The Citadelle Laferrière is part of Haiti’s National History Park, inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1982. Photo: SPC Gibran Torres, US Army
Situated atop a mountain in northern Haiti, the Citadelle Laferrière is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere, one of Haiti’s greatest national symbols. Built at the start of the 19th century by Henri Christophe, a key leader during the Haitian slave rebellion, the citadel was most recently restored in the 1980s when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since then, however, the landmark has fallen into a state of disrepair, requiring emergency reinforcements.
After visiting the citadel last week, President Michel Martelly criticized the National Institute for Historic Preservation (ISPAN) — the organization tasked with preserving Haiti’s cultural heritage sites — calling their efforts “unacceptable.” Martelly had intended to fully assess the site to see what needs to be done to revitalize it, but after examining the citadel from the ground he refused to visit its upper levels, deeming them unsafe for visitors.
“Those responsible do not have a plan for the Citadel. They don’t have a plan to protect, to manage it, or to make better,” Martelly said in a radio interview. “To the contrary, their plan is ‘everyone gets what they can and this thing, it can fall apart, that doesn’t bother me.’ That’s what I see here. I’m simply not happy.”
The president’s comments illuminated the growing divide between his government’s office and ISPAN, which, according to Martelly, “say they need money for the citadel and [then] don’t do anything.” His concern for the site itself focused specifically on the vegetation growing in and around the walls, including “trees pushing their way into the Citadel” and “up from the ground.”
In recent years, GHF has been investigating the Citadelle Laferrière as part of a multi-year project of historic monument conservation, community development, training and cultural heritage revitalization. The project would focus on both the citadel and the Sans-Souci Palace, a ruined site once known as the “Versailles of the Caribbean,” but which today is sinking into the ground as a result of poor drainage.
Today, less than 1,000 paying visitors come to the citadel annually, despite it being one of the most important historic sites in Latin America. With the recent nearby construction of a large cruise ship dock, the site has excellent potential as a sustainable, long-term economic source. But before it can safely open to the public, both the citadel and palace are in need of emergency structural and safety work, monument conservation and maintenance.
Click here to visit National History Park - Citadel, Sans Souci, Ramiers on GHN