2012 World Monuments Fund Watch List (Haiti)
World Monuments Fund (WMF) is an independent organization that has been dedicated to saving the world’s architectural and cultural heritage sites since 1965. WMF accomplishes this through advocacy, education, capacity building, and disaster response. Each year, WMF releases a Watch List of architectural sites that are at risk. Three Haitian architectural sites were listed on the 2012 Watch List: (1) The San Souci Palace in Milot; (2) the Gingerbread Houses of Port au Prince; and (3) the Jacmel Historic District. Read about these sites and how to get involved in their protection below.
San Souci Palace (Milot): The majestic ruins of the Palace of Sans Souci stand amid verdant mountains in the north of Haiti. The site evokes the reign of King Henri I, known as King Henri Christophe, who was instrumental in the Haitian Revolution that won independence from France in 1804. This architectural complex was completed in 1813 as the residence and administrative center of King Henri. Its use proved short-lived, as it ceased to function as a political headquarters following the death of the king in 1820, and was damaged beyond repair in an earthquake in 1842. The dominant feature of the complex is the symmetrical classical façade with its baroque double stairway and the vestiges of adjoining gardens and pools. Grouped around the grandiose palace in the form of an amphitheater are remnants of accompanying structures—administrative buildings, the prince’s residence, stables, barracks, a prison, an arsenal, a workshop, and a hospital. Sans Souci is an icon of Haiti’s national identity and is tied geographically, historically, and symbolically to the Citadelle Henry; the two, along with the buildings at Ramiers, comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace withstood the earthquake in 2010, but faces other challenges. The city of Milot has expanded to the border of the site, and the need for natural resources, such as limestone and trees, is impacting the surrounding landscape. The site does not have sufficient tourist infrastructure and information to accommodate visitors, and the structures are not maintained regularly. The local authorities are committed to preserving the site and improving visitor infrastructure, and hope to foster community engagement with an arts and culture festival.
Gingerbread Houses (Port au Prince): In October 2009, the Gingerbread houses of Port-au-Prince were included on the 2010 World Monuments Watch in order to raise international awareness about this unique architectural heritage. Many of these elegant, turn-of-the-century structures, detailed with fretted wood and intricate latticework, had fallen into disrepair. The Gingerbread houses, with their intricate ornament and steeply pitched roofs, constitute an important period of post-colonial design and are emblematic of a uniquely Haitian architectural heritage. The Gingerbread neighborhood is an icon of Haiti’s rich past, as well as a vital symbol for rebuilding the country. The revitalization of the Gingerbread neighborhood is a key element in the recovery process for the city of Port-au-Prince. The April 2010 mission and the resulting report are seen as a first step in developing a multi-phase project to support the conservation of the Gingerbread neighborhood through advocacy, technical assistance, and training. Political instability and economic strife had precluded substantive preservation efforts in recent decades, and support was needed for the revitalization of these important buildings and their communities. Less than three months later, the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, all but shattered the Haitian people and the places they hold dear. Though many of the Gingerbread houses suffered significant damage, their traditional construction proved seismically resistant and very few collapsed. Thus, the Haitian government prioritized these neighborhoods with their iconic architecture for international conservation assistance. Inclusion on the 2012 Watch as the "Gingerbread Neighborhood" underscores the long and challenging process of disaster recovery for the community as a whole. Weeks after the earthquake struck, WMF was on the ground working to build capacity for the revitalization of this historic urban district. Now, a coalition of local and international institutions keeps advancing preservation efforts. It is hoped that continued global awareness will help bring needed resources to the renaissance of this historic community.
Within four weeks of the January 2010 earthquake, WMF was in the field in Haiti, working with local and international institutions to coordinate assistance efforts and to forge a collaborative project aimed at the recovery of the Gingerbread neighborhood. The combined investment and cooperative interests of WMF, Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL), the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP), and ICOMOS, along with the support of the Prince Claus Fund, led to an assessment mission to evaluate the conditions of the Gingerbread houses. The April 2010 mission included identification and mapping of the houses and the development of the online Gingerbread Damage Survey Database, photographic documentation of earthquake damage, a preliminary condition and repair feasibility analysis, recommendations for conservation strategies, and community workshops to advance the revitalization process. The mission results are published in Preserving Haiti’s Gingerbread Houses: 2010 Earthquake Mission Report.
Jacmel Historic District: The modern town of Jacmel was established in 1698, after France wrested control from Spain of what would later become the Republic of Haiti. Located on the south coast of the island of Hispaniola, at the site of an existing Taíno settlement, Jacmel quickly grew into a key port on the Caribbean Sea. In the nineteenth century Jacmel benefitted from the lucrative export of coffee. In 1896, the city was devastated by a fire that destroyed most of its traditional gingerbread architecture. Reflecting fashion and new technology, many new structures were rebuilt with fireproof cast iron and brick imported from Europe. Like the rest of the country, Jacmel suffered greatly in the earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010. In Jacmel, the earthquake caused hundreds of deaths and injuries, and displaced thousands of residents when their homes were destroyed. In the weeks that followed, a team from Haiti’s Institut de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine National identified more than 100 historic buildings that had been damaged in the earthquake. An association of homeowners is now attempting to find solutions to restore these buildings. The rehabilitation of the historic center will be an important accomplishment. Jacmel has been included in Haiti’s Tentative World Heritage List since 2004, and with its rich cultural history it has the potential to become an attractive destination for cultural tourism.
These three sites are unique to Haiti and an important part of the country's historic and cultural heritage. They deserve to be preserved and protected for future generations. Click here to learn more about how you can get involved. Like any non-profit, WMF must continually fund-raise in order to support its operations. Here you can also sign petitions in support of the architectural preservation of various sites as well as request assistance with historic sites not currently on the Watch List. You can also sign up to receive the WMF E-News Letter.
If you have visited these sites, either before or after the earthquake, please feel free to post your impressions below.