"Fort de France, Martinique" Fort-de-France by starship

Fort-de-France Travel Guide: 2 reviews and 30 photos

"Island of Flowers"

It was a sunny, hot and humid morning when we arrived in Fort de France, Martinique. Though it was quite early, people were already busy going about their weekday activities.

We had decided not to take a tour that day although willing taxi drivers were available in abundance. We had decided to simply walk around town as much as possible on our own. There was a Tourist Information kiosk near the dock where information and maps were readily available. The heat and humidity being as oppressive as it was this early in the day, discouraged us from doing more. The sea breeze could not find its way down the narrow streets to have any cooling effect. In retrospect we thought we might have made a mistake by not striking a deal with a taxi driver/tour guide to have a drive around the island and up to Montagne Pelee (Mt. Pelee). By the time we were under sail later in the afternoon, dark and menacing clouds shrouded the summit of the mountain.

What we did see was the rabbit's warren of little streets filled with shops and eateries, the Saint Louis Cathedral, the Artisan's Market and only the outer walls of the Fort Saint Louis. We walked through a green plaza and outdoor market, and along the harborfront where we came upon a bed of "seaglass" -- pieces of broken bottles (wine mostly) of varying sizes and colors worn smooth by the constant action of the waves over rocks and sand. I brought home several pieces but later wished I'd brought more as there was no restriction to taking these at the time.

Little France in the Caribbean

While the present-day inhabitants of Martinique may be descendants of the native Arawaks, Asian Indians, Africans, or French Settlers, the island claims that it truly is the "France of the Caribbean." Martinique's status as an "overseas department of France" means that the islands inhabitants have the same rights and privileges as those living in France," including French citizenship. Martinique is represented in the French National Assembly in Paris by elected senators and deputies.

The language of the island is French, and we heard everyone speaking it. Other native languages may still exist, but the business of the island is conducted in French. Many people, of course, spoke English as well. Since the inhabitants of Martinique are in essence French, they vote in French elections, have French social security benefits, health programs and free education. The literacy rate of Martinique being around 95% makes it one of the highest in the Caribbean. Martinique also has one of the highest standards of living among the islands of the Caribbean.

The islands of Guadaloupe, St. Barthelemy and St. Martin are also French dependencies and are often referred to as the "French West Indies."

A Very Brief History

History tells us that Christopher Columbus "sighted" the island in 1493 but was discouraged from landing by tales of its fierce Carib Indians during that sailing. He later briefly set foot on the island but no permanent settlement was established until 1635 when a Frenchman from St. Kitts did so on the leeward side of the island. Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc came with 100 settlers and subsequently the island became the seat of the French crown in the Caribbean and one of the most prosperous and richest islands at that time.

As was the case with many islands in the Caribbean, ownership was fought over and changed hands several times, but the French gained sovereignty over the island in 1848 and abolished slavery. During the mid-1800's, thousands of Asian Indian immigrants were imported to work the sugar cane fields but the industry collapsed. The islands economy suffered tremendously when Mt. Pelee erupted in 1902 and virtually buried the capital city which at that time was St. Pierre on the northwest coast. Afterwards the capital was relocated to Fort de France.

The island's "star" has continued to rise along with its economy---in 1946 Martinique's designation rose to that of an "overseas department of France" and then once again in 1974 when its status rose to that of "region."

Today, Martinique's economy is fueled by tourism, agriculture and the fishing industry.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Interesting culture, shopping for French goods, and native crafts
  • Cons:Fairly hot & humid, shopkeepers who think you come to steal
  • Last visit to Fort-de-France: Apr 2003
  • Intro Updated Nov 28, 2015
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