The Sans-Souci Palace was the royal residence of King Henri Christophe I of Haiti, the self imposed monarch who as a former slave had fought in the American Revolutionary War alongside George Washington. He then went on to be a key leader in the Haitian Revolution in 1804, when the small nation gained independence from France.
The leader of the revolution, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, named himself Governor-General-for-life and had every intention of ruling over the newly independent nation until the end of his days. Christophe however, found that megalomaniac title delightfully tantalizing, and along with other disaffected administration members, conspired to have him assassinated.
After Dessalines was killed, Christophe created a separate government in Plaine-du-Nord and was elected President of the State of Haiti, while one of his co-conspirators Alexandre Pétion was elected president in the South. Finding Governer-General-for-life a little wordy, Christophe created a kingdom and had himself proclaimed Henry I, King of Haïti. He also created a nobility and named his son Jacques-Victor Henry as prince and heir.
Built in 1810 and completed in 1813, the Sans Souci Palace is located in the town of Milot, Nord Department. Before the construction of Sans-Souci, Milot was a French plantation that Christophe had been in charge of during the Revolution. Infamous for his cruelty, and it is unknown how many laborers perished during construction of the palatial building. Now a ruin, the palace was once a bustling whirlwind of feasting and dancing, with grandiose gardens, artificial springs, and a system of waterworks. Enjoyed by many overseas guests, it had “the reputation of having been one of the most magnificent edifices of the West Indies.”
In 1820, King Henri I committed suicide after suffering a debilitating stroke, shooting himself with a silver bullet on the grounds of the palace. He was subsequently buried in the Citadelle. His son, bayoneted to death that same year by revolutionaries, was his only heir.
A considerable part of the palace was destroyed in an 1842 earthquake that also leveled a good part of the nearby city of Cap-Haïtien, and the palace was never rebuilt. Once considered the Versailles of the Caribbean, the ruined shell of the palace is rarely visited due to the instability of the area politically. However, today it is fairly safe to visit and taxis will take you right to the steps of the ruins. Local tour guides who are trained in the history of the region hang around the foot of the palace waiting to be hired. There are also plenty of stalls set up to sell you souvenirs. After you explore the ruins of the Sans Souci palace, you can hire a taxi to take you up the mountain where you can then hire a pack horse to take you to the Citadelle.
- Césaire, Aimé. (1969). The tragedy of King Christophe, New York: Grove
- James, C.L.R. (1989). The Black Jacobins. Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. (2nd Ed., Revised) New York: Vintage Press. ISBN 0-679-72467-2.