Posted by: Alex MacGregor | June 25, 2012

The Ruins of Fort Picolet

Cap Haitien was an important place during Haiti’s infancy. For a while during the colonial era, Cap Haitien was France’s chosen capital of the island. It enjoys a strategic geographic position: occupying the side of an easily defendable mountain, along with a river to supply fresh water and a harbor.

For this reason, the French built some substantial forts. They still are more or less here, within walking distance of downtown. We set off to find them.

The ouskirts of town to the north–on a road that dead-ends into the sea–are a lot more sleepy than the bustling areas to the south of town.

Haiti is the perfect place to see new and interesting things. Like goats hanging out in front of political graffiti.

Or a goat and a rooster hanging out on a wall somewhat tackily designed to look like an old palace.

A beach along the way. A working beach, not a swimming beach.

Further along, you come across minor military fortifications. All French-built. For a while, the rich coffee and sugar producing colony of Haiti was the envy of Europe. Unfortunately, the highly agricultural colony relied heavily on slavery. Revolts followed, and Haiti became the first black republic, and second independent nation in the new world, after the US.

As the road that goes north out of town peters out, you wind up among the estates of Haiti’s elite. The guard of this house was very nice, and let us know we were going the wrong way.

Ah yes, we made a naive mistake, assuming a road must go to the potential tourist attraction. Instead, this is the path: across a particularly unattractive beach. What do you do if the tide goes up in the meantime? I have no idea.

Eventually, the beach gives away to rocky coastline, and a broken stairway leads up to the entrance.

Caroline entering the spooky old fort, with the last bits of town in the background.

The surreal-looking ruins. A much different experience than visiting a restored fort.

Our outing–and my picture-taking–was interrupted by a guy who appears to live in the fort, and seemed mentally unstable. We had been worried the whole time about someone following us and using our vulnerability to their advantage. This guy didn’t seem to have any weapons, but he wasn’t responding to the typical “Au revoir!” we give when when someone has overstayed their welcome.

This guy didn’t seem to mean any harm directly. He just seemed drugged out. He followed us the whole two-mile walk back into town, where we managed to lose him.

Just another day in Haiti.


  1. Well the same guy was here today, as of July 9th 2013. We freaked out a little bit too so we’d recommend to go with locals and don’t do it alone.

  2. Where did you get the information that the forts were built by the French. As a Haitian person this is not part of our history. The forts were built by Haitians and the remaining slaves in the country. The order was Placed by King Henry Christophe who built the Citadelle and the Palace San Souci and the Forts. The remainder of our forts were built just in case there would be a second invation in Haiti by the French. Please correct your information.

    • The information readily available on the subject isn’t very authoritative, but everything I’m seeing on the internet indicates Fort Picolet was built in the mid-18th century, before independence from France. I’d be happy to change the post if you can provide firm information to the contrary.

  3. Hello Alex, I want to know if I can use your Fort Picolet pictures on a website, please contact me.

    Thank you,


    • No problem, just please add a cite link. Thanks!

  4. Thank you! We’ll give you credit, sure. I will post here the link as soon as they’re published. One more thing: do you have the originals in full resolution? I’m talking about the ones with the cannons, I’d like to use them on a slideshow. If it’s not much to ask….

    • Sure thing. Just emailed some.

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