National Palace (Haiti)
The National Palace is located in Port-au-Prince
Port-au-Prince is the capital and largest city of the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The city's population was 704,776 as of the 2003 census, and was officially estimated to have reached 897,859 in 2009....

—facing Place L'Ouverture near the Champs de Mars—and is the official residence
Official residence
An official residence is the residence at which heads of state, heads of government, gubernatorial or other senior figures officially reside...

 of the Haitian president
President of Haiti
The President of the Republic of Haiti is the head of state of Haiti. Executive power in Haiti is divided between the president and the government headed by the Prime Minister of Haiti...

. It was almost completely destroyed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake
2010 Haiti earthquake
The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake, with an epicentre near the town of Léogâne, approximately west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital. The earthquake occurred at 16:53 local time on Tuesday, 12 January 2010.By 24 January, at least 52 aftershocks...

. The building has since been slated for demolition.

History and design

A reported total of four residences built for the country's rulers, whether the colonial governor general, emperor, or president, have occupied the site since the mid to late 18th century. At one point in the site's tumultuous history, when the chief of state was without an official home due to damage, a 19th-century French-style villa on Avenue Christophe assumed that role.

The earliest structure was the Government Palace (Palais du Gouvernement), which was constructed in the 18th century as the residence of the French governor general of Saint-Domingue
The labour for these plantations was provided by an estimated 790,000 African slaves . Between 1764 and 1771, the average annual importation of slaves varied between 10,000-15,000; by 1786 it was about 28,000, and from 1787 onward, the colony received more than 40,000 slaves a year...

. Its first Haitian inhabitant was the country's first president, the Franco-Haitian mulatto
Mulatto denotes a person with one white parent and one black parent, or more broadly, a person of mixed black and white ancestry. Contemporary usage of the term varies greatly, and the broader sense of the term makes its application rather subjective, as not all people of mixed white and black...

 General Alexandre Pétion
Alexandre Pétion
Alexandre Sabès Pétion was President of the Republic of Haiti from 1806 until his death. He is considered as one of Haiti's founding fathers, together with Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and his rival Henri Christophe.-Early life:Pétion was born in Port-au-Prince to a Haitian...

. The structure was deemed "nothing less than a palace", made of painted wood, with "a handsome flight of steps leading into good reception-rooms". A visitor in 1831 noted the building was "large and convenient, but not handsome. It is of one story, and situated in front of the parade, to the southeast of the town. Its entrance is up a fine flight of steps, leading through a spacious portico into the hall of audience. The floors of all the public rooms are of black and white marble. The furniture is tasteful and elegant, but not costly. This building ... was constructed with more attention to convenience than effect. The apartments are pleasantly cool". In front of the palace stood the marble tomb of President Pétion and one of his daughters.

By 1850 the former governor general's residence had become known as the Imperial Palace, since it was the residence of Emperor Faustin I of Haiti
Faustin I of Haiti
Faustin I was born Faustin-Élie Soulouque. He was a career officer and general in the Haïtian army when he was elected President of Haïti in 1847. In 1849 he was proclaimed Emperor of Haïti under the name of Faustin I...

 and his wife, Empress Adélina
Adélina, Empress of Haiti
Adélina Soulouque , née Leveque, was Empress Consort of Haiti from 1849 until 1859, as wife of Faustin I of Haiti.Adélina was the daughter of Marie Michel Lévêque, a Haitian of mixed-race heritage. She had a long-term relationship with Faustin Souloque for many years before the marriage ceremony....

. John Bigelow
John Bigelow
John Bigelow was an American lawyer and statesman.-Life:Born in Malden-on-Hudson, New York, John Bigelow, Sr.graduated from Union College in 1835 where he was a member of the Sigma Phi Society and the Philomathean Society, and was admitted to the bar in 1838...

