Citadelle Henry in northern Haiti is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere, and was designed to house up to 5,000 people. The citadel was constructed between 1806 and 1820, during the reign of Henry Christophe, a leader of the successful slave rebellion that led to independence from France, and self-appointed president of the new state of Haiti. The previous ruler, Jean-Jacques Dessallines, also active in the revolution, commissioned the fortress as part of a system of defensive fortifications throughout Haiti to protect the island from French retaliation. Perched at 3,000 feet (910 meters), the Citadelle Henry was the keystone of this network. The feared French attack never came, and the citadel was eventually abandoned.
The team reconstructed the upper portions of the citadel’s walls
Though never attacked by the French, the Citadelle was nonetheless badly damaged over time by the elements. World Monuments Fund focused much of its effort on protecting the structure from further water infiltration. To begin, the conservators concentrated on the iconic pentagonal turret whose massive 175-foot (53-meter) promontory and pointed lower rampart command the approach to the citadel. The roof that protected this integral part of the fortress from water damage had eroded, so the team framed a new roof of corrugated aluminum over wooden joists. Next, the team spent a year and a half planning the framing and roofing for the superstructure that was designed to protect the upper ramparts of the citadel. In order to ensure the stability and longevity of the new roofs, the team reconstructed the upper portions of the citadel’s walls. During the process, UNESCO worked with WMF to provide a French expert in nineteenth-century building techniques and conservation to train members of the local Haitian community.
After Henry Christophe’s death in 1820, the massive fortresses remained an enduring icon of Haitian independence. The conservation project has ensured that this towering structure will survive as a record of Haitian national history. The local Haitian participants actively took part in resurrecting their national icon while learning historic building techniques. After the conservation was complete, an award-winning documentary chronicling the monument and its conservation, along with an exhibition touring Haiti and the U.S., helped garner greater understanding about the importance of preserving Haitian cultural icons such as this.