Martinique in the Past and in the Present

The movement from Martinique's past to present has presented the island with a number of hardships

Photo credit: © luna76

When Christopher Columbus first spotted Martinique, he said it was one of the most beautiful places he had ever seen, and with its gorgeous yet rugged mountainous terrain, which is covered by lush exotic flowers and vegetation; it's not hard to see what he meant.

The Arawaks and Caribs, who were the island's indigenous people, called Martinique "Land of Flowers" because of its breathtaking landscape, featuring a spectrum of vivid and exotic plant and flower species.

Martinique is located just north of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago.  It has a total area of 410 square miles, making it approximately six times the size of Washington D.C.  Martinique is a volcanic land mass, with Mount Pelee dominating the island.  It stands 4,583 feet above sea level, and is considered dormant after its last eruption, which occurred in 1902.



Believe it or not, this beautiful Caribbean destination was overlooked by early European explorers, but eventually it was colonized by the French in 1635. French settlers wasted no time taking advantage of the island's rich soil, which was perfect for the cultivation of sugarcane. During colonization, sugarcane was the most profitable industry of the 17th and 18th centuries. After the French settlers devastated the population of the Carib Indians who were living on the island, they proceeded to bring African slaves to the island to fuel the ever-growing sugarcane plantations on Martinique. 

Because settlements on Martinique produced so much sugar, the colonies on the island were France's most valuable properties in the Caribbean. Except for a few short periods of British rule, Martinique has remained in France's possession since it was colonized. The French officially annexed the island in 1674 and took firm control in 1815. The history of Martinique was forever changed in 1902 when Mount Pelee erupted and destroyed the then capital city of Sainte Pierre, killing 30,000 of its residents. Fort-de-France took the place of Sainte Pierre and is now the island's capital city. 

After 300 years of French rule, Martinique became a Department of France in 1946.  Martinique now elects two representatives to serve on the island's behalf in the French Parliament, as well as four residents to serve in the French National Assembly. 


As a colony of France, it is easy to guess that French practices, food, and fashion have shaped the culture of Martiniqe.  African, West Indian, and Creole traditions have all played a significant role in making Martinique the cultural malay it is today.  Although French is the official language on the islands, Creole is commonly spoken amongst locals, and much of the music and dance that is popular features noticeably African roots.  West Indian heritage shines mostly in food preparation, though it does also shine through with expressive musical tradition of zouk.  Read more about the culture of Martinique by clicking here


In recent years, tourism has overtaken Martinique's agriculture as the leading foreign trade moneymaker, and tourism supports a great deal of the island's economy.  Over 350 thousands vacationers visit the island during tourist season, filling hotels and beaches.  Those who arrive via cruise ship play an important role in Martinique's tourism industry, because not only do they come into the island and spend their days shopping, dining, and exploring (i.e. spending money), but many visitors who can only stay for a day will later make plans to come back on a full vacation so they can experience more of the island.  This promotes further tourism, and thus ensures future job security for those who work in the industry. 

With a beautiful landscape, unforgettable beaches, storied history, and diverse culture, Martinique is an island well-worth visiting.  Make it your next Caribbean get-a-way destination, and you won't regret it.


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