Brief history


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Martinique is the second largest island of the lesser Antilles, after Guadeloupe. Also known as l’ile aux Fleurs, French for its original Carib name “Madinina”, it was discovered in 1502 by Christopher Colombus and apart from short periods under the British Empire, has been French since its colonization. Reminiscences of its colorful and intense past are still visible throughout the island. Two very politically influential ladies, who made history back in their time, were born in Martinique, to prominent planters’ families. The first one, Mme de Maintenon was the long time and famous favorite mistress of le “Roi Soleil”, Louis XIV. She used her graceful charms to convince his majesty to keep the small colony as part as the French kingdom and preserve the best interest of the local plantations’ owners. The second was the Empress Josephine, known as being the passionate and unfortunate wife of Napoleon Ier. Born Marie Josephe Tasher de la Pagerie, she grew up on a 200 acre slave estate. When she was 12 years old, a fortune teller told her that one day “she will be more than a queen”! After marrying her first aristocrat husband, she moved to France and went through the difficult period of the French Revolution, when her husband was beheaded. As a young and attractive widow, she met Napoleon Bonaparte, a rising star general, who fell madly in love with her. Many Martiniquais believe that she later influenced her husband, when he became Empereur Napoleon I, to maintain slavery and protect the planters. Her majestic marble statue located in the beautiful park of La Savane, in Fort de France, was beheaded more than 15 years ago, a sign of the population’s resentment towards her… Martinique is also tragically famous for the volcanic eruption of 1902 that destroyed St Pierre, then the flourishing and elegant capital, known as the “Paris of the West Indies”. Within a few minutes, 30 000 people died - changing the economic and social situation of the island. The only survivor was a man in jail, saved by the thickness of the cell’s walls! In 1946, Martinique became a “departement d’Outre Mer” or overseas department, a special status that helped to raise the overall standard of living far above its Caribbean neighbors.

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