Fort Kyk-Over-Al and the Dutch Defense of Guyana
The Dutch have had a long presence in the Caribbean and Latin America and a form of Dutch is still spoken in parts of the region. The European nation has left many architectural and archaeological remains in the area, one of which is the remains of Fort Kyk-Over-Al, in the South American country of Guyana.
The Early History of Fort Kyk-Over-Al
The Spanish were the first Europeans to visit the area now known as Guyana. However, it was the Dutch that colonized the area first during their long war with Spain. They established a colony at Essequibo.
The Zeeland Fort, Dutch ruins on the island of Essequibo (homocosmicos/ Adobe Stock )
The Dutch selected the area because of its strategic significance and established Fort Kyk-Over-Al at the meeting point of three great rivers, the Essequibo, Cuyuni and Mazaruni. This allowed the Europeans to dominate the region as well as the trade routes. They constructed the fort to protect their colonists from attacks by Amerindians, pirates, and rival European armies . The fort, initially a defensive outpost, developed into a major trading and administrative center.
The Endless Battles for Fort Kyk-Over-Al
This area was a battleground for much of the 17 th and 18 th century. European armies and navies fought for control of the region because of its vast economic wealth and resources. During the First- Anglo Dutch War , the fort was attacked by a British force led by the Governor of Barbados. He overran the Dutch settlements and quickly occupied the fort, but his communications were stretched, and the Dutch soon recovered the fort.
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Map showing where the three rivers meet (KMusser / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
By the 1670s they had established plantations in the area and were trading successfully with the local Amerindian tribes . The region was infested with pirates for many decades and French pirates attacked the Dutch settlements on a regular basis. These were either beaten back or the colonists paid the buccaneers protection money. Fort Kyk-Over-Al was attacked by French pirates in 1708 and was briefly captured, but the Dutch were able to take it back once again. There was another attack on the fort in 1712 and this too was repulsed.
Later History of Fort Kyk-Over-Al
After the fort was abandoned much of its materials were re-used in the construction of neighboring plantations. In 1817, Guyana was transferred to the control of the British. In the late 19 th century the fort was excavated and surveyed, not for archaeological purposes but as part of a border dispute between Venezuela and Britain. The British commissioned the survey to prove that the Dutch had been long-established in the area. This led an International Commission to declare that this area of Guyana was British territory because the Dutch had legally transferred their sovereignty to London.
It is reported that as part of the survey some stones were taken from Fort Kyk-Over-Al to Great Britain and later returned. The Guyanese government made the ruins of the fort a national monument in the 1980s.
The Vistas at Fort Kyk-Over-Al?
The name of the fort in Dutch means ‘see-over-all’ because of the views it offers of the local rivers and landscape. A single brick arch with a flight of steps is all that remains of Fort Kyk-Over-Al. It is approximately 30 feet high (10 m). The other ruins in the area, including foundations and the remains of walls are hidden beneath the dense vegetation.
Getting to Fort Kyk-Over-Al
The fort is approximately 50 miles south of the capital of Guyana. Accommodation is available in the nearest town, Bartica. Packaged tours enable tourist to visit the fort, along with a number of other sites and Amerindian villages .
The scenery is amazing, and the environment unspoiled. The Guyanese government expects all tourists to observe guidelines that promote sustainability.
Top image: The remaining arch of Fort Kyk-Over-Al Source: homocosmicos/ Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan
Glasgow, R. A. (1970). Early Colonization and Development . In Guyana: Race and Politics among Africans and East Indians (pp. 1-19). Springer, Dordrecht
Joseph, C. L. (1970). The Venezuela-Guyana Boundary Arbitration of 1899: An Appraisal: Part I. Caribbean Studies, 10(2), 56-89
Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25612212
Maguire, B., & Maguire, C. K. (1996). T he Lost Worlds of Guyana: a search into their origins and history . Brittonia, 48(3), 346-354.