Revel in the History and Scenery of Brimstone Hill
Atop the volcanic cliffs of St. Kitts shoreline, rests a centuries-old fortress once known as the “Gibraltar of the West Indies.” Brimstone Hill, named for the black rock from which it was fashioned, is both one of the most important colonial sites in the Caribbean and easily the most captivating. After serving as the main line of defense for both the British and French throughout the colonial period and falling into eventual disrepair, the fortress was saved from oblivion in the mid-20th century. When touring the site today, visitors can not only gain an important historical perspective, but witness one of the most awe-inspiring views anywhere in the Caribbean.
Once officially known as the island of St. Christopher, St. Kitts holds a unique distinction in the storied history of the Caribbean. As the first island to be settled by Europeans, St. Kitts served as a model society for the colonizers that flocked to the region throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. At the beginning of the colonial period, St. Kitts was shared by the British and the French, a mutual settlement that lasted from 1627 until 1713. After the native peoples were eradicated from St. Kitts and other Caribbean islands, European colonizers began fortifying their settlements and developing diverse industries. St. Kitts’ Brimstone Hill remains at once one of the oldest, largest and best preserved examples of such European development anywhere in the Caribbean.
The massive fortress at Brimstone Hill was constructed in pieces between the 1690s and 1790s. Nearly all of the stones used in the fortress were created using the volcanic rock that rests along the coastline of St. Kitts. The black stones were then precariously set into the walls of the fortress, including the exterior wall that overlooks an 800-foot cliff and the windswept Caribbean Sea. As the fortress expanded, the structure came to be an imposing extension of the dangerous coastline and impenetrable cliffs of Brimstone Hill.
In 1792, a French fleet composed of 50 ships and nearly 8,000 men, succeeded in capturing Brimstone Hill from the 1,000 British soldiers stationed atop the cliffs. However, following the Treaty of Versailles one year later, both the fortress and the island of St. Kitts were returned to the British Crown. While Brimstone Hill served as an active military camp for another 60 years, the massive fortress was abandoned and left to the elements by the mid-19th century. In 1965, the Brimstone Hill was resurrected as a national park and underwent years of restoration, eventually gaining distinction as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, visitors to Brimstone Hill can tour the restored fortress and experience the same remarkable views once enjoyed by European soldiers. Daily tours traverse the 38-acre complex and visit the hospital, officers’ quarters, ammunition stores, cemetery and the impressive citadel with its guns remounted and aimed across the Caribbean Sea. In the on-site museum, visitors can see a collection of artifacts left behind by the soldiers and slaves that helped build the fortress. After taking in the rich history of the site, visitors can walk a number of nature trails through St. Kitts’ dense coastal forest. While there is plenty to see along the trails, the greatest natural beauty can be found by gazing across the Caribbean Sea from the top of the fortress. To the southeast, both St. Kitts’ sister island of Nevis and Montserrat are easily visible, while smaller islands such as St. Barths, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba can be seen to the north.
Whether you are a history buff or just a curious traveler, Brimstone Hill should be on your list of must-visit destinations in St. Kitts. While there is potentially much to learn atop Brimstone Hill, the view from atop one of the region’s most significant structures is something you will treasure for a lifetime.