After years of poor governing and earthquakes, what used to be called the "Paris of the Antilles" is now struggling to get back on its feet.

Cap-Haïtien: from Riches to Rags

Located on the northern coast of Haiti, Cap-Haïtien was historically nicknamed "The Paris of the Antilles" for its wealth and sophistication, displayed through its beautiful architecture and artistic life. Having earned its wealth from sugar production, it was once the richest French colony in the Americas.

Cap-Haïtien is a city with a history: it changed name several times: from Cap Français to Cap Henry, to be finally called Cap Haïtien - but many people refer to it as simply le Cap.

It was an important city during the colonial period, serving as the capital of Saint-Domingue from the city's formal foundation in 1711 until 1770 when the capital was moved to Port-au-Prince. After the Haitian Revolution, it became the capital of the Kingdom of Northern Haiti under King Henri Christophe until 1820.

A Troubled Nation

Haiti became the world's first black-led republic and the first independent Caribbean state when it threw off French colonial control and slavery in the early 19th century.

But independence came at a crippling cost. It had to pay reparations to France, which demanded compensation for former slave owners. The 19th century "independence debt" was not paid off until 1947. There have been recent calls for France to repay the money.

Chronic instability, dictatorships and natural disasters in recent decades have left it as the poorest nation in the Americas.

An earthquake in 2010 killed more than 200,000 people and caused extensive damage to infrastructure and the economy.

A UN peacekeeping force has been in place since 2004 to help stabilize the country.

Faded Beauty

But Cap-Haïtien continues to fight hard for its own future. Today, the buildings from yesteryears still stand strong and the beauty of the city is still evident from their aged facades and crumbling structures.

Featuring high-roofed houses with arched doors and overhanging balconies, the colonial area reminds me of what New Orleans could have been 60 years ago. Especially notable are the gingerbread houses lining the city's older streets.

The reason for this resemblance is that many craftsmen from Cap‑Haïtien fled to French-controlled New Orleans after the Haitian Revolution. As a result, the two cities share many similarities in styles of architecture.

Historical Hub

King Henri Christophe was not only responsible for the construction of the beautiful French houses in the city — he also ordered the construction of the Citadel and Sans Souci Palace, two of the most impressive historic sites in the country.

The Citadelle Laferrière or simply the Citadel, is a large fortress located on top of the mountain Bonnet a L’Eveque, approximately 17 miles (27 km) south of the city of Cap-Haïtien.

The massive stone structure was built by up to 20,000 workers between 1805 and 1820 as part of a system of fortifications designed to keep the newly independent nation of Haiti safe from French incursions.

The Citadel was built several miles inland, and on a mountaintop, to deter attacks and to provide a lookout into the nearby valleys. Cap-Haïtien and the adjoining Atlantic Ocean are visible from the roof of the fortress.

It is one of the largest fortresses in the Americas and was designated by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1982 — along with the nearby Sans-Souci Palace.

Completed in 1913, Sans Souci was his primary palace, where he held opulent feasts and dances.

It had immense gardens, artificial springs, and a system of waterworks, and was dubbed the “Versailles of the Caribbean.” Its grandeur was intended to prove to Europeans the abilities and culture of the black people.