The Ruined Haitian Palace of a Former Slave

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Oct. 22 2013 8:32 AM

Sans-Souci: The Ruined Haitian Palace of a Slave Turned Brutal Kleptocrat

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a new travel blog. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

Sans-Souci Palace was once the home of King Henri Christophe I of Haiti, a former slave who became a key leader in the 1804 Haitian Revolution, when the small nation gained independence from France.

Haiti was divided in two in 1807, and Christophe became President of the northern half, officially known as the State of Haiti. Seeking a more lofty title, Christophe decided to establish a kingdom in the north, and in 1811 had himself crowned Henry I, King of Haiti. His full title also established him, among other things, as a self-appointed "Destroyer of tyranny, Regenerator and Benefactor of the Haïtian nation."

Advertisement

The new king needed a royal residence, so he ordered the construction of Sans-Souci Palace at Milot, a former French plantation that Christophe had managed during the Revolution. Thousands of slaves completed the building in 1813—Christophe's ruthless national policy of forced labor contributed to the swift construction—and soon became a bustling whirlwind of feasting and dancing, with grandiose gardens, artificial springs, and a system of waterworks.

But Christophe did not enjoy his sumptuous surroundings for long. The public resented him for forcing them to work long hours in the fields, and a stroke on Aug. 15, 1820 left him partially paralyzed. The autocratic king committed suicide 54 days after his stroke by shooting himself with a silver bullet. His son and heir to the throne was assassinated by bayonet 10 days later.

An earthquake in 1842 earthquake destroyed several parts of the palace, but the remaining edifices give a sense of its former grandeur. The building’s checkered history belies its name: sans-souci is French for carefree.

Palatial properties:


View Palais de Sans-Souci in a larger map

TODAY IN SLATE

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?

Science

“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.

Politics

The Right to Run

If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 2:05 PM Paul Farmer Says Up to Ninety Percent of Those Infected Should Survive Ebola. Is He Right?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 4:10 PM Skinny Mark Wahlberg Goes for an Oscar: The First Trailer for The Gambler
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.