Martinique is the largest of the Windward Islands, having a land area of 1,080 km², stretching 80 km in length and 39 km wide. No point is more than 12 km from the sea. As with the other overseas departments, Martinique is also one of the twenty-six regions of France and an integral part of the Republic. The inhabitants of Martinique are French citizens with full political and legal rights. Martinique sends four deputies to the French National Assembly and two senators to the French Senate. As part of France, Martinique is part of the EU, its official language is French, although almost all of its inhabitants also speak Antillean Creole (Creole Martiniquais). Martinique is pictured on all Euro banknotes, on the reverse at the bottom of each note, right of the Greek ΕΥΡΩ (EURO) next to the denomination.
Population: 381,427 inhabitants after the census of 1999. 359,572 in 1990 and estimated at 402,000 in January 2008.
Population density: 338 inhab./km² in 1999, estimated at 356 in 2008
Urban population: 42%
Life expectancy: 79 years for men and 82 years for women
GDP/inhab.: €19,050 in 2006
Total GDP: €7.65 billion in 2006
Exports: €606 million in 2006
Imports: €2,584 million in 2006
Principal suppliers: Metropolitan France, European Union, Latin America
Unemployment rate: 23% (2004, (without taking into account "non-declared" revenues). 26,3% in 2000).
The north of the island is mountainous and lushly forested. It features four ensembles of dramatic pitons and mornes: the Piton Conil on the extreme North, which dominates the Dominica Channel, the Mount Pelee, an active volcano, the Morne Jacob, and the Pitons du Carbet, an ensemble of five beautifully shaped, rainforest covered extinct volcanoes dominating the Bay of Fort de France at 1,196 metres. The most dominating of the island's many beautiful mountains, at 1397 metres is the infamous volcano Mount Pelee. The volcanic ash has created unusual grey and black sand beaches in the north (in particular between Anse Ceron and Anse des Gallets), contrasting markedly from the white sands of Les Salines in the south.
The south is more easily
traversed, though it still features some impressive geographic features. As it
is easier to travel and because of the many beautiful beaches and food
throughout this region, the south receives the bulk of the tourist traffic. The
beaches from Pointe de Bout, through Diamant (which features right off the coast
the beautiful Roche de Diamant, Diamond Rock), St. Luce, the town of St. Anne
all the way down to Les Salines are very popular.
As an overseas department of France, Martinique's culture blends French and Caribbean influences. The city of Saint-Pierre was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Pelee on the 8th of May 1902, all 30,000 inhabitants were perished except for one prison inmate. The town was often referred to as the Paris of the Lesser Antilles. Following traditional French custom, many businesses close at midday, then reopen later in the afternoon. The Creole spoken here is virtually identical to the varieties spoken in neighbouring English-speaking islands of Saint Lucia and Dominica. Mostly based on French and African languages, Martinique's creole also incorporates a few elements of English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Originally passed down through oral storytelling traditions, it continues to be used more often in speech than in writing. Its use is predominantly with friends and family. It is normal not to be used in professional situations, although it is being increasingly used in the media and by politicians as a way to redeem national identity and by fear from a complete cultural assimilation by mainland France. The local Creole is, for the most part, intelligible to speakers of Standard French, as it has lost some of its distinct dialectal qualities.
Martinique, locally known as Madinina - The Isle of Flowers is centrally located at the heart of the arc formed by the Antilles, Dominica to the north St. Lucia to the south. Like most of the isles of the West Indies Christopher Columbus landed. He set foot on Carbet beach during his fourth expedition in 1502. In 1635, Belain d'Esnambuc started the first colony on the island from that very same beach. Royal Fort, now Fort de France was founded in 1669. The English interest in this fertile land resulted in numerous conflicts and changes in rule between 1762 and 1848.
Most of Martinique's population is descended from African slaves brought to work on sugar plantations during the colonial era, generally mixed with some French, Amerindian, Indian (Tamil), Lebanese or Chinese elements. Between 5 to 10% of the population is of Eastern Indian (Tamil) origin. The island also boasts a small Syro-Lebanese community, a small but increasing Chinese community, and the "Beke" community, White descendants from the first French and British settlers, which still dominate parts of the Agricultural and Trade sectors. The Beke people (whites, which total around 5,000, most of them of aristocratic origin) generally live in mansions on the Atlantic coast of the island mostly in the Francois - Cap Est district. In addition to the island population, the island hosts a metropolitan French community, most of which lives on the island on a temporary basis - generally from three to five years.
Today, the island enjoys a higher standard of living than most other Caribbean countries. The finest French products are easily available, from Chanel fashions to Limoges porcelain. Studying in the metropole is common for young adults. For the rest of the French, Martinique has been a vacation hotspot for many years, attracting both upper-class and more budget-conscious travelers.
Martinique has a hybrid cuisine, mixing elements of African, French, and Asian traditions. One of its most famous dishes is the Colombo, a unique chicken curry, meat or fish with vegetables, spiced with a distinctive masala of Tamil origins acidulated with tamarind and often containing wine, coconut milk and rum. There is also a strong tradition of creole desserts and cakes, often using pineapple, rum and a wide range of local ingredients. Just like all the other islands we have been to, Martinique has ten active distilleries and local rums such as: Depaz, Dillon, JM, La Favorite, La Mauny, Neisson, Saint James and Tris Riviere, to name but a few are popular. The rum making season is February to June. About eight kilometres west of Sainte-Luce, the Trois Rivieres estate was originally part of a 5,000 hectare land grant to Nicholas Fouquet during the reign of Lois XIV in 1661. While amassing great wealth, Fouquet attracted the jealousy of the king and after having his assets confiscated he died in prison at the age of sixty-five in 1680. Today his property is a distillery museum complete with working windmill, overlooking the Caribbean Sea. When Mount Pelee erupted many of the ships anchored could not clear and countless numbers caught fire and sunk. The sixteen distilleries in the town were also destroyed, but today the sugar cane fields on Mount Pelee are some of the most productive of the island.
Martinique in Popular Culture:
Josephine de Beauharnais, made Empress in 1802, was the wife of Napoleon. She was born on the Pagerie Estate in Trois Islet, (own blog).
Martinique is France with coconut trees, with lovely, helpful people who speak very good English. Where we were anchored it felt very much like being in Guernsey and very homely.
ALL IN ALL LOOKING FORWARD TO RETURNING NEXT SEASON TO SPEND LONGER EXPLORING THE ISLAND.
COMFORTABLY EUROPEAN IN IT'S APPEARANCE, ATTITUDE, STRUCTURE AND SERVICES.