Port-au-Prince ( /ˌpɔrtoʊˈprɪns/; French pronunciation: [pɔʁopʁɛ̃s]; Haitian Creole: Pòtoprens; Haitian Creole pronunciation: [pɔtopɣɛ̃s]) is the capital and largest city of the Caribbean country 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.
The city of Port-au-Prince is on the Gulf of Gonâve: the bay on which the city lies, which acts as a natural harbor, has sustained economic activity since the civilizations of the Arawaks. It was first incorporated under the colonial rule of the French, in 1749, and has been Haiti's largest metropolis since then. The city's layout is similar to that of an amphitheatre; commercial districts are near the water, while residential neighborhoods are located on the hills above. Its population is difficult to ascertain due to the rapid growth of slums in the hillsides above the city; however, recent estimates place the metropolitan area's population at around 3.7 million, nearly half of the country's national population.
Port-au-Prince was catastrophically affected by an earthquake on January 12, 2010, with large numbers of structures damaged or destroyed. Haiti's government has estimated the death toll at 230,000 and says more bodies remain uncounted.
Prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the island of Hispaniola was inhabited by people known as the Taíno, who arrived in approximately 2600 BC in large dugout canoes. They are believed to come primarily from what is now eastern Venezuela. By the time Columbus arrived in 1492 AD, the region was under the control of Bohechio, Taíno cacique of Xaragua. He, like his predecessors, feared settling too close to the coast—such settlements would have proven to be tempting targets for the Caribes, who lived on neighboring islands. Instead, the region served as a hunting ground. The population of the region was approximately 400,000 at the time, but the Taínos were gone within 30 years of the arrival of the Spaniards.
With the arrival of the Spaniards, the Amerindians were forced to accept a protectorate, and Bohechio, childless at death, was succeeded by his sister, Anacaona, wife of the cacique Caonabo. Anacaona tried to maintain cordial relations with the Spaniards, but this proved to be difficult, as the latter came to insist upon larger and larger tributes. Eventually, the Spanish colonial administration decided to rule directly, and in 1503, Nicolas Ovando, then governor, set about to put an end to the régime headed by Anacaona. He invited her and other tribal leaders to a feast, and when the Amerindians had drunk a good deal of wine—the Spaniards did not drink on that occasion—he ordered most of the guests killed. Anacaona was spared, though only to be hanged publicly some time later. Through violence and murders, the Spanish settlers decimated the native population.
Direct Spanish rule over the area having been established, Ovando founded a settlement not far from the coast (west of Etang Saumâtre), ironically named Santa Maria de la Paz Verdadera, which would be abandoned several years later. Not long thereafter, Ovando founded Santa Maria del Puerto. The latter was first burned by French explorers in 1535, then again in 1592 by the English. These assaults proved to be too much for the Spanish colonial administration, and in 1606, it decided to abandon the region.
For more than 50 years, the area that is today Port-au-Prince saw its population drop off drastically. Finally, some buccaneers began to use it as a base, and Dutch merchants began to frequent it in search of leather, as game was abundant there. Around 1650, French pirates, or flibustiers, running out of room on the Île de la Tortue began to arrive on the coast, and established a colony at Trou-Borded. As the colony grew, they set up a hospital not far from the coast, on the Turgeau heights. This led to the region being known as Hôpital.
Although there had been no real Spanish presence in Hôpital for well over 50 years, Spain retained its formal claim to the territory, and the growing presence of the French flibustiers on ostensibly Spanish lands provoked the Spanish crown to dispatch Castilian soldiers to Hôpital to retake it. The mission proved to be a disaster for the Spanish, as they were outnumbered and outgunned, and in 1697, the Spanish government signed the Treaty of Ryswick, renouncing any claims to Hôpital. Around this time, the French also established bases at Ester (part of Petite-Rivière) and Gonaïves.
Ester was a rich village, inhabited by merchants, and equipped with straight streets; it was here that the governor lived. On the other hand, the surrounding region, Petite-Rivière, was quite poor. Following a great fire in 1711, Ester was abandoned. Yet the French presence in the region continued to grow, and not long thereafter, a new city was founded to the south: Léogane.
