Explore the Balaclava Ruins in Mauritius and Experience its Mystery
You may think that the primary attractions to Mauritius are its beautiful beaches, nature excursions, shopping opportunities and nightlife – and you would be correct. However, you cannot truly experience the island unless you visit some its more historical sites. One great site is the Balaclava Ruins. It is the history of the island which shapes every visitor's experience and perspective - and Mauritius has a particularly colourful one.
A Brief History of the Island of Mauritius
Mauritius can trace its origins to a succession of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago under the water, forming the island you know of today. While many believe the island's first discoverers were 9th century Arab explorers, history dictates that this island in the Indian Ocean was first colonized in the late 16th century by the Dutch. However, almost 100 years later, the Dutch abandoned their colony on Mauritius which was then taken by the French. In late 1810, the British took over allowing the island citizens to keep their property as well as maintain French laws. Independence from the British was declared in 1968.
Background of the Balaclava Ruins
During French rule in the 1700's, sugar production helped the economy prosper. To protect the island and its growth, the first French governor Mahé de Labourdonnais directed the foundation of a fortress estate to be built there, just a few metres away from the Bay of Turtles or Baie aux Tortues, so named by French sailors due to the large tortoise population in the waters of Mauritius.
It did not take long for the tortoise numbers to be depleted rapidly due to the popularity of their meat and oil from their liver so the bay name changed to Arsenal Bay or Baie de l’ Arsenal. This new name was more apt due to the ammunition stored at the fortress to protect the island. This French arsenal exploded in 1774, decimating parts of the fortress and scattering spent arsenal around the area.
It was believed that the ruins attained the name Balaclava as a direct nod to the Crimean War in Europe with the same name. However, another school of thought is that the ruins were named after the black lava rocks left behind after volcanic activity millions of years ago.
Visiting Balaclava Today
Visiting Balaclava today, you will bear witness to the remnants of a colonist society from the 1800s. In addition, the ruins of the fortress estate also include ancient settlements that date back before French rule, likely to the earliest settlers of Mauritius, perhaps even before the Dutch. During your exploration of these mysterious ruins, you will see traces of an old flourmill as well as a lime kiln. The flourmill was used to grind grain into flour for food products while the lime kiln was used for agricultural as well as construction products.
Readily visible are the original sea walls of the fortress started by the first French governor de Labourdonnais. The ruins are conveniently located, in large part, within the grounds of the Maritim Hotel. The grounds are lush and wildly natural in many areas with the Riviere Citron or Citron River serving as the northern border. This small river traverses through several dams and empties into a lagoon area. The tropical plants and landscaping around the Balaclava ruins boast natural foot paths and walkways so foot travel is easy. When you visit the ruins on the grounds of the Maritim Hotel, you also get the gorgeous views of the mountain range in Mauritius. (Nearby is a crater in Trou aux Cerfs, another visitor hot spot for nature lovers and history buffs.)
As a visitor, you cannot freely walk into the Balaclava ruins. You must take a taxi to the Maritim Hotel and garner permission to explore the area from the security guard there. The path to the ruins begins just inside the hotel gate, back about 30 metres. Of course, an option may be to stay in the hotel itself so you have easier access to the ruins. You also may be able to rent bicycles and tour the grounds through that method as well after procuring permission. Keep in mind though that not all areas may be accessible by bicycle so you will have to park it near a particular area should you wish to thoroughly explore within.
When you book your trip to Mauritius, be sure you set aside a few days for simple historical exploration. While the beaches and the panorama of the mountain ranges, majestic waterfalls and other nature features are quite notable and definitely worthy of your time, you will experience the true essence of Mauritius through its historical sites.