Haitians are very proud of their history, especially their war of independence from France. With all four of our instruments in the field recording data, today we visited the Citadel and San Souci Palace. The Citadel is a mountain top (3000 ft high) fortress atop very steep slopes, built from 1805-1820 to repel any forthcoming French invasion after achieving independence. The French never came back, maybe because of the more than 300 cannons, many of which were taken from Napoleon’s ship after he was defeated in Cap-Haitian. Our guides claimed that the bigger cannon could reach Cap-Haitien, but that is 17 miles away… Our guide also told us that it took 200,000 workers to ‘almost’ complete the building, and that 20,000 people perished during construction (that’s about 10 a day!) due to the treacherous working conditions. The Citadel was built by Henri Christophe, a key leader during the Haitian slave rebellion, after Haiti gained independence from France at the beginning of the 19th century. Our guides also told us that work stopped when Christophe died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound while lying infirmed in his San Souci palace, which he also built down slope from the Citadel. At the time of his death, Christophe ruled northern Haiti while Alexandre Pétion ruled in the south. Our Haitian guides said with pride that Christophe took his own life to unite the country under one leader. The San Souci palace was mostly destroyed in 1842 by a large earthquake on the Septentrional fault (northern Haiti). The fortress, however, was not severely damaged.
These historical sites are as grand as any we’ve seen in Europe – with one added advantage: we were the only visitors! While it is nice to basically have a fortress and palace to yourself, being the only game town led to us picking up an entourage of more than a dozen locals who saw us as a business opportunity. Our hosts were sure that we could not make the climb without riding horses. After we politely declined, the horses were led up the mountain anyway, as it was obvious to all that we would tire along the way – about a 45 minute hike to the top. The horses returned unridden. Upon our return we were inundated with locals hawking souvenirs. We bought several, though not nearly enough to satisfy the merchants.
Upon our return to the town that hosts these historical sites, Macly got into a long conversation with some of the residents. They were interested to know whether we were the people they saw on TV and heard on the radio talking about the earthquake. When this was confirmed, they expressed their sincere appreciation not only for our efforts to help them better understand the earthquake, but also for taking some time out to visit their historical sites, which they are very proud of. These kinds of encounters help us appreciate that even if our scientific investigations do little to change the realities of life in this earthquake prone country, our mere presence and efforts are meaningful to the Haitians.
Andy and Sarah