Martinique is a small island and an overseas region of France. Its nearest neighbours are Dominica and Guadeloupe to the north, Barbados to the southeast and Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the south. The terrain here is mostly mountainous and volcanic in origin, with the coastline featuring many beautiful sandy beaches.
Columbus sighted it on his initial expedition in 1493 but he did not stop. Martinique played host to its first European “tourists” in 1502 when Columbus landed here during his fourth voyage. Dubbed Martinique by Columbus, the island was inhabited by Carib Indians who had driven away the Arawaks (both tribes had come to the island from South America). The island was called Madinina (Island of Flowers) by the Caribs. Martinique was claimed by France in 1635. France and Britain fought over the island until 1815, when France prevailed. In 1946, Martinique became a Department of France and in 1974 a Region of France, its current status. It is true when they say, that modern day Martinique is “a little bit of France in the Caribbean”.
So far we really like it here. Our experience has been much different than when we visited Guadeloupe. (The only other French island that we have sailed to) It seems like there are more people here that can speak English or maybe we are just getting used to everyone speaking French. Heck, we can even understand some of what they are saying!
We have never been to Paris but this place is a lot like we imagine it would be, other than being on a tropical island. And the food….yum! Finally we have been able to get good cheese, bread and a great assortment of grocery items. To quote a cruiser that we met here, “It’s like we finally found civilization!”
We sailed into the town of Saint Pierre where we cleared in. The town is drop dead gorgeous and full of history. A volcano called Mount Pelee, sits high above the town.
Mount Pelee has been quite active over its life. Thankfully they say that it is not active right now. In the Caribbean there are lots of other active volvanos and most of them seem to be connected in some sort of way or another so you never really know. This volcano is a huge part of the island and it is a major tourist destination. Mount Pelee erupted in 1902 and at the time Saint-Pierre was the capitol of Martinique. The damage from the volcano was so bad that they moved the capitol to Fort de France.
Saint Pierre, Martinique was first settled in 1635….now that’s a looong time ago! By the time the twentieth century came around, the city had grown to a population of more than 30,000 residents and the town was thriving. Sometimes called it the “Paris of the West Indies”. Up to twenty-five ships were anchored in the bay at any given time, proving the area’s popularity. By the very early nineteenth century, St Pierre was considered one of the most progressive of all Caribbean towns and featured modern city amenities such as telephones, trams for area transportation, and even electricity.
On May 8, 1902, Mt. Pelee erupted, and in a matter of three minutes transformed the village of St. Pierre into the scene of wreckage and devastation. Only two people in the entire village are said to have survived – one of which did so because he had been jailed for the night for public drunkenness, Louis-Auguste Cyparis, who later toured with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. His jail cell is a popular attraction.
Here is a good site if you want to see some photos and read more about the eruption:
The new town of St. Pierre was built around the old St. Pierre ruins and the ruins can be seen everwhere when you walk throughout the town. There is so much history and it was amazing and humbling to be somewhere where such devastation had taken place. It is a great display that we humans can rebuild and continue on from such a tragedy.
As we know when a seaside town has such an event much is washed into the sea. For me this was an upside…lots of chaney on the beach! I had blast treasure hunting while we were here!
While we were really enjoying hanging out in Saint Pierre apparently Moon was not happy being anchored there. We woke up one morning about a mile offshore. During the early morning hours our anchor had drug! It had been a windy night and we were anchored in about 25ft just off of a deep shelf. Normally we would have set our anchor alarm but for some reason we did not when we arrived. As we lay in bed we thought that it was a bit rougher than usual in the anchorage, almost like we were at sea. We took a look out the window and discovered that we were at sea! Thankfully there were no boats or reefs behind us and we just drifted safely away…it could have been much worse. So we decided to take Moon’s hint and we hauled our dangling anchor and headed off to visit a new town.
We ended up in Fort de France, Martinique’s capitol. Wow what a town! This is a big and bustling city! We are anchored at the foot of a big fort and right along the city’s town front. So much to see and do here but we’ve written enough for now.
Hope that you are all doing good and in good health. We know that it is the start of tourist season back at home and we are soooo lucky to be playing tourist here! Miss you all!
Jennifer and Brian SV/Moon