Sans Souci

A Special Haitian Flair
Nowhere in the Caribbean can one find such a rich, unusual and varied architecture as in Haiti. While books and magazines have celebrated the style of various other areas of the region, Haiti, as in so much else, has been largelyly overlooked. From peasant huts to castles, from colonial to gingerbread to modern, in wood, stone, and cement Haitian architecture ranges from the cute through the practical to the opulent but always with a special Haitian flair.

Preserved by a dry climate, protected by high mountains from the fury of tropical storms, and spared the worst ravages of modern development Haitian towns are an amazing collection of buildings of all ages. Imposing colonial and post colonial cathedrals and government buildings are prominent in most towns. Gingerbread style homes and buildings sprouting cupolas, verandahs and balconies and festooned with elaborate filigree are sprinkled everywhere. Some are freshly painted, others nearly barren and as weathered as a desert ghost town, some probably haven’t been painted in half a century.  More modern structures are invariably of concrete and/or stone.

Amazing Concrete
With no millable timber remaining Haiti has turned to concrete for building. It’s cheap, durable, and in the hands of Haitians, remarkably versatile. Some 600,000 tons of it are imported each year. Most is used in the form of concrete blocks and poured concrete but it is often attractively combined with well fitted natural stonework. Without the hindrance of building codes it’s amazing what can be done with concrete. In Port-au-Prince one can see some of the most interesting and varied concrete buildings in the world. As an added benefit Port-au-Prince is today one of the most fireproof third world cities this side of Tinbuktu.

In the countryside the cottages of the peasants are also usually of stone and concrete. Most are whitewashed but many are painted the brightest of colors. Steep shaggy roofs of thick palm thatch are common. Sprinkled about on hillsides and even mountain tops they lend a storybook air to the landscape.

Elegant Ruins
In the north of the country, just inland from Cap Haïtien, are found two of the most remarkable architectural ruins in Haiti. In the early years of the 19th century Henri Cristophe, one of the leading generals in Haiti’s revolution gained control and declared himself king. He caused to be built two remarkable structures, a palace, Sans Souci, and a fortress, the Citadelle Laferrière. Sans Souci was an opulent edifice of fine stonework. It is said to have been cooled by a mountain stream running beneath one of its marble floors.

Fearing the return of the recently evicted French the Citadelle was constructed as a mountain-top fortress on a vertiginous peak above Sans Souci. Every stone and cannon was hauled by hand up a steep trail to the top. It is reputed to have cost thousands of lives to complete.

Although it’s cannons were never fired in anger legend has it the King Cristophe once used them to answer the thunder of a lightning storm as it raged about his retreat. Today San Souci is an elegant ruin but the Citadelle is remarkably intact, complete with large stacks of cannon balls still ready to repel any invader.

                                                 The Colors of Haiti

Gingerbread Style


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