, an editor at the New York Evening Post, visited the palace in 1850 and described it as "only one story, raised a few feet from the ground, and approached by four or five steps, which extend all around the edifice." He also noted aspects of the interior decoration: "The floor [of one waiting room] is white marble, the furniture in black hair-cloth and straw. On a richly carved table appeared a beautiful bronze clock, representing the arms of Haiti—namely, a palm-tree surrounded with fascines of pikes and surmounted with the Phrygian cap
Phrygian cap
The Phrygian cap is a soft conical cap with the top pulled forward, associated in antiquity with the inhabitants of Phrygia, a region of central Anatolia. In the western provinces of the Roman Empire it came to signify freedom and the pursuit of liberty, perhaps through a confusion with the pileus,...

. The walls were decorated with two fine portraits ... One represents the celebrated French conventionist, the Abbé Grégoire
Henri Grégoire
Henri Grégoire , often referred to as Abbé Grégoire, was a French Roman Catholic priest, constitutional bishop of Blois and a revolutionary leader...

, and the other the reigning Emperor of Haiti .... The latter does honor to the talent of a mulatto
Mulatto denotes a person with one white parent and one black parent, or more broadly, a person of mixed black and white ancestry. Contemporary usage of the term varies greatly, and the broader sense of the term makes its application rather subjective, as not all people of mixed white and black...

 artist, the Baron Colbert." An adjoining salon, where "grand receptions are given," displayed "portraits of all the great men of Haiti".

The former Imperial Palace was destroyed on 19 December 1869 during a rebel revolt that brought down the government of President Sylvain Salnave
Sylvain Salnave
Sylvain Salnave was a Haïtian general. He was the President of Haïti from 1867 to 1869. In 1867 he was elected president after he led the overthrow of President Fabre Geffrard. During his term there were constant civil wars between the various factions.-Footnotes:...

. The building was bombarded during the conflict by the man-of-war La Terreur, a government warship that had been captured by the rebel forces. As a contemporary report stated, "It appeared that Salnave had stowed away in vaults at the Palace a large quantity of ammunition. The shells fired from the Terreur, penetrating these vaults, caused several terrific explosions, and the palace was wholly destroyed". Per two such incidents, history, an observer noted, had shown "the President had been unable to trust anyone with the keeping of the national supply of ammunition and was forced to keep it in his own palace, so that in both cases the Presidents were killed by means of their own powder".

The palace's replacement, built in 1881, was seriously damaged on 8 August 1912 by a violent explosion that killed President Cincinnatus Leconte
Cincinnatus Leconte
Jean-Jacques Dessalines Michel Cincinnatus Leconte was President of Haiti from August 15, 1911 until his death on August 8, 1912. He was a great-grandson of Jean-Jacques Dessalines—a former African slave who briefly held power as Emperor of Haiti—and an uncle of Joseph Laroche, the only black...

 and several hundred of his soldiers almost a year to the day from Leconte's election. The National Geographic Magazine called the palace "a rather ugly structure of glistening gray white, with apparently a good deal of corrugated iron about it," though adding that it "contained, however, some fine lofty rooms". Others called it "a low straggling house" whose rooms were "pretty and decorated à la française".

The present National Palace

The National Palace presently occupying the site was designed in 1912 by Georges H. Baussan (1874–1958), a leading Haitian architect who graduated from the Ecole d'Architecture in Paris and whose commissions included the City Hall of Port-au-Prince and Haiti's Supreme Court Building. He was a son of a former Haitian senator and the father of Robert Baussan, an architect who studied under Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier , was a Swiss-born French architect, designer, urbanist, writer and painter, famous for being one of the pioneers of what now is called modern architecture. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930...

 and later became the country's Undersecretary of State for Tourism. Baussan's classical design was chosen from a range of plans submitted by Haitian and French architects in an national competition in 1912, His entry was awarded the second-place prize but also was selected to be the new National Palace, for financial reasons—the structure proposed by the first-place winner was deemed too costly. The construction budget for the new palace was set at $350,000 and work began in May 1914. By 1915, however, the under-construction palace was set ablaze by a mob that ousted and assassinated President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. A contemporary news report stated the palace "has been partially destroyed after an early-morning attack which lasted several hours". After President Sam's death the country was occupied by the United States, with American forces taking possession of the palace and U. S. naval engineers overseeing its completion. The building was finished in 1920.

