The ruins of the San Souci Palace near the Cathedral photo/ Garry Pierre-Pierre
Cultural leaders in Haiti have described the gutting by fire of a celebrated 200-year-old church as an avoidable tragedy that highlights the fragility of the Caribbean nation’s patrimony – and the need to preserve its historical treasures.
The Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church in the town of Milot is part of a Unesco world heritage site that includes the ruins of the Sans Souci palace and the Citadelle Laferrière, an imposing fort that looms over Haiti’s northern plains.
Fire tore through the church on Monday, causing its distinctive black wooden dome to collapse. The cause of the blaze has not been determined, but some saw it as indicative of the malaise of misrule that has long bedeviled the island – some of it locally rooted, and some imported by more powerful neighbors.
“[For years] we have been asking the state to ensure the protection of these colonial dwellings, which are important as monuments of slavery, yet nothing has been done,” said Laënnec Hurbon, a sociologist with the State University of Haiti.
“But the state spends its time buying luxurious cars for ministers, functionaries and parliamentarians. It is therefore not surprising that everything concerning the national heritage is abandoned.”
The church was constructed between 1810 and 1813 by Henri Christophe, one of a cadre of revolutionary leaders including Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines who helped Haiti oust the French and end the system of slavery.
Christophe went on to declare himself King Henry I and ruled in autocratic splendour over northern Haiti until his death by suicide in 1820 amid a protracted civil war. Continue reading.

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