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My Assault on Fort Diamant

December 10, 2012
Fort Diamant from Saint-Marc

Fort Diamant from Saint-Marc

This Sunday I decided to make my assault on Fort Diamant (Fort Diamond).  After church I set out by tap tap to Saint-Marc, and then by moto to the northern edge of the city.  I had scoured elevation maps of the area on Google Maps, and had chosen what looked to me to be the right approach.  My instincts proved correct.  When we got to the end of the road I inquired of a local resident as to exactly where to find the path up to the fort.  The man told me it was very nearby, and that if I wanted, he would guide me to the fort.  Looking toward the ascent ahead and not knowing what the trail would be like, I decided it would be wise to go with someone who was familiar with the terrain.

The path up the mountain on Diamant Point proved to be fairly well traveled.  Merrenor, my guide, told me it was the only way up to the fort, so people have been using it for 200 years.  We wound our way up the narrow airless valley between the mountains, scrabbling over the rocks.  It was steep in most places, but most of it not as steep as the path I had taken to Fort Blockus the previous week, and there were far fewer small stones to make footing treacherous.  Merrenor was a very conscientious guide, removing the occasional loose rock from the trail, warning me of slippery sections and pointing out exactly where to place my feet when the going got really difficult.  We encountered a tarantula along the way; despite their mythical reputation, these spiders are relatively harmless.

Fort Diamant is 396 feet above sea level, about 350 feet above the end of the road I had taken.  Although it is only 1200 feet as the crow flies from the road, the track up is much longer.  It starts from the front of the south-facing fort and winds its way up the valley on the east side, making its final approach from the rear.  Merrenor was very patient as I climbed more and more slowly under the unforgiving sun.  This is December?

As we approached the fort, it was clear that anyone attacking would be obliterated long before they reached the wall.  When I reached the top, soaked in sweat, it was wonderful to rest and take in the breathtaking panorama.  The mountain makes a dizzying plunge into the sea, a palette ranging from teal to emerald green, the coral reef along the shore clearly visible.  To the west is the open ocean, to the south Saint-Marc.  On the east the mountain drops almost vertically to the valley below.  I was surprised that Fort Blockus was not visible in the east, being just over the crest of the mountain on which it sits.

I thought Fort Blockus impregnable, but Fort Diamant was much more so. To slopes to the east, south and west the slopes are precipitous, virtually unscalable.  To the north the slope is gentler, but anyone approaching from that direction would have to cross a 12-foot deep dry moat at the bottom of the north wall.  Much more remains of this fort than of Fort Blockus, probably due to it being much more inaccessible; Saint-Marc has not encroached anywhere near as closely, the fort sits almost 100 feet higher, and the approach is more difficult.  The outline of the ramparts is clearly visible.

The lowest portion of the fort on the south side is a rectangle, its long side running east and west.  Since this faces the harbour, I believe it might have been the terreplein, a flat area designed to accommodate cannons.  Behind that and a few feet higher is an irregular hexagon, shorter sides to the southeast and southwest.  On the north, again a bit higher, are two fleches, arrowhead shaped projections pointing northeast and northwest.  The most westerly wall of the latter provides an excellent defensive position against ships entering the bay.  To the north of the fleches is the moat.

Five cannons still remain.  It is probable that all that has saved them from being stolen for scrap is their prodigious weight.  Each is 10 feet long and has a bore of more than 6½ inches.  They would fire a cast-iron ball weighing 42 pounds.  As I stood looking out over the Caribbean, I could imagine any ship entering Baie Saint-Marc would be at the mercy of those guns.  Due to the fort being built at such a height, ship’s cannons would be unable to achieve the elevation necessary to do any damage.  The fort’s guns, however, fired from a height of 400 feet, would have a greater range than if fired level.  Forty-two pounds of iron crashing into a ship would stove in the hull, tear off a mast or splinter the deck.

Merrenor pointed out some of the details of the fort that I might have missed without him.  There was a flight of stairs going down into a small underground room, its use unclear to me.  I would probably have missed the moat as well had I come alone.

Having taken all the pictures I wanted (I had my good set of batteries in my camera this week) we set off down the mountain.  On the way, my guide pointed out a cave that he told me went some distance back into the next mountain.  I thought it might make another interesting trip. Merrinor warned me, however, that a local resident often sleeps in the cave.  I was introduced to spelunking (cave exploration) at Horne Lake on Vancouver Island in the late 1970s, and loved it immediately.  A few years later on a trip to Texas I stopped at every cave I could find from the Black Hills to Carlsbad Caverns.

At the bottom of the mountain I thanked Merrinor and paid him well for his efforts.  I assured him that should I return I would find him.  I then flopped my way to find a moto; the arduous climb had destroyed my sandals.

For me, visiting the forts brings to life what I have learned of the rich history of Haiti.  I already have my next trip planned for when I return from Canada.  I will be headed north to the five forts that protected Marchand-Dessalines, the city chosen by the first emperor as his capital.

The view over Baie Saint-Marc

The view over Baie Saint-Marc

Looking over Saint-Marc

Saint-Marc far below

Looking down over wall

Looking down over wall

Looking through west wall

Through west wall

Looking toward back of fort

Toward back of fort

Toward east side of fort

Toward east side of fort

42 pounders

Merrenor behind 42-pounders

On the terreplein

On the terreplein

Underground room

Underground room

Dry moat along north wall

Dry moat along north wall

Cave

Mouth of cave, about 5′ high

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