Country Directory

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A World Filled With Stars

Starting around the 15th century, the planet began to fill up with stars. Prior to this period, classical fortifications were basically like your average castle or walled city. They relied on defenses that kept men away from the walls while providing height to allow defenders to fire a rain of arrows down at the unlucky attackers. This worked for thousands of years. Archaeologists have discovered that the city of Jericho had a wall surrounding it as early as 10,000 years ago.

Maiden Castle. A large hill fort in Dorset, England.
There were all kinds of defensive structures, from wooden palisades, to the hill forts of ancient Britain, to the enormous Burghausen Castle which extends its stone walls over a kilometer! And these fortresses did their job for most of human history. They worked until the advent of cannons. The walls of these forts and castles tended to be too thin to handle the impact of the new artillery, and their often round shape was more prone to collapse.

To deal with the problem, military engineers began to introduce thick triangular walls and angular ditches with steep slopes to make it more difficult for projectiles to hit their target, and when they did hit, to provide better greater strength for the structure. The changes also eliminated "dead zones", areas where attackers were relatively safe from counter fire. These forts became ever more complex as time went on. To quote the Oxford History of Modern War, "Fortresses... acquired ravelins and redoubts, bonnettes and lunettes, tenailles and tenaillons, counterguards and crownworks and hornworks and curvettes and fausse brayes and scarps and cordons and banquettes and counterscarps..."

Star Forts, as they came to be known, eventually developed into the "polygonal forts" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Fort Bruyeres near Laon, France.

Fort Bruyeres. Image Source Here

As part of my #FortressEarth project, which seeks to map every fort and castle built between the years 1000 and 1945 that are still visible via satellite, I decided to do a secondary project focused solely on star forts. I found 1,238 such places. These include traditional star forts as well as some of the transitional and polygonal forts that had at least one "triangle" portion or were chevron-shaped. This excludes forts like Bruyeres but includes others like Fort Purbrook in the UK. It also includes "star cities" like Copenhagen and Lucca, Italy. You can download the Google Earth file here.

A classic "star city" - Lucca, Italy (Image: Google Earth)
Click for Larger Image.
Star forts are predominantly found along the coasts and border regions of countries, as well as capital cities. France is a great example of this, whose outline can be easily determined by where French star forts are.

France, apart from having well defended borders, also has a tight ring of 16 star forts (and many other kinds of fortifications) that protected Paris. The Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands) have a disproportionate number of star forts, which attest to their own active military history, but also to the fact that they have traditionally been a favored invasion corridor for France and Germany.

I was able to find star forts on every inhabited continent except Australia. Europe has 930, the Americas have 180, Asia has 77, and Africa has 51. It may come as a surprise to some, but the small African country of Ghana has a whoping 14 forts. Unfortunately, these weren't constructed to defend the nation. They were built by the Portuguese to protect the slave trade. You can learn more about "The Slave Fortress of Ghana" here.

Some other interesting bits of information about these beautiful forts:

The northern most star fort in the world (and possibly the most northern fort of any kind) is Norway's Vardøhus Fortress, which is located at 70° 22′ 20″ N, 31° 5′ 41″ E. It is 263 miles above the Arctic Circle!

The southern most is Fort Corral in Chile, at 39°53'20"S 73°25'33" W. It is art of the Valdivian Fort System which the Spanish constructed to protect Corral Bay.

Star forts marked a transitional era in warfare. They arose because of powerful artillery and new tactics, but then, around the 1860s, started to become obsolete - requiring further improvements and the creation of polygonal forts. This last phase of static fortification then finally died out as a powerful means of defense when World War II changed everything. Ballistic missiles weighing thousands of pounds and stealth jets that can reach anywhere in the world, have made traditional above-ground fortifications all but useless. Yet the star forts that remain (as many have been demolished) still stand as testament and guard to human ingenuity and to the history that gave rise to our modern world.

I hope you will find the Google Earth file interesting. And despite the 1,238 forts included, there could still be a few I missed - so keep an eye out! Again, you can download it here.

--Jacob Bogle, 12/8/16

Friday, November 25, 2016

Fortress Haiti

This is part of the #FortressEarth mapping project by Jacob Bogle. For more information, please visit

Haiti was discovered by Europeans in 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed there and established the settlement of La Navidad (the first European settlement in the Americas during the Age of Discovery). While the settlement was destroyed by native peoples a year later, Spain was not deterred. The town of Puerto Real was created in 1502 which is near modern-day Fort-Liberté. That area saw a succession of forts culminating with the current Fort Liberté, constructed in 1731. Given Haiti's key location in the Caribbean, it was fought over by the Spanish, French, and English. This, of course, gave rise to many fortifications.

Over all, Haiti has 34 fortified sites that still exist and can be seen via satellite.

Click for larger view.

Most of the forts are in the traditional "star fort" style which was popular from the 15th through 18th centuries, which also coincides with Haiti's colonial history.

Haiti's most impressive fortification is called Citadelle Laferrière.

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The fort was built in 1820 by Henri Christophe, who was the ruler of the short-lived Kingdom of Haiti. It is one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Haiti, the other two are also connected to Henri and are within the area of the fort.

Of the smaller forts throughout Haiti, Fort Jacques (which looks out over Port-au-Prince), is quintessential.

It was built by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a predecessor of Henri Christophe, to defend Haiti during the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). It was abandoned soon after his death in 1806. You'll notice the thick walls of the fort. Star forts were developed in response to the advent of cannons and powerful artillery. However, unlike Fort Jacques, the forts around the city of Dessalines tended to be simpler stone structures lacking the heft of thick walls.

Dessalines has a line of six forts, extending from the entrance of the city up to the top of the mountain ridge. The town, named after Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a former slave who became emperor of a liberated Haiti, built a line of five forts to defend the country's new capital from the threat of a potential new French invasion during the early 19th century. The sixth fort (Fort Culbute) was constructed during Haiti's colonial days.

Click for larger view.
Here is a collage of each of the six forts.

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Due to Haiti's tumultuous political and economic history, most of the country's forts are severely damaged. Apart from the Citadel, Fort Liberté is one of the best preserved forts in Haiti. It's also one of the few forts that aren't a traditional "4-point" star fort.

Click for larger view.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about Haiti's fortifications. If you'd like to download the Google Earth file that contains all 34 sites, you can automatically download the file here. To see other files available, visit

--Jacob Bogle, 11/25/2016