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The establishment of the fortress Fort Zeelandia on the banks of the Surinam river marks the beginning of the city of Paramaribo.
Next to the stone fortress, there were some wooden and a couple of brick houses on the premises. The training area that laid behind the fortress developed into what nowadays is known as Independence square; it used to be called Government square and later Orange square (after the royal Dutch family).
It is a pity that nowadays the connection between the fort proper, the other buildings on the old fortified area and the square is hampered by the hermetically closed area of "Buitensocieteit Het Park", which these days serves as the Parliament of Suriname. In the old day the whole area was a amalgamation of sturdy stone, warm timber under a mahogany canopy and a wide grass lawn with distinct buildings at its borders, and a view of the river at one end.
It is said that around 1644, on the very spot of the fortress, there was a stronghold of palisades. This was captured by the English in 1650, who reinforced it. Willoughby, the English commander in chief reconstructed the fortress in stone and named it Fort Willoughby.
Abraham Crijnssen, from the Dutch province of Zeeland, reconquered the place in 1667 and renamed it Fort Zeelandia.
Small couryard near bastion 4 - Zierikzee
The fortress is situated on a high plot of land in a sharp bend in the river Suriname. Its pentagon therefore has three bastions facing the river.
The two other bastions, between which the entrance to the fort, face inland, where in former times a wall and moats supplied extra protection.
Bastion 3 - Veere Bastion 2 - Middelburg
Both these two bastions, the wall and moat vanished in the course of time. The fortress lost its strategic value after the French under Cassard stopped fair play in warfare and attacked the plantations in 1712, instead of waging a heroic battle to conquer the fort. A new fort, fort New Amsterdam, was erected at the confluence of the rivers Suriname and Commewijne, thus guarding both the plantations and the city.
Maingate Building 4 Building 3
The development of fort Zeelandia was not based on a master plan, except for the concept of a moated pentagon, which was the usual concept for a fortress in those days. Throughout the years quite some off-hand construction took place and the complex changed purpose. Parts were neglected or fell into decay, then all of a sudden there was a hausse in construction and restoration. Bastions degenerated into garbage dumps, water seeped into walls, the gunpowder storage proved to be too humid, a watchhouse collapsed, cannons turned out to be of too small calibre to be functional.
In 1772 it was even considered to tear down the fortress, also because it had practically no military value anymore. But demolition would have been more expensive than to have it remain. Too many buildings were constructed leaning against its walls which then would also had to be taken down.
It is not clear exactly in what year the stone citadel stood erect in all its glory. In papers dating from 1667 five bastions are mentioned with curtains (mil: the part of a wall or rampart connecting two bastions, towers etc.). These were reinforced with palisades, that were not high enough as yet, except for the parts facing the river. Clearly the fortress was not yet considered to be completed.
In 1682 Suriname was conquered by Abraham Crijnssen for the Zeeland province of the Netherlands and sold to the West-Indian Company. The WIC sold a third of its shares to the city of Amsterdam and mr. Cornelis van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck a year later. Van Aerssen assumed the administration of the country in the position of governor and carried out many improvements; in the area of diplomacy and law, but also in the area of defence of the country. He embarked upon a project to improve Fort Zeelandia and built fortifications in the interior of the country such as fort Cottica. Even after the assassination of Van Sommelsdijck the expansion of the fortified area was continued.
An inventory in 1694 mentions a fausse braye (a low parapet against the walls from where a low aimed fire can be shot), a moat at the landside of the walls, which could be filled but with rainwater and thus often laid dry, an earthen wall against a second moat that stood dry during low tide, and in between the moats an area on which stood among others a bakery and a carpenter’s shed. In 1710 the inner moat had all but vanished except for two mud pools.
Even though Cassard’s attack on the plantations in 1712 questioned the value of the fortress, a plan was made in 1715 to reinforce Zeelandia. But when Fort New Amsterdam was built in 1747 the fortress definitely lost its meaning as a defencework. Bastions 1 and 5 on the landside were demolished in 1781, ten years later bastion 4 followed suit. The materials were used to protect the riverbanks; from the very start these were prone to erosion by the currents. The emphasis of the area now turned to the function of a garrison with barracks and storagebuildings. From these times date the reconstruction of the buildings 1, 3 and 4 in stone. Part of the outer moat was filled up; the new victuals storage (Building 1790) was built on top of the filled moat. A new watch-house was constructed, with a tower which for the next 50 years was the landmark of the area. The function of prison was also worked on by improving the cells, by e.g. replacing the stone floors by wood.
Since 1838 the stone fortification mainly served as a prison. Around the turn of the century (1900) finally the facilities for water were improved: storage basins for rainwater were constructed (but no wells being sunk) and draining was placed. A major complaint that remained was the lack of sufficient segregation between the facilities for officers and privates.
In 1962 the government decided upon a thorough restoration, after which the buildings would mainly get the function of a museum. The prison was moved to Santa Boma. In 1968 renovation was started and completed in 1972. The stone fortification was painstakingly renovated in the course of which old constructions were uncovered. The bastions 2, 3 and 4 were restored and two small buildings on bastion 2 demolished. The buildings in the courtyard were worked on extensively. "Building 1970" on the outer yard was also renovated in order to house some ministries.
After the revolution of the Petty Officers in 1975 the army took possession of the fort. This resulted in the darkest days of the fort after the period of the punishments of slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries: the incarceration of political opponents and the December assassinations of 1982 which took place here.
Nowadays the fort houses the Surinam museum once more.