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Island name: Martinique (MB).
Country name: France (Overseas Department).
Nationality: Martiniquais (singular and plural).
Languages: French is the official language is; Creole patois is widely used.
Island Capital: Fort-de-France.
Population: 401,000 (2007 est.).
Climate: tropical; moderated by trade winds; rainy season (June to October); vulnerable to devastating cyclones (hurricanes) every eight years on average; average temperature 17.3 degrees C; humid.
Weather today: click here for yahoo! weather forecast.
Coastline: 350 km.
Forests and woodland: 44%.
Geographic coordinates: 14 40 N, 61 00 W.
Highest point: Montagne Pelee 1,397 m.
Location: Caribbean, island between the Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, north of Trinidad and Tobago.
Size: 61 km x 24 km, 1100 sq km (land: 1,060 sq km).
Terrain: mountainous with indented coastline
Basse-Terre, Cayenne, Grand Bourg, Kourou, Le Vauclin,
Les Trois-Ilets, Maripasoula, Pointe-à-Pitre,
In the 16th and 17th centuries, France amassed a vast empire in North America and the Caribbean. Today, the three Overseas Departments of France in the Western Hemisphere—Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana—encompass virtually all that remains of that imperial sovereignty.
MARTINIQUE is one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, and its beauty is matched by the richness of its history. Although discovered by Columbus, the island was taken for France in 1635 and has since been a possession of that country, except for three short periods when it was under British occupation. A singular feature of its history is that it has bred a race of queens. Joséphine, who was to become Empress of France; her daughter Hortense, who became Queen of Holland; Madame de Maintenon, morganatic wife of Louis XIV; and Aimée Debuc, the sultan validah, or queen mother, of Turkey—all were born on Martinique.
Named for Santa María de Guadelupe de Estremadura by Christopher Columbus when he landed here in 1493, GUADELOUPE offers a blend of cultures, manifested in colorful dress and a variety of culinary delights. FRENCH GUIANA was probably discovered by Columbus on his third voyage in 1498. It has good beaches, but its principal charm lies in the unspoiled inner regions, reachable only by air or motorized canoe. The infamous penal colony, Devil's Island, was located off French Guiana.
Fort-de-France, with more than 100,000 residents, is the only significant metropolitan center on the island. The city is picturesque in that the architecture is colorful, and the effects of the tropics tend to explain, and even soften, the rather shabby aspect of much of the town. Open drainage ditches alongside some streets are an eyesore and a nuisance, but they no longer carry sewage and are gradually being covered up.
Martinique was first settled by Europeans in 1635, and many parts of the island are associated with the history of the past three centuries. However, the climate, earthquakes, and the total destruction in 1902 of Saint-Pierre, then the island's principal city, have erased many vestiges of the past. It was only after Saint-Pierre was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount (Mont) Pelée that Fort-de-France gained prominence. Interesting archaeological sites exist on the island, once the scene of important developments of Arawak and Carib cultures dating back to the beginning of the Christian era.
Martinique and Guadeloupe are densely populated, tropical, and agricultural. Sugar, bananas, pineapples to a lesser extent, and assistance from metropolitan France are the economic underpinnings of the islands, providing them with a standard of living higher than that of most of the rest of the Caribbean. French culture is pervasive. The tourist industry has been slow to develop, although tourists are much in evidence during winter. They arrive aboard cruise ships, but generally leave after spending less than a day on Martinique.
Martinique lies about halfway down the arc of the Lesser Antilles that extends from Puerto Rico to Trinidad. It is some 900 miles north of the equator, about 280 miles from the South American mainland, and 4,400 miles from metropolitan France. Guadeloupe is 100 miles north of Martinique. Its island dependencies of French Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthélemy are 150 miles north of Guadeloupe proper and about 100 miles from the U.S. Virgin Islands. French Guiana, wedged between Brazil and Suriname on the north coast of South America, extends from the second to the sixth degree of north latitude.
Lightweight clothing is worn throughout the year; washable, wrinkle-free fabrics are preferable. Cotton underwear and children's clothes can be purchased locally. Good quality yard goods are available, but expensive.
Men wear clothing similar to that worn in Washington, DC in the summer. Dark suits are appropriate for evenings. Women rarely need hats (except sunhats) or gloves; these are worn almost exclusively at church ceremonies. Dressy cottons are comfortable and suitable. During winter, some women wear cocktail dresses of silk and brocade. Also necessary is an ample supply of low-heeled shoes for walking over the rough sidewalks and streets in town. Shoes may be found locally, but none narrower than a B width. A coat is never needed but, on occasion, a fabric stole is useful.
A number of supermarkets are found in Fort-de-France, including large ones in residential districts. Most stock is imported, and prices are high. Variety of produce is usually good, although delay in transport can result in occasional shortages. A few American brands are carried locally, usually manufactured under license in Europe.
Locally produced meat and fish have their own sizable markets in downtown Fort-de-France, and several similar markets sell local fruits and vegetables.
Supplies & Services
A few tailors and dressmakers do good work relatively inexpensively. Shoe repair is adequate. Dry cleaning and laundry services range from fair to good, but are expensive by U.S. standards. Beauty shops have reasonable prices, offer adequately skilled service, and are beginning to install up-to-date equipment. Radio and other household repair service is apt to be casual, with disregard for deadlines or commitments.
Pharmacies are well-stocked with French drugs, but precise equivalents of American products are not always available.
All local education is in French. The public and parochial elementary and secondary schools have lower academic standards than in metropolitan France, although they operate according to the same system. Kindergartens are both available and good. During the past few years, Americans have enrolled children in elementary schools or kindergartens in Fort-de-France, but it is hard to gain admission to some of these institutions.
