In late June, my mother came to visit, and we went to the historic northern city of Cap Haitien. Cap, as it is known, is still Haiti's second city, but in colonial days it was the heart and soul of the colony. Cap remains a jumping off point for two of Haiti's most important historic ruins, the Citadelle La Ferriere and the Sans Souci palace. Both the Citadelle and Sans Souci were begun in 1805 by one of Haiti's revolutionary heroes, Henri Christophe, a freedom fighter who declared himself king and reinstated slavery shortly after the end of the revolution. It's not that he was such a bad guy, right? He just wanted to kick start the economy, and the best, cheapest, and most effective way he could think of to do that was with slave labor. He had a stroke and killed himself in 1820. After King Henri's death, the Citadelle was abandoned, and nobody really bothered it until 1974 when UNESCO decided to investigate making it a World Heritage Site. The access road was built by Jean Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier in the mid-1980s, and UNESCO has continued with restorations in phases since the 1990s.
To this day, no one knows where Henri Christophe is buried, besides somewhere in the fortress grounds.
None of these cannons or weapons systems were ever used at the Citadelle because no one attacked during its time of activity. When King Henri had a stroke and killed himself in October, 1820, his army walked away from the Citadelle, and no one went back until much later. The cannons, admittedly hard to move around, were left alone and not tampered with for 150+ years.
At the base of the Citadelle's mountain, the little town of Milot plays host to visitors to both the Citadelle and the ruins of the Sans Souci palace. Henri Christophe built Sans Souci -- "No Worries" - to rival the European palaces and to make his reign feel more powerful. He killed himself in the throne room of the palace after his stroke, allegedly with a silver bullet, in 1820. The palace stood in all its imitation splendor (and it truly was splendid) until a massive earthquake hit the area in May, 1842. Sans Souci and its outbuildings were destroyed, and the rest of King Henri's legacy was finished. The earthquake did not impact the Citadelle.
Before heading back to Port-au-Prince, we wandered into town for a brief walk around the downtown. Unlike Port-au-Prince, Cap is reasonably safe for walking once you get slightly away from the main highways. Because it was such an important colonial center, Cap has some lovely buildings. Many were destroyed in the earthquake and fire of May, 1842, but the city recovered and rebuilt. Some of its former glory is still visible in the city blocks. Followers of this blog will recognize the same gingerbread style I've rhapsodized over in the past...