Uncommon Attraction: Citadelle Laferrière, Haiti
Looks straight out of Transylvania, doesn’t it? A grim and imposing stone fortress topping a sheer mountain peak shrouded in part by ominous clouds, the image embodies so many familiar Halloween themes.
This, however, is in the Caribbean. Haiti, to be exact. And though there’s nothing particularly scary about this spot, fright fans may be interested to know of the blood that’s helped to keep the foundation solid for close to 200 years…
Before we get to the blood, let’s properly introduce The Citadelle Laferrière. The massive stone fortress was constructed in the early 1800’s as part of a network of fortifications designed to safeguard what was then the newly independent Republic of Haiti from its former colonial masters, the French. It sits atop Bonnet a L’Eveque mountain (elevation: 3,000 feet), about 17 miles south of Cap-Haïtien and five miles uphill from the town of Milot.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982, Citadelle Laferrière is distinguished as the largest fortress in all of the Americas, which of course, makes it one of the more popular tourist attractions in Haiti.
It took some 20,000 Haitians close to 20 years to build this place, and no wonder – it’s HUGE!
Those walls soar a good 130 feet up from the top of Bonnet a L’Eveque, while the whole complex stretches over 180,000 square feet! Back in the day The Citadelle was fortified with 365 cannons of varying sizes, and despite its inland location, sight lines extending as far as Cuba (approximately 90 miles away), ensured that the Haitians would easily be able to detect and prepare for any invaders long before they hit the coast.
I’ve not visited Citadelle Laferrière (remember my one and so far only trip to Haiti?), but as you can probably tell, I’m dying to go! From what I’ve read, just getting here is an adventure unto itself. Making your way to Milot is one thing, but once there it’s recommended you hook up with a local guide as the seven mile trail from the town to the fortress is sometimes compromised by landslides or construction. A 4WD vehicle will get you most of the way, but the last 1/4 of the way you should be ready to hoof it, either with your own hoofs or aboard a horse, which you can rent back in Milot.
The view from the Citadelle must just be spectacular, and I can’t imagine all the amazing legends and stories I might hear from locals along the way up the trail. Certainly I’ll want to get some more insight into the blood in the foundation thing I alluded to before. From Wikipedia:
The large foundation stones of the fortress were laid directly into the stone of the mountaintop and fastened with a mortar mixture that included quicklime, molasses, and the blood of local cows and goats. Cows feet were also cook [sic] to a goo and added to the mortar mix which gave the mortar added strength and bonding power.
Who knows what else is in those walls, or buried behind them (this guy’s there). Just gives me one more great reason to finally get back to Haiti… Hopefully soon!