While the first French presence in Hôpital, the region that was later to contain Port-au-Prince, was that of the flibustiers, as the region became a real French colony, the colonial administration began to worry about the continual presence of these pirates. While useful in repelling Englishmen intent on encroaching upon French territory, they were relatively independent, unresponsive to orders from the colonial administration, and a potential threat to it. Therefore, in the winter of 1707, Choiseul-Beaupré, the governor of the region, sought to get rid of what he saw as a threat. He insisted upon control of the hospital, but the flibustiers refused, considering this humiliating. They proceeded to close the hospital, rather than cede control of it to the governor, and many of them became habitans (farmers) -- the first long-term European inhabitants in the region.
Though the elimination of the flibustiers as a group from Hôpital reinforced the authority of the colonial administration, it also made the region a more attractive target for the English. In order to protect the area, in 1706 a captain named de Saint-André sailed into the bay just below the hospital, in a ship named Le Prince. It is said that M. de Saint-André named the area Port-au-Prince (meaning "Port of the Le Prince"), although the port and the surrounding region continued to be known as Hôpital (however, the islets in the bay had already been known as les îlets du Prince as early as 1680.)
The English did not trouble the area, and various nobles sought land grants from the French crown in Hôpital; the first noble to control Hôpital was Sieur Joseph Randot. Upon his death in 1737, Sieur Pierre Morel gained control over part of the region, with Gatien Bretton des Chapelles acquiring another portion of it.
By this time, the colonial administration was convinced that a capital needed to be chosen, in order better to control the French portion of Santo-Domingo (Hispaniola). For a time, Petit-Goâve and Léogâne vied for this honor, but both were eventually ruled out, for various reasons.
First of all, neither was centrally located. Petit-Goâve's climate was too malarial, and Léogane's topography made it difficult to defend. Thus, in 1749 a new city was built: Port-au-Prince.
In 1770, Port-au-Prince replaced Cap-Français (the modern Cap-Haïtien) as capital of the colony of Saint-Domingue, and in 1804, it became the capital of newly independent Haïti. Before Haïtian independence, it was captured by British troops on June 4, 1794.
French colonial commissioner Étienne Polverel proclaimed the city Port-Républicain on 23 September 1793 "in order that the inhabitants be kept continually in mind of the obligations which the French revolution imposed on them". It was later renamed Port-au-Prince by Jacques I, emperor of Haïti. When Haiti was divided between a kingdom in the north and a republic in the south, Port-au-Prince was the capital of the republic, under the leadership of Alexandre Pétion. Henri Christophe renamed the city Port-aux-Crimes after the assassination of Jacques I at Pont Larnage (now known as Pont-Rouge, and located north of the city).
On 12 January 2010, a 7.0 earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, devastating the city. Most of the central historic area of the city was destroyed, including Haiti's prized Cathédrale de Port-au-Prince, the capital building, Legislative Palace (the parliament building), Palace of Justice (Supreme Court building), several ministerial buildings, and at least one hospital. The second floor of the Presidential Palace was thrown into the first floor, and the domes skewed at a severe tilt. The seaport and airport were both damaged, limiting aid shipments. The seaport was severely damaged by the quake and was unable to accept aid shipments for the first week. The airport's control tower was damaged and the US military had to set up a new control center with generators to get the airport prepared for aid flights. Aid has been delivered to Port-au-Prince by numerous nations and voluntary groups as part of a global relief effort. On Wednesday, January 20, 2010, an aftershock rated at a magnitude of 5.9 caused additional damage.
The metropolitan area is subdivided into various districts (communes). There is a ring of districts that radiates out from the commune of Port-au-Prince. Pétionville is an affluent suburban commune located southeast of the city. Delmas is located directly south of the airport and north of the central city, and the rather poor commune of Carrefour is located southwest of the city. Port-au-Prince commune harbors many low-income slums plagued with poverty and violence in which the most notorious, Cité Soleil is situated. However, Cité Soleil has been recently split off from Port-au-Prince proper to form a separate commune. The Champ de Mars area has begun some modern infrastructure development as of recently. The downtown area is the site of several projected modernization efforts in the capital.
