The Ruined Haitian Palace of a Former Slave

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

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 19 2014 6:22 PM Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.