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Friday, July 24, 2015

Exploring the Brimstone Fortress in St. Kitts

On a recent cruise to the Virgin Islands,  we visited St. Kitts, and took a tour of the island with Roysten tours. We snorkeled along the breathtaking barrier reef in two different secluded locations, and I had the chance to use my waterproof IPhone case for the first time. By the way, it worked pretty well before I went underwater, but once submerged, the phone didn't work at all. Hmm, perhaps not waterproof after all, or, maybe I misread the box which didn't say anything about taking it 6 ft down to take pictures of a school of tiger barbs. I digress…this is supposed to be about Brimstone Fortress. I'm getting to it.

One of our last stops on our St. Kitts tour was Brimstone Fortress. If you know me at all, you know I love fortifications. From the moment I placed my hand on the coquina walls at the Castillo de San Marcos, and just recently walked the streets of Old San Juan, nestled within its own massive fortification, I was fervently obsessed with the look and structure of these man made marvels. 

Brimstone was nothing short of a wondrous architectural feat. The Brimstone Fortress was constructed between the 1690s and 1790s, and remains of singular importance due to the complete military community that resided there during the 18th century.

I first ventured along the coast, and slowly stepped down into the infantry officer's quarters. This section of the fort was constructed in the late 18th century, around 1791. The famous arches allow for splendid views of the Caribbean.

It was one of my favorite buildings. I got lost, not physically, in the panoramic vistas. This area was reserved for regimental officers, who once resided in the masonry basements, once topped with timber buildings.

Here it was. As I made my way to the steps of Fort George Citadel, I had to take a moment to reflect. The fortress is virtually a man-made out growth of the natural hill. The steps to the top reminded me of the Great Wall of China, however the steps, albeit they were very far apart, and looked seemingly easy to navigate, were quite the contrary. 

I thought, hey, I've been swimming and building muscles, this will be a breeze. Phew, by the time I made it half way up, my heart started beating rapidly, and I had to take a breather. The slope of the steps and the elevation presented quite a challenge, but I pressed on. 

By the time I made it to the top, I had to take five minutes to control my breathing. Funny thing was, well, maybe not too funny, there were people in really great shape climbing this staircase, and they too were huffing and puffing the entire way up, and sharing water at the top. Keep in mind, the citadel is nearly 800 feet high, and one of the earliest surviving examples of a new style of fortification known as the 'polygonal system'. However, I wasn't thinking about the shape, I was thinking, "Man, I'm glad I made it to the top without falling over".

View from the Top of the Citadel: Brimstone Fortress

The walls of the structures are predominantly of stone, laboriously and skillfully fashioned from the hard volcanic rock of which the hill is composed. The mortar to cement the stones was produced on site from the limestone which covers much of the middle and lower slopes. 

By the time I finally caught my breath, I got a glimpse of the mountains, the historical township of Sandy Point, and neighbouring Dutch, English and French islands across the Caribbean Sea. It was spectacular, and mainly because I made it to the top without passing out, and actually got to enjoy it. I was up there nearly 20 minutes before my fiancĂ© appeared. Either he got lost, or he took a breather like I did on the step. Either way, it was well worth the effort.

As educators, historians, archaeologists, and travelers, why is it that we find such joy in touching the oldest of structures? Perhaps we expect to feel the history, or some type of connection to the people that once roamed the grounds of these structures. For me, it really does represent living history. Today, most structures are built, not to last, but for purpose. Just look at the arches. Why was it necessary to create so many? Did the infantry really need that many entrances into the courtyard? Why does the design remind me of Ancient Greece? Ancient Rome?

It seems that all people borrowed from those before them, whether it was the method or mode of construction, or the theory behind the design. Either way, it's rewarding to experience a transfer of knowledge from one century to the next. Thousands of years have passed, and yet these structures all share similar voices. That's one of the things I really love about archaeology, and I love that Brimstone Fortress reminded me of that.


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