Port-au-Prince has a tropical wet and dry climate and relatively constant temperatures throughout the course of the year. Port-au-Prince’s wet season runs from March through November, though the city experiences a relative break in rainfall during the month of July. The city’s dry season covers the remaining three months. Port-au-Prince generally experiences warm and humid conditions during the dry season and hot and humid conditions during the wet season.
|Climate data for Port-au-Prince|
|Average high °C (°F)||31 |
|Daily mean °C (°F)||27 |
|Average low °C (°F)||23 |
|Rainfall mm (inches)||33 |
|Avg. rainy days (≥ 1 mm)||3||5||7||11||13||8||7||11||12||12||7||3||99|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||279.0||254.2||279.0||273.0||251.1||237.0||279.0||282.1||246.0||251.1||240.0||244.9||3,116.4|
|Source: Climate & Temperature |
The population of the area was 1,234,742. The majority of the population is of African descent, but a prominent multiracial minority controls many of the city's businesses. There are sizable numbers of Hispanic residents, as well as small numbers of Europeans (mostly foreign-born). Citizens of Middle East (particularly Syrian and Lebanese) ancestry are a minority with a presence in the capital. Arab Haitians (a large number of whom live in the capital) are more often than not, concentrated in financial areas where the majority of them establish businesses. Most of the mulattoes in the city are concentrated and reside within wealthier areas of Port-au-Prince.
Port-au-Prince is one of the nation's largest centers of economy and finance. The capital currently exports its most widely consumed produce of coffee and sugar, and has, in the past, exported other goods, such as shoes and baseballs. Port-au-Prince has food-processing plants as well as soap, textile and cement factories. Despite political unrest, the city also relies on the tourism industry and construction companies to move its economy. Port-au-Prince was once a popular place for cruises, but has lost nearly all of its tourism, and no longer has cruise ships coming into port.
Though unemployment is very high in Port-au-Prince, it would be more accurate to say that people are underemployed. A person can expect extremely high levels of economic activity throughout the city, especially among people selling goods and services right off the streets. One author argues that virtually no one is unemployed in Port-au-Prince's slums, because they would be unable to survive if they were. Port-au-Prince also has several upscale districts in which crime rates are much lower than in the center of the capital.
Port-au-Prince has a tourism industry. The Toussaint Louverture International Airport (referred to often as the Port-au-Prince International Airport) is the country's main international gateway for tourists. Tourists often visit the Pétionville area of Port-au-Prince. Other sites of interest include gingerbread houses.
Health and public safety
There are a number of hospitals including Sacred Heart Hospital Center (CDTI, Centre Hospitalier du Sacré-Cœur). Hôpital de l'Université d'État d'Haiti, Centre Obstetrico Gynécologique Isaie Jeanty-Léon Audain, Hôpital du Canapé-Vert, Hôpital Français (Asile Français), Hôpital Saint François de Sales, Hôpital-Maternité Sapiens, Hopital OFATMA, Clinique de la Santé, Maternité de Christ Roi, Centre Hospitalier Rue Berne and Maternité Mathieu. After the 2010 earthquake, two hospitals remained that were operational. The University of Miami in partnership with Project Medishare has created a new hospital to provide inpatient and outpatient care for those impacted by the January 2010 earthquake. This hospital is volunteer staffed and provides level 1 trauma care to Port-au-Prince and the surrounding regions.
CDTI closed in April 2010 when international aid failed to materialize. It had been considered the country's premiere hospital.
The culture of the city lies primarily in the center around the National Palace as well as its surrounding areas. The National Museum is located in the grounds of the palace, established in 1938. The National Palace was one of the early structures of the city but was destroyed and then rebuilt in 1918. It was destroyed again by the earthquake on 12 January 2010 which collapsed the center's domed roof.
Another popular destination in the capital is the Hotel Oloffson, a 19th century gingerbread mansion that was once the private home of two former Haïtian presidents. It has become a popular hub for tourist activity in the central city. The Cathédrale de Port-au-Prince is a famed site of cultural interest and attracts foreign visitors to its Neo-Romantic architectural style.
