
History: the work of a Mad King and site of the mass suicide of soldiers and slaves
An imposing fortress, the Citadelle in Haiti’s Parc National Historique La Citadelle sits 3500 ft on top of a mountain, overlooking the city of Cap-Haitien. Seeped in scandal and superstition, a quick look at the Citadelle’s stats highlight just some of the unusual facts of this ‘eighth wonder of the world’.
History of the Mad King
Built in the early 1800’s it took fifteen years to finish construction of this fortress of thirteen feet (four metres) thick walls, some reaching 130 ft (40 metres) in height! Construction was no mean feat either, up to 20 000 slaves worked on the Citadelle with a reported 10,000 dying from exhaustion during the task.
Even once complete, the Citadelle remained shrouded in mystery and scandal. When important dignitaries came to visit the King Henri Cristof, he used to line up a few of his soldiers and make them march over the edge of the Citadelle, plunging to their death just to show how brave they were. The Haiti people hold a widespread belief in the supernatural and numerous stories tell of the ‘mad king’ Henri’s ghost walking the Citadelle.
Visiting the Citadelle Today
To visit the Citadelle, you can leave from the town of Sans Souci, walking up the two miles (3.5 km) path, which leads you to the Citadelle parking lot. The fort is a mile further up steep terrain. For these reasons, and to escape the heat and haze of the afternoon it can be best to visit the Citadelle in the morning.
Don’t forget to bring some bottled water, or be prepared to pay inflated prices to buy water at the parking lot. The Parc National Historique La Citadelle is filled with many vendors and unofficial guides who are quite persistent with their offers. It may be worth hiring a guide, simply to avoid the touts and enjoy the history of this spectacular monument in peace.
‘Haiti’s Turbulent Birth Haunts Crumbling Fortress’ by Douglas Farar
Read up on the importance of the Citadelle to the Haitian people
Marvin T Jones & Associates – commercial photography
Look at stunning photos of the Citadelle and its recent restorations
By Lorna Musgrove