The historical kernel of Paramaribo
and hence Suriname
, the place where the colony began, and now its principal historical museum. One of the Fort’s ramparts was also the site of the “December Murders” in 1982 (see under history
) and you can still see bullet holes ...
More background info:
This is where it all began … the present Fort sits right on the spot where the first successful attempt at colonizing these parts was made, namely by the British
under Lord Francis Willoughby who founded his “Willoughbyland
” here, but the Dutch
took over in 1667 and renamed the place Fort Zeelandia (a popular name within the Dutch colonies – they also had one in present-day Guyana
where the Dutch had been the first colonizers before they in turn were expelled by the British).
After the construction of Fort Nieuw Amsterdam
further down the Suriname River in the mid-18th century, the military significance of Fort Zeelandia diminished. The landward bastions were demolished after that so that today you can walk directly up to the gate to the inner fort. The original two outer bastions and ramparts facing the river are still in place, though. The Fort continued to be used as a military garrison
, but from 1872 it also became a prison
and served that function until 1967. Most of the buildings that you see inside the Fort today were also constructed in the late 19th century.
In 1972, the Surinaams Museum
established its headquarters at the Fort (having been founded as an institution already in 1947). But after the 1980 coup (see history
), the Fort was requisitioned by the military again.
And it was here, on the Fort’s Bastion Veere that on 8 December 1982, the Bouterse regime shot dead 15 journalists, lawyers, academics, unionists, etc. who had been apprehended just the day before. Bouterse himself may have taken part in the murders, though these days he denies it – even though on 10 December 1982 he had publicly broadcast the news of the shooting of these dissidents, claiming that allegedly they were shot when they tried to escape, though that story wasn’t really believed by anybody.
In 1995 the military returned the Fort to the Stichting Surinaams Museum after the end of the dictatorship, and the place and exhibitions were renovated.
In 2009, the Bastion Veere, site of the December Murders, was unveiled as a National Monument
together with a plaque commemorating the victims – only the year before Bouterse managed to get himself democratically elected president (see history
What there is to see: From the outside the Fort does look rather impenetrable. It’s surrounded by a 15-feet-high (5 metre) stone wall and there is just one entrance gate (with barbed wire at the top, as I noticed – presumably to prevent people climbing over).
Once through the gate
you find yourself in the inner courtyard
, which is surrounded by red-brick
that look like they’ve just been teleported in straight from the Netherlands
The first dark element you see is the former prison part, where original cells have been preserved, including a disturbingly tiny isolation cell that looks more like a cage for transporting wild animals. Other parts of the building house a reconstructed cobbler shop and an old apothecary – complete with a cabinet marked poison. An old wheelchair and ex-hospital equipment can also be seen here.
From the courtyard steps lead up to the south-western bastion with a flagpole and some old rusty cannon, overlooking the Suriname River and the tall bridge.
The other ramparts to the north-east are the spot that makes Fort Zeelandia a proper dark-tourism sight: this is Bastion Veere
, the location of the December Murders of 1982
during the military dictatorship – see above
and under history
! There’s a commemorative stone plaque listing the names of the victims. And on the inner wall of the ramparts you can see holes of different sizes: the smaller ones are original bullet holes, vestiges of the 1982 shooting incident. Amongst these are also several larger, deeper and perfectly circular holes. These were actually cut into the stone to extract embedded bullets for forensic investigations of the December Murders.
The upstairs floors of the buildings around the courtyard house several exhibition rooms. In addition to ethnographic parts
with plenty of artefacts from the pre-Columbian era illustrating the Amerindian heritage
, other rooms focus on the colonial history
of Suriname, including its peculiar Jewish legacy (see history
). A significant part also deals with slavery
and the impact it had on Suriname
. Some original shackles are on display alongside artefacts like ceramic bottles with depictions of slaves that today come across as decidedly racist. Abolition
of slavery is covered too and the subsequent influx of indentured labourers, but there is no mention of the dark days that followed shortly after independence
in 1975, namely the military dictatorship in the wake of the 1980 coup. All labels and texts in the exhibitions are in Dutch only.
Just outside the gate is a row of pretty wooden houses from colonial times that used to provide accommodation for military officers, but are now mostly occupied by offices. There are also several monuments, including outside the western walls of the Fort a statue of Dutch queen Wilhelmina that was erected in 1923 to mark her silver jubilee and originally stood on what’s now Independence Square, formerly Government Square, but which was moved to its present location after 1975.
There are yet more monuments
dotted around the Fort, as well as some more interesting buildings
(intact and ruined) – see under Paramaribo
All in all, while only parts of the museum exhibitions are of particular interest to the dark tourist, the rawness of the original site of the 1982 December Murders with all those bullet holes in the ramparts is very dark indeed and worth the pilgrimage alone.
on the banks of the Suriname River to the south-east of Paramaribo
’s historic Old Town and Independence Square.
Access and costs: somewhat restricted opening times, but easy to get to; inexpensive
If you’re staying in a halfway central location in Paramaribo
the Fort should be walkable – and it’s hard to miss. From the centre of the Old Town just head towards the river and across Independence Square and you’re basically there, just turn right after passing the National Assembly or walk along the river promenade. From the west proceed along Waterkantstraat to its very end, and from the east, where several of the larger tourist hotels are, walk along Kleine Waterkantstraat westwards, cross the Sommelsdijck Canal, go past the Presidential Cabinet building and turn left.
Opening times: Tuesday to Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays from 10 a.m., closed Saturdays, Mondays and national holidays.
Admission: 25 SRD (ca. 3 euros)
Apparently there are also free public guided tours on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and 12 noon – but I can’t vouch for these, as I visited the place with my own English-speaking guide. The public tours are most likely available in Dutch only.
Time required: About an hour should possibly do, unless you can read Dutch and are interested in all the ethnographic sections of the museum and want to read absolutely everything, in which case you’ll need longer.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
The Fort’s location makes it easy to combine a visit there with some of the top sights of Paramaribo
, given that Independence Square and the Palm Garden are literally just round the corner and the core of the Old Town just beyond.
- Fort Zeelandia 01 - south walls
- Fort Zeelandia 02 - Dutch queen and local bird
- Fort Zeelandia 03 - north walls and gate
- Fort Zeelandia 04 - ancient edifice
- Fort Zeelandia 05 - courtyard
- Fort Zeelandia 06 - prison part
- Fort Zeelandia 07 - grim isolation cell
- Fort Zeelandia 08 - old pharmacy
- Fort Zeelandia 09 - poison
- Fort Zeelandia 10 - old wheelchair
- Fort Zeelandia 11 - old hospital equipment
- Fort Zeelandia 12 - rampart and old cannon
- Fort Zeelandia 13 - site of the December Murders
- Fort Zeelandia 14 - plaque for the victims
- Fort Zeelandia 15 - bullet holes
- Fort Zeelandia 16 - view north over the Suriname River
- Fort Zeelandia 17 - museum
- Fort Zeelandia 18 - model of the fort as it used to be
- Fort Zeelandia 19 - colonial living
- Fort Zeelandia 20 - Jewish heritage
- Fort Zeelandia 21 - sugar and rum heritage
- Fort Zeelandia 22 - slavery heritage
- Fort Zeelandia 23 - breaking the chains
- Fort Zeelandia 24 - no more racist depictions of slaves like this
- Fort Zeelandia 25 - old houses opposite the gate