American children who speak French have no difficulty making friends among the children in the various communities on Martinique, either local or from metropolitan France.
High school students are normally sent to boarding schools in the U.S. or elsewhere. For teenagers who want to stay with their parents and are willing or able to follow French courses, education is possible here.
Fort-de-France has a school of music and a number of private music and dance teachers. Tutoring is available in diverse subjects to those whose French is adequate. A branch of the University of the Antilles and Guiana, a government-owned institution whose headquarters are on Guadeloupe, offers a four-year program in some subjects and a two-year program in others.
The Martiniquais are sports-minded. Everyone, it seems, plays or closely follows one or more sports. Football (soccer), cycling, and basketball are among the more popular games. In recent years, Americans have enjoyed sports such as tennis (four courts are available through membership in two tennis clubs), riding (two riding stables are in the residential environs of Fort-de-France), golf (one nine-hole course 45 minutes from Fort-de-France), gymnastics, and judo classes for both men and women. Boating is popular and may be attractive to those willing to assume the expense involved. Sailing lessons under French governmental auspices are inexpensive and popular. Martinique is a fairly good spot for scuba diving, spearfishing, and snorkeling.
Being a beautiful mountainous island, Martinique would seem to offer much in the way of outdoor activities. However, much of the island's potential is undeveloped, and the hot, humid climate is not conducive to sustained physical effort. Few parks or public recreation areas exist on the island, and the only beaches near Fort-de-France are artificially made beaches adjoining the principal hotels, mostly across the bay in Trois Islets area. Black volcanic beaches are in the north, and beautiful white-sand stretches in the south are accessible within an hour's drive.
Hiking in and around Fort-de-France is difficult because of the climate and the total lack of serviceable sidewalks or footpaths. The higher mountains have trails for hardy hikers. Only in French Guiana is there any worthwhile hunting. For those who enjoy the out-of-doors, nature studies are attractive.
The area around Victor Hugo, Schoelcher, and Antoine Siger Streets in Fort-de-France is replete with boutiques and duty-free shops. There are also a department store, a designer fashion shop, and an arts and crafts center in this area.
There are a few small museums on Martinique. The sugar-plantation birthplace of Empress Josephine has been turned into an historical repository and included here is a display of Napoleon's love letters. Other archives include the Volcano-logical Museum in Saint-Pierre, a new gallery dedicated to Paul Gauguin, and a small museum that displays pre-Columbian and colonial artifacts.
There are 30 hotels on Martinique. Discotheques, nightclubs, and gambling casinos light up the night, but dining seems to be the favorite evening activity; an endless choice of restaurants feature French and creole cuisine.
Twice a year, a small company of actors comes from France, once to produce classical French plays and once to sing operettas. Occasionally a musician, a traveling lecturer, or a local artist offers his talent for public enjoyment. There is considerable interest in music here, and amateur musicians can find ample scope to develop their talents in a congenial atmosphere.
The American community on Martinique is small, and is confined to a few business people, missionaries, several American spouses of French citizens, and some Martiniquais who have acquired American citizenship after living in the U.S., but have chosen to retire in the Antilles. Social organizations, such as the local bridge club, attract
histoy of martinique
Two centuries after Columbus's discovery, Martinique facts show that French colonies were settled throughout the area. Looking back at Martinique history, slavery became a part of every day life after the French colonies were established. When the French colonies began arriving, the island was replete with Carib Indians, originally from the Venezuelan coast. Martinique facts indicate the Indians had named the island Madinina, which is interpreted as meaning Island of Flowers in the Indians' native Caribbean tongue. Those studying Martinique history argue that the name is one taken from Saint Martin, while others still argue that the Martinique comes from the original name of Madinina.
Martinique history also shows the island becoming a leading colony of the French in the mid-seventeenth century. Many of the colonies struck it rich cultivating sugarcane and shipping it over to mainland Europe. These facts led to the French government's demand that the island trade only with France. Eventually the governor was replaced by force by the island's people. The new governor, conceding to the trade demands, agreed to overlook trade with nations other than France. Meanwhile the sugar business on the island boomed and slaves from Africa were imported to work the plantations.
The year of 1848 in the history of Martinique saw slavery abolished and thousands of immigrants reached the island from India and the surrounding area for work on the island's plantations substituting the once thriving slave labor. Martinique became the most precious of all French colonies during the eighteenth century when the sugar exports reached a major peak. Due to the boom in sugar, the island became one fought over by the British and the island saw a change of hands in official ownership several times over the passing years. Several small wars, violent events, and other strife saw a number of periodic takeovers yet in the end Martinique was retrieved and kept by the French. Some economic and political autonomy was granted to Martinique, French Guinea, and Guadeloupe in 1974 following strife and a political revolution. Guadeloupe and Martinique officially became part of the French Antilles in 1946.
The culture of Martinique exhibits a definitive French flavor, with St Pierre known as the Paris of the French Antilles until the eruption of Mt Pelee, but several other important influences create the fascinating medley of culture on the island. Creole is the second most dominant influence in the culture of Martinique. A mÉlange of languages, including Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean, Creole was born from numerous dialects and is spoken all around the West Indies. Finding plenty of times and ways to celebrate, there are many annual festivities and events hosted by islanders, most including heady Caribbean tunes, an abundance of tantalizing dishes celebrations of races, arts, culture, and much more.
Martinique facts of daily life include celebrating the best of food and music as often as possible. Most locals attend all island celebration with vigor and high spirits. The most popular celebration is Carnival, also known as Vaval on Martinique, kicking off each year in the first week of February. This one-of-a-kind culture blended with terrific sights, beaches, dining, and shopping offers many exciting things to do during any Caribbean vacation.