Cap-Haitien & Milot, North, Haiti

From now I make it a point of discovering at least one new place in Haiti every time I go. The last place I visited was the city of Cap-Haitien as well as the National Historic Park in Milot which includes the Palais Sans-souci and the famous Unesco Wolrd Heritage site: the Citadelle Laferrière.

Getting to the city was quite a feat: once you go through the city of Gonaives, the road can be quite tedious, especially when on the slopes of the morne Pilboro a bit before Cap-Haitien.What I always try to reflect on is how a traveler goes through places and from a point A to a point B in Haiti, and most importantly the experience he or she will remember.

For my experience, the lack of road signs made the travel quite frustrating. Yes asking locals and getting lost can be part of the experience, but at what point does the lack of touristic infrastructure and guidance can be too much? With the Carnival being now displaced more often to Haiti’s second largest city (that is Cap-Haitien) I hope there will be more awareness and actions on how we think about our point of entries, road signs, and other circulation tools and infrastructure.

On a better note, the Citadelle Laferrière was a delight to visit.

“The Citadelle Laferrière or, Citadelle Henry Christophe, or simply the Citadelle (in English, spelled Citadel), is a large mountaintop fortress 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 mountaintop fortress has itself become an icon of Haiti. The Citadel was built byHenri Christophe, a key leader during the Haitian slave rebellion, after Haiti gained independence from France at the beginning of the 19th century.”

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In other words, it’s our most important architectural heritage. From Milot, there is a clear touristic point of entry for informations, paying fees for access the monument, buying souvenirs (whose authenticity were questionable I am sorry to say) and partnering with a guide. For our greatest pleasure and thirst for history learning, we first wandered in the Palais Sans-Souci where it is said that the King Henri-Christophe, who ordered the construction of these monuments, took his own life away. Then we started going up the trail on horses.

I must admit my heart began to pound in my chest getting there. I was about to see the biggest most important monument in Haiti, built by slaves who defeated the French Empire in the 19th century! The first glimpse didn’t disappoint: the building stands tall and proud, strangely ressembling the prow of a ship on a calm sea, protecting and watching out for the country. The more I approached, the more I became aware of the scale of this symbol: 20 000 workers helped build it.

All images of the property of Isabelle Alice Jolicoeur.

First glimpse of the Citadelle.

Getting into the monument, we are guided through the different quarters and being informed of the hundreds of cannons and strategic design. What I was most impressed of (apart from the facts I mentioned above) was the integrated cooling system which allowed water from the top of the mountain to flow into gutters thus lowering the temperature all the way to the Palais Sans-souci (8km downhill).

As I was standing on the highest point in the Citadelle, more than the 900m separating me from the ground, I was overwhelmed by the two-centuries-old splendor and testimony of our heritage.

Isabelle A. Jolicoeur

08/08/2013

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For more images, please visit the Okap gallery here.