Martinique also named Madinina - The Isle of Flowers, is centrally located at the heart of the arc formed by the Antilles (14°40'N, 61°W), betweenDominica to the north (40 km) and St.Lucia to the south (30 km), separating the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic. The island covers 1,080 km2, and stretches 80 km in length and 39 km in width. No point is more than 12 km from the sea ! The rugged landscape is a blend of rich volcanic mountains, verdant hills, and white and black sand beaches.
Martinique benefits from a maritime tropical climate, with mild temperatures and steady trade winds. Late November to mid-June is the dry season (carême) while June to December is known as the rainy season (hivernage). In the dry season the days are mild, cooled by the consistent trade winds. In the rainy season, the days are more humid and warmer, cooling off in the evening. The trade winds are weaker, rain showers are more frequent and intense, and depressions and hurricanes, though rare, are possible.
Like many of the West Indies isles, Martinique was populated some 2000 years ago by the Arawaks, a peaceful people exterminated about 1000 years later by the aggressive and expansionist Caribs.
Christopher Columbus landed in Martinique in 1502 on Carbet beach, during his 4th expedition. In 1635, Belain d'Esnambuc set foot on Carbet and started the first colony on the island. The town of Fort-Royal, currently Fort-de-France, was founded in 1669.
Sugar cane underwent a tremendous development at the end of the 17th century. Galley-slaves as well as slaves from Africa were brought to work the plantations.
The English interest in the fertile island of Martinique, resulted in numerous conflicts and changes in rule between 1762 and 1848.
In 1802, Joséphine de Beauharnais (born in Trois-Ilets), wife of Napoléon Bonaparte, became the French empress.
On May 22nd 1848, Victor Schlcher abolished slavery in Martinique, liberating over 70,000 slaves.
On May 8th 1902 the eruption of Mount Pelée completely destroyed the town of Saint-Pierre, also known as the Little Paris of the West Indies. All of its 30,000 inhabitants perished, with the exception of a single prison inmate. Afterwards, Fort-de-France became the capital of the island.
In 1946 Martinique became a French département d'Outre-Mer ; today, it is also part of the European Union.
Martinique has some 400,000 inhabitants. In this plural society, blacks and mulattos cohabit with descendants of Indians (brought from India in 1853 to work the plantations after the slaves had been freed), as well as békés, white creoles descended from the first.
European settlers, a group that still maintains a decisive socio-economic weight.
Fort-de-France, a capital city
The city of about 100,000 inhabitants is a stunning mixture of modern buildings, colourful creole villas with wooden verandas, and narrow, busy alleys. Full of life, noise and color in the daytime, Fort-de-France turns into a deserted town at nightfall.
Savannah Park and the Fort-de-France waterfront are being redeveloped to incorporate a promenade that will connect areas for concerts, cultural exhibits and ethnic dinings. Improvements to enhance access to nautical activities at Baie des Flamands and La Française beach are also underway.
The outskirts of the capital have experienced considerable growth in recent years and are similar to industrial zones in metropolitan France.
French is the official language. Creole, spoken by everyone, is the language that conveys spontaneity and emotions, a legacy of a time when American Indians, Europeans and Africans used a simplified French to communicate and understand each other on the plantations.
Catholicism constitutes the dominant religious community in Martinique. It is ubiquitous, as witnessed by the number of churches built in every town and village. The largest, the Saint-Louis cathedral is in Fort-de-France.
Other religious communities have also thrived : the Adventists (the 2nd largest community on the island), Evangelicals and Jehovah's. Witnesses also attract many worshippers.
Judaism, with a synagogue in Schlcher, and Hinduism are also represented. Superstitions and a belief in magic, inherited from African cultures, remain an important part of the lives of many natives.