Brimstone Hill Fortress

Brimstone Hill Fortress

Brimstone Hill Fortress Cannon. Photo by Jeremy T. Hetzel. CC BY 2.0.

Brimstone Hill Fortress is a must see for tourists visiting St. Kitts. One of the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Caribbean (most in the region are on Cuba), this is a prime example of the military conflicts that took place between European powers who colonised the islands from the 17th century onwards.

Visitors can travel through much of the fort, although they need to bear in mind it was strategically positioned at the top of a steep hill (twin peaks 230m high, covered in limestone) which makes venturing up something of a challenge for some visitors. The Citadel, both Place of Arms and a museum are all open to the public.

Access to the fort is best by car, you can drive to the car park at the base of the hill or take a taxi or tour bus.

The fortress is open every day except for Christmas Day and Good Friday between 9.30am and 5.30pm. It’s $8 USD for vistors, children go half price.

History of the Fort

The site first saw military activity in 1690 when the British placed cannon here to attack Fort Charles, just below, which the French had taken. St Kitts was the first of the Caribbean islands to be colonised by the British who had to share it with the French from 1625 to 1713. The construction of the fort itself took place over the next hundred years gradually to British military design but built by African slaves who were brought over to do back-breaking work in the plantations, a system that was pioneered on St Kitts. The fort was constructed from basalt blocks and rubble, but the limestone which covered the hill was also added mainly for decoration.

Brimstone Hill Fortress

Brimstone Hill Fortress. Photo by Jeremy T. Hetzel. CC BY 2.0

Despite the fort being so strong that it earned itself the moniker ‘Gibraltar of the West Indies’, it succumbed to French attack in 1782 when Admiral Comte François Joseph Paul de Grasse after a month long siege. The French rule of Brimstone Hill and St Kitts didn’t last long though, as the British were restored the following year as part of the Treaty of Paris which also gave independence to the USA.

The Brits were determined that Brimstone Hill would never be captured again and hence set about major improvements to the fort. These works aided them significantly in repelling a French naval attack in 1806. However in 1853 the British no longer saw this as a key to their position on the island and left it abandoned. By the early past of the 20th century it had been heavily vandalised by those who bought the buildings in auctions, using the stone for other building work, and had suffered from the extreme weather this part of the world regularly experiences. Restoration began and by 1973 the area fort was seen as fully restored, which was followed by granting of national part status in 1985 and finally in 1999 the site became a world heritage site.

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