Fort Nieuw Amsterdam
A (former) fort located at the confluence of the Suriname and Commewijne Rivers, constructed by the Dutch
in the mid-18th century for additional protection of their colony in Guiana, today’s Suriname
, from outside attacks. These days it houses a museum, parts of a former prison, as well as an open air-exhibition of various relics and makes for an easy and fairly interesting excursion from Paramaribo
More background info:
for the general historical context see under Suriname history
The fact that Paramaribo
and the plantations of the Commewijne district would need additional protection from outside attacks had been known for a while, and a precursor of the fort was already in place a bit up the Commewijne River (later scaled down to a mere observation post). The need for it was emphasized by a French
Buccaneer attack in the early 18th century, and from 1740 work on Fort Nieuw Amsterdam began.
It was more or less finished by 1747. It had the form of a star-shaped system of bastions and barracks and storehouses inside. A particular problem proved the gunpowder warehouse. The initial brick structure was not suitable for keeping gunpowder dry in the humid climate of the Guianas
, and so a new one, with much thicker walls was constructed in the late 1770s.
In 1772 the Fort had a brief significant role in history as the disembarkation point for a Dutch
expedition force sent in to quell the Maroon War on the Cottica River that also threatened Paramaribo
. You can read all about that in detail in “Wild Coast
”; for our context this falls outside the assumed time-frame for dark tourism
, so I won’t dwell on it.
Around the turn of the 19th century the Fort was twice captured by the British
without a fight. It soon became clear that it had lost its military role. But from 1872 it became significant again, namely as a prison. You can still see the isolation cells block constructed then. Often these would be filled with up to 15 convicts, without cooling or sanitary facilities, and only minimal light coming from a tiny window.
, the crew of the German
ship “Goslar” that sank in the Suriname River opposite Paramaribo
(and whose wreck is still there) were interned here too, as were sympathizers of the German National Socialist Movement. Apparently (so the Fort’s website claims) this was the only prison in Suriname until 1967! (Though this clashes with what I read about Fort Zeelandia
) It ceased to operate as a prison only as late as 1982.
The site regained some strategic importance with the onset of bauxite mining, both at Moengo up the Cottica River as well as up the Suriname River, by an American extraction company. Hence the USA
sent in a military contingent during WWII
and also added some fortifications and big coastal gun emplacements to protect their continued supply of bauxite – so vital for the war effort (up to 90% of all US Air Force warplanes were built with aluminium from Suriname
In addition to its military role and that as a prison, Fort Nieuw Amsterdam has also long been of administrative importance. In fact from the 18th century all slave ships, and later all those bringing in indentured labourers from Asia had to first moor here. So it is also significant as a memorial to the multi-ethnic genesis of Suriname
’s population today.
A first version of the open-air museum started in 1968. In 2008 the site underwent a major redevelopment programme that yielded its form today. It’s one of the most important sights in Suriname telling the country’s history.
What there is to see: First of all, the fort does not at all look like a fortified bastion. The earth-wall ramparts are overgrown with grass and hardly noticeable from street level (but you can clearly make them out from the air or on satellite images), and the whole compound looks more like a well-groomed park than a military installation.
Amongst the open-air exhibits
are some old sugar plantation vats in which the sugar cane was boiled under constant stirring to extract the sugar content. Of a darker nature are the many guns and mortars of all sorts that are on display, alongside a single armoured vehicle, a Canadian
model called “Otter” from WWII
that arrived in Suriname
in the 1960s. Text panels accompany many of the exhibits and these are in Dutch and English.
There are also several bunkers
dotted around, presumably dating from WWII as well, going by their looks. Semi-open air, protected by a roof, is a collection of historical horse-drawn hearses
, some quite elaborate. Also semi-open air is a set of information panels about the Transatlantic Slave Trade
, but these are in Dutch only.
One remarkable spot has the tombstone of Charles Godeffroy
, which was relocated here from nearby Alkmaar Plantation in 2014. Godeffroy was of German aristocratic origin and had come to Suriname
to find his fortune, which he did, thanks in part to marrying a plantation-owner widow. Apparently, the Godeffroys treated their slaves significantly better than other colonialists, going by the episode about them in “Wild Cost
”, which also features a passage where the author goes to Alkmaar in search of Charles’ grave, which he found totally overgrown amongst whatever vestiges of the old plantation could still be made out.
