St. Kitts
Brimstone Hill Fortress

Although not one of the Caribbean's most famous forts, this is one of the mightiest.

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Brimstone Hill Fortress

Once known as the The Gibraltar of the West Indies, Brimstone Hill Fortress is one of the Caribbean's few UNESCO World Heritage Sites, recognized for its historical, cultural and architectural significance.

What to expect

1 hour to explore the fort. Another 2-3 hours if you walk up and down steep 800-foot high Brimstone Hill. However, you can also drive to the fort. Difficulty: 1 inside the fort; 2-3 for the climb to it. Location: St. Kitts' perimeter road leads to Brimstone Hill.

Brimstone Hill Fortress is one of the great forts of the Western Hemisphere and the most important historical site on St. Kitts. It is the only man-made UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Eastern Caribbean.

Brimstone Hill is named for the sulfur fumes frequently smelled at this end of the island, courtesy of nearby Mt .Liamuiga, St. Kitts' volcano. The thick walls of the Fort George citadel are made of black volcanic rock, once called brimstone.

The 38-acre fortress had its first cannon hauled to the top of the steep cliff in 1690; by 1736 there were at least 49 cannon in place. Slave laborers needed almost 100 years to complete the massive 7 to 12-foot thick walls.

Despite its impressive fortifications, a force of 8,000 French captured the fort from its 1,000 British defenders in 1782 by punching 40-foot holes in the fortress walls. The British garrison was allowed to leave as an undefeated force, in full uniform.

The French had to give it back along with the rest of St. Kitts just a year later under the Treaty of Versailles. However, more soldiers died of yellow fever than from fighting during the fort's long history.

After severe damage in the hurricane of 1843, the fort was never fully rebuilt and abandoned in 1851. Since 1965 it has been a national park.

Today, fully restored, Brimstone Hill Fortress affords one of the best island walks while offering excellent views of 6 neighboring islands.

The fortress is situated almost 800 feet above sea level, and if you want to experience colonial military life here, walk uphill to the fort from the perimeter road.

Walking may be safer than driving, actually. The road up is narrow and twisting, always a challenge when you meet another car.

Perhaps the most interesting feature is the architectural arrangement of the interior courtyard that can be reached only by crossing a moat. It's not by accident that the courtyard floor slopes toward a center drain: the drain creates a 13,000-gallon cistern with all excess water directed through a privy area.

In effect, the drain helped create a huge flush toilet, the ingenious intentions of Brimstone Hill's designers who took excellent advantage of the clouds and rain that often obscure the fortress.   

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