The Musée d'Art Haïtien du Collège Saint-Pierre contains work from some of the country's most talented artists, and the Musée National is a museum featuring historical artifacts such as King Henri Christophe's actual suicide pistol and a rusty anchor that museum operators claim was salvaged from Christopher Columbus's ship, the Santa María. Other notable cultural sites include the Archives Nationales, the Bibliothèque Nationale (National library) and Expressions Art Gallery. The city is the birthplace of internationally known naïve artist Gesner Abelard, who was associated with the Centre d'Art.
The current mayor of Port-au-Prince is Jean Yves Jason, who headed the city at the time of the 2010 earthquake. The city's separate districts (primarily the districts of Delmas, Carrefour, and Pétionville) are all administered by their own local mayors who in turn fall under the jurisdiction of the city's general mayor. The seat of the state, the Presidential Palace, is located in the Champ de Mars plaza of the city. The PNdH (Police Nationale d’Haïti) is the authority governing the enforcement of city laws. The national police force as of recently, have been increasing in number. However because of its ailing ineffectiveness and insufficient manpower, a significant number of UN personnel is present throughout the city as part of the stabilization mission in Haiti.
The city's City Hall was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. Most of the city's other government municipal buildings also collapsed in the earthquake.
Port-au-Prince contains various educational institutions, ranging from small vocational schools to universities. Influential international schools in Port-au-Prince include Union School, founded in 1919, and Quisqueya Christian School, founded in 1974. Both schools offer an American-style pre-college education. French-speaking students can attend the Lycée Français (Lycée Alexandre Dumas), located in Bourdon. Another school is Anís Zunúzí Bahá'í School north west of Port-au-Prince which opened its doors in 1980 which survived the 2010 Haiti earthquake and its staff were cooperating in relief efforts and sharing space and support with neighbors. A clinic was run at the school by a medical team from the United States and Canada. Its classes offered transition from Haitian Creole to the French language but also a secondary language in English. The State University of Haiti (Université d'État d'Haïti in French or UEH), is located within the capital along other universities such as the Quisqueya University and the Université des Caraïbes. There are many other institutions that observe the Haitian scholastic program. Many of them are religious academies led by foreign missionaries from France or Canada. These include Institution Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague, École Sainte-Rose-de-Lima, École Saint-Jean-Marie Vianney, Institution du Sacré-Coeur, and Collège Anne-Marie Javouhey.
The Ministry of Education is also located in downtown Port-au-Prince at the Palace of Ministries, adjacent to the National Palace in the Champ de Mars plaza.
The Haïtian Group of Research and Pedagogical Activities (GHRAP) has set up several community centers for basic education. UNESCO's office at Port-au-Prince has taken a number of initiates in upgrading the educational facilities in Port-au-Prince.
All of the major transportation systems in Haiti are located near or run through the capital. The northern highway, Route Nationale #1 (National Highway One), originates in Port-au-Prince. The southern highway, Route Nationale #2 also runs through Port-au-Prince. Maintenance for these roads lapsed after the 1991 coup, prompting the World Bank to lend US$50 million designated for road repairs. The project was canceled in January 1999, however, after auditors revealed corruption. A third major highway, the Haitian Route Nationale #3, which connects Port-au-Prince which links the capital to the central plateau; however, due to its poor condition, it sees limited use.
The most common form of public transportation in Haiti is the use of brightly painted pickup trucks as taxis called "tap-taps."
The seaport, Port international de Port-au-Prince, has more registered shipping than any of the over dozen ports in the country. The port's facilities include cranes, large berths, and warehouses, but these facilities are in universally poor shape. The port is underused, possibly due to the substantially high port fees compared to ports in the Dominican Republic.
The Toussaint Louverture International Airport (Aéroport International Toussaint Louverture also known as Maïs Gâté), which opened in 1965 (as the François Duvalier International Airport), is located north of the city. It is Haiti's major jetway, and as such, handles the vast majority of the country's international flights. Transportation to smaller cities from the major airport is done via smaller aircraft. Companies providing this service include Caribintair and Sunrise Airways.
Port-au-Prince has two sister cities:
- Miami, United States - 1991
- Montreal, Canada - 1995
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