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 by Henri Christophe, a key leader during the Haitian slave rebellion, after Haiti gained independence from France at the beginning of the 19th century.
The massive stone structure was built by up to 20,000 workers between 1805 and 1820 as part of a system of fortifications designed to keep the newly-independent nation of Haiti safe from French incursions. The Citadel was built several miles inland, and atop the 3,000 ft (910 m) Bonnet a L’Eveque mountain, to deter attacks and to provide a lookout into the nearby valleys. Cap-Haïtien and the adjoining Atlantic Ocean are visible from the roof of the fortress. Anecdotally, it is possible to sight the eastern coast of Cuba, some 90 miles (140 km) to the west, on clear days.
The Haitians outfitted the fortress with 365 cannons of varying size. Enormous stockpiles of cannonballs still sit in pyramidal stacks at the base of the fortress walls. Since its construction, the fortress has withstood numerous earthquakes, though a French attack never came.
Henri Christophe initially commissioned the fortress in 1805. At the time, Christophe was a general in the Haitian army and chief administrator of the country's northern regions. In 1806, along with co-conspirator Alexandre Pétion, Christophe launched a coup against Haiti's emperor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Dessalines's death led to a power struggle between Christophe and Pétion, which ended with Haiti divided into northern and southern states, with the north under Christophe's presidency by 1807. He declared himself king in 1811.
The Citadel was part of a system of fortifications that included Fort Jacques and Fort Alexandre, built on the mountains overlooking Port-au-Prince. Dessalines ordered those forts built in 1805 to protect the new nation against French attacks.