You then come to the former prison tract
. The cell block building still has some original isolation cells
, providing a grim glimpse into the past, as well as a somewhat more uplifting exhibition
about the various ethnicities
that make up Suriname’s population today, from Amerindians, Europeans, Africans (slaves – some of whom later became Maroons), Asians, especially Javanese and Indian/Hindustani but also Chinese (see under Suriname history
) as well as newer arrivals such as Brazilians and even Lebanese, and it all ends in a category called “Mix Max”, for those whose ancestry is so mixed that no particular dominating racial trait can be discerned. The cultural ingredients, including culinary ones, that each of these groups contributed to Suriname
are also covered. Unfortunately, though, all texts and labels here are, again, in Dutch only, so if you don’t know the language (or at least German, which helps getting at least part of the gist), you won’t get so much detailed information out of this part.
Next door in the former hospital
of the prison/fort, there’s another exhibition
which is about Suriname’s history
generally, complete with a timeline that covers the whole span from pre-Columbian times to (almost) the present day, with all its dark chapters – the latest entries showed the freshly re-elected Dési Bouterse in 2015 and the end of the bauxite mining activities.
Back outside but still within the confines of the old fort you can also marvel at the barbed-wire-topped prison walls and at the original gunpowder house from 1740 and its much sturdier brick successor from 1778.
Outside the former fort proper there are a few more items of interest. One is a small monument
for the first Chinese workers who arrived in 1853, and across the road is one of the massive coastal gun
emplacements that the USA
installed here during WWII
to protect the estuary of the Suriname River, in order to secure the supply of bauxite from the mining operations up the Cottica and Suriname Rivers for their war effort (see history).
about 6 miles (10 km) downriver from Paramaribo
to the north-east of the city; at the confluence of the Suriname and Commewijne Rivers.
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs:
Quite a bit out of Paramaribo
, but not too difficult to reach; good value
Details: To get to the site independently you could get a boat from Paramaribo, public road transport (if you’re prepared to brave it) or drive yourself, if you have a vehicle, or even cycle, provided you’re up to covering the distance by bicycle. If you’re driving, you first have to cross the Suriname River by the high bridge to Meerzorg on the eastern banks and then follow the main road (East-West-Verbinding) until you come to a roundabout where you need to take the first exit left on to Commissaris Thurkowweg, which will become Pronkweg, after a sharp right turn: Keep going past some old plantations until you come to the end of Pronkweg opposite Kang Xin Market and turn left, then right into Wilhelminastraat and keep going for another 500 yards and you’ll arrive at the open-air-museum entrance. To get to the big US coastal gun, turn off Wilheminastraat heading back at the first right turn towards the boat landing stage.
Or make the whole thing part of an organized guided tour by private car with a driver/guide and forget about navigating yourself – that’s what I did, when I had this built into a day tour on my 2019 Three-Guianas trip (see under Guyana
), which also included Peperpot (see under Suriname
) and Mariënburg
. But there are local operators too that can do this.
Opening times: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; at weekends and public holidays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: 15 SRD (ca. 2 USD) – for foreigners, that is. Locals pay half that.
Time required: about an hour or so, longer if you can read Dutch and want to study all the text panels in full.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
The closest other dark attraction near Fort Nieuw Amsterdam is the splendid abandoned sugar plantation complex of Mariënburg
, some five miles (8 km) by road to the east. As most people will visit both these places (even together in a one-day excursion) from Paramaribo
, that city’s attractions are obviously also a likely combination.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The museum is partly not so dark in itself, and the area around it certainly has its charms too. One particular attraction is Plantage Frederiksdorp, a restored old plantation house now serving as a hotel and restaurant; it’s located a little upriver on the opposite bank of the Commewijne River, but there’s a boat service taking visitors across.
From Frederiksdorp you can go on tours to Matapica beach to see marine turtles nesting, including giant leatherbacks and green sea turtles (but only in season; for green turtles from February to May and for leatherbacks from April to July).
- Fort New Amsterdam 1 - bunkers and old sugar boiling pots
- Fort New Amsterdam 2 - armoured vehicle
- Fort New Amsterdam 3 - historical hearses
- Fort New Amsterdam 4 - Godeffrey tombstone
- Fort New Amsterdam 5 - ex-prison building
- Fort New Amsterdam 6 - cells
- Fort New Amsterdam 7 - prison walls
- Fort New Amsterdam 8 - old gunpowder house
- Fort New Amsterdam 9 - later gunpowder house
- riverside coastal gun
- riverside jetty and old cannons