John Dryden Kuser
John Dryden Kuser
John Dryden Kuser was a New Jersey politician and a member of an influential New Jersey family. The son of Colonel Anthony R. Kuser and Susan Dryden, his father was the President of the South Jersey Gas and Electric Lighting Company and one of the original investors in Fox Movie Studios.Col...

, a wealthy American who visited Haiti in January 1920, described the new National Palace as "a huge structure, quite like a palace in appearance .... It is more than twice the size of our White House and is shaped like the letter E, with the three wings running back from the front. In the main hall huge columns rise to the ceiling and at each side a staircase winds up to the second floor". The primary rooms, Kuser noted, including the office of the president, were all about 40 feet square.

Like other public buildings in Haiti, Baussan's National Palace drew on the tradition of French Renaissance architecture
French Renaissance architecture
French Renaissance architecture is the style of architecture which was imported to France from Italy during the early 16th century and developed in the light of local architectural traditions....

 and greatly resembled structures erected in France and its colonial territories during the late 19th century, such as Norodom Palace
Reunification Palace
Reunification Palace formerly known as Independence Palace , built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, is a landmark in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was designed by architect Ngô Viết Thụ and was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War...

, the residence of the French governor general of Cochinchina
Cochinchina is a region encompassing the southern third of Vietnam whose principal city is Saigon. It was a French colony from 1862 to 1954. The later state of South Vietnam was created in 1954 by combining Cochinchina with southern Annam. In Vietnamese, the region is called Nam Bộ...

. Made of white-painted reinforced concrete, the two-story National Palace had a central section featuring a domed entrance pavilion whose four Ionic columns supported a pedimented portico
A portico is a porch leading to the entrance of a building, or extended as a colonnade, with a roof structure over a walkway, supported by columns or enclosed by walls...

; at either end of the main façade were matching domed pavilions, also groined. The presidents and their families lived in the south wing of the building.

Earthquake damage

On January 12, 2010, the National Palace was severely damaged by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake centered about 16 kilometres (10 mi) away from Port-au-Prince. The collapsed cupola
In architecture, a cupola is a small, most-often dome-like, structure on top of a building. Often used to provide a lookout or to admit light and air, it usually crowns a larger roof or dome....

 has become a symbol of the devastated quake-hit nation. The second floor of the building collapsed almost completely, taking the attic floor with it; the palace's columned central pavilion, a section containing the main hall and primary staircase, was entirely demolished. At the time of the earthquake, President
President of Haiti
The President of the Republic of Haiti is the head of state of Haiti. Executive power in Haiti is divided between the president and the government headed by the Prime Minister of Haiti...

 René Préval
René Préval
René Garcia Préval is a Haitian politician and agronomist who was the President of the Republic of Haiti from 14 May 2006 to 14 May 2011. He previously served as President from February 7, 1996, to February 7, 2001, and as Prime Minister from February 1991 to October 11, 1991.-Early life and...

 and his wife, Elisabeth Delatour Préval
Elisabeth Delatour Préval
Elisabeth Débrosse Delatour Préval is a Haitian businesswoman, presidential economic advisor and economist. She has been the First Lady of Haiti since December 6, 2009, when she married President René Préval.-Professional and personal life:...

, were at their private residence in another part of Port-au-Prince.

France offered to rebuild the presidential palace, but in April 2010, the Haitian government announced plans to demolish the palace in preparation for reconstruction. Sources were mixed as to whether the entire building would be razed, or merely the damaged/unstable portions. In July, bulldozers appeared on site and began clearing the collapsed central pavilion. As of August 2010, construction equipment remains on site at the palace, but demolition work appears to have stalled, with only the central rotunda demolished.

External links

  • "Presidential palace destroyed in Haiti", slideshow by Yahoo! News
    Yahoo! News
    Yahoo! News is an Internet-based news aggregator provided by Yahoo!. It features Top Stories, U.S. National, World, Business, Entertainment, Science, Health, Weather, Most Popular, News Photos, Op/Ed, and Local news....

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