When Columbus landed in 1502, the island to which he gave the name Martinique was peopled by the Carib Indians who called it Matinino or Madinina. They had driven away the Arawaks who, like themselves, had come to the island from South America.
The island was claimed by France in 1635 and officially annexed by the King of France in 1674. France and Britain fought over the island until 1815, when it was restored to France. An important date in Martinique's history occurred 150 years ago on May 22, 1848, when slavery was abolished. In 1946, Martinique became a Department of France and in 1974 a Region of France.
Historical sites worth seeing include La Pagerie, where Napoleon’s Empress Josephine was born in 1763 (the year that France relinquished rights to Canada in exchange for the French West Indies); Diamond Rock, a 600-ft. pinnacle in the sea manned by the British in 1804 and occupied by them as a sloop of war for 18 months, and St-Pierre, Martinique’s principal city until May 8, 1902, when Mt. Pel?e Volcano erupted, wiping out the city and its 30,000 people in three minutes.
Key dates in Martinique History
June 15, 1502 Christopher Columbus lands at Carbet on the Caribbean side of the island.
1635 First French settlement under Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc.
October 31 1636 King Louis XIII permits the introduction of slaves to the French West Indies.
1685 Establishment of Colbert’s “Black Code” which, in 60 articles, officially governs the lives of slaves until 1848.
1762 - 1848 Martinique is occupied several times by the British.
May 22, 1848 Abolition of slavery.
May 8, 1902 Eruption of Mt. Pel?e destroying St.-Pierre. Fort-de-France becomes the capital.
March 19, 1946 Martinique acquires the status of a French department. Four deputies and 2 senators represent it.
1983 The Regional Council is established following the French decentralization laws of 1982.
With the exception of two short periods of British occupation, Martinique has followed the same course of history as France since 1635. Its administrative and political structures have been identical to those of the French Departments (states) since 1946, when it officially became a Department itself. It was granted the further status of Region in 1974. Fort-de-France is the administrative and commercial capital of the island
The mean temperature averages 79?F. Two regular, alternating wind currents (east and northeast) cool the atmosphere. These are the tradewinds, called les aliz?s. There is only about a 5? difference between summer and winter temperatures
Martinique lies in the heart of the Caribbean Archipelago and is one of the many islands which make up the group of lesser Antilles, or “Breezy Islands.”
The waters lapping at its shores are those of the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Caribbean Sea to the west. The island is located 4,261 miles from Paris (8 hours by plane), and is 273 miles from the American continent (4.5 hours by plane, direct flight). The closest two neighboring islands are Dominica (15.5 miles to the north) and Saint Lucia (23 miles to the south).
Martinique is 1,965 miles from New York City, 1,470 miles from Miami, 2,270 miles from Montreal, and 425 miles from San Juan.
The island has a surface area of 426 square miles and at its greatest length and width, measures 50 miles by 22 miles, respectively. The land rises gradually from the coast toward the center and northern parts of the island. It is in the north that we find the two peaks of the Carbet and Mont Pel?e, a dormant volcano that is the highest mountain on the island at 4,586 ft. This part of Martinique is also a legendary tropical rainforest. In the center of the island, the Lamentin Plain, made up of small, rounded hills and enclosed valleys, slopes down toward the south. The Salines Beach at the southernmost tip of the island comes straight out of a beautiful postcard
The population in Martinique is made up of various peoples. Their diversity is the result of the mixing of different ethnic groups that, at one time or another, settled on the island
The two Catholic Cathedrals and large number of parish churches illustrate the importance of Catholicism on the island. However, many religious communities also have their place here, including the Adventist Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses