The hilltop fortress of King Henri I, built at the time of his rule in 1811 as a citadel housing 10,000 soldiers.
Henri was one was one of four key generals to liberate Haiti from the French during the Haitian Revolution.
Haiti Citadelle Louis Mercier Video
The Citadelle Laferrière or, Citadelle Henri Christophe, is a large mountaintop fortress located in northern Haiti, approximately 17 miles (27 km) south of the city of Cap-Haïtien and five miles (8 km) uphill from the town of Milot.
It is the largest fortress in the Americas and was designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site in 1982—along with the nearby Sans-Souci Palace.
The massive stone structure was built by up to 20,000 workers between 1805 and 1820 as part of a system of fortifications designed to keep the newly-independent nation of Haiti safe from French incursions. The Citadel was built several miles inland, and atop the 3,000 ft (910 m) Bonnet a L’Eveque mountain, to deter attacks and to provide a lookout into the nearby valleys. Cap-Haïtien and the adjoining Atlantic Ocean are visible from the roof of the fortress. Anecdotally, it is possible to sight the eastern coast of Cuba, some 90 miles (140 km) to the west, on clear days.
The Haitians outfitted the fortress with 365 cannon of varying size. Enormous stockpiles of cannonballs still sit in pyramidal stacks at the base of the fortress walls. Since its construction, the fortress has withstood numerous earthquakes, though a French attack never came.
Henri Christophe initially commissioned the fortress in 1805. At the time, Christophe was a general in the Haitian army and chief administrator of the country's northern regions. In 1806, along with co-conspirator Alexandre Pétion, Christophe launched a coup against Haiti's emperor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Dessalines's death led to a power struggle between Christophe and Pétion, which ended with Haiti divided into northern and southern compartments, with the north under Christophe's presidency by 1807. He declared himself king in 1811.
*The Citadel was part of a system of fortifications that included Fort Jacques and Fort Alexandre, built on the mountains overlooking Port-au-Prince. Dessalines ordered those forts built in 1805 to protect the new nation against French attacks.
In the event of an invasion, Christophe planned to have his military burn the valuable crops and food stocks along the coast, then retreat to the fortress, setting ambushes along the sole mountain path leading to the Citadel.
Christophe suffered a stroke in 1820, and some of his troops mutinied. Shortly afterwards, he committed suicide, according to legend, by shooting himself with a silver bullet. Loyal followers covered his body in quicklime and entombed it in one of the Citadel's interior courtyards to prevent others from mutilating the corpse.
The walls of the fortress itself rise up 130 feet (40 m) from the mountaintop, and the entire complex, including cannonball stocks, yet excluding the surrounding grounds, covers an area of 108,000 square feet (10,000 m2). 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.
Large cisterns and storehouses in the fortress's interior were designed to store enough food and water for 5,000 defenders for up to one year. The fortress included palace quarters for the king and his family, in the event that they needed to take refuge within its walls. Other facilities included dungeons, bathing quarters, and bakery ovens. The Citadel's appearance from the trail leading up to its base has been likened to the prow of a great stone ship, jutting out from the mountainside. The structure is angular, and assumes different geometric forms based on the viewer's orientation. Though most of the fortress has no roof as such (the interior top is a latticework of stone walkways), some slanted portions are adorned with bright red tiles. The fortress has been repaired and refurbished several times since its construction, including in the 1980s with help from UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund, though little of it has been replaced, and its design remains the same.
Visitors are encouraged to rent a horse for the uphill trek. The first portion of the seven-mile (11 km) trail is navigable by 4WD vehicle. The entire seven-mile-trail starting in Milot, almost completely uphill, can be walked by experienced hikers who carry plenty of water. Most of the interior of the Citadel fortress itself is accessible to visitors, who may also climb the numerous staircases to the fortress's roof, which is free of guardrails. On a clear day, the city of Cap Haitien and the Atlantic Ocean can be seen to the north.