Seaport (pop., 1999: 50,594), capital of French Guiana. The city was founded by the French in 1643 on northwestern Cayenne Island, which is formed by the estuaries of the Cayenne and Mahury rivers. In the mid-19th century it became a centre of French penal settlements in Guiana and was known as the “city of the condemned” (see Devils Island). The prisons were closed in 1945.
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Cayenne is the capital of French Guiana, an overseas région and département of France located in South America. The city stands on a former island at the mouth of the Cayenne River on the Atlantic coast.
At the 1999 census, there were 66,149 inhabitants in the urban area of Cayenne (as defined by INSEE), 50,594 of whom lived in the city (commune) of Cayenne proper, and the remainder in the neighbouring commune of Remire-Montjoly. The commune of Matoury (18,032 inhabitants in 1999), where the Cayenne-Rochambeau Airport is located, is also a suburb of Cayenne, but it wasn't included in the official definition of the urban area by INSEE in 1999. Including Matoury, the whole conurbation had 84,181 inhabitants in 1999. By 2007 the area's population may have exceeded 100,000.
Ignored by Spanish explorers, who found the region too hot and poor to be claimed, the region was not colonized until 1604, when a French settlement was founded. However, it was soon destroyed by the Portuguese, who were determined to enforce the provisions of the Treaty of Tordesillas. French colonists returned in 1643 and founded Cayenne, but were forced to leave once more following Amerindian attacks. In 1664, France finally succeeded at establishing a permanent settlement at Cayenne. Over the next decade the colony changed hands between the French, Dutch and English, before being restored to France. It was used as a French penal settlement from 1854 to 1938.
Cayenne centres on its main commercial street, the Avenue Général de Gaulle. At the east end of the avenue near the coast is the Place de Palmistes and the Place de Grenoble (also known as the Place Léopold Héder). Most of the official buildings are located in this area: the Hôtel de Ville (the town hall) built by Jesuits in the 1890s, the Post Office, the Préfecture, residence of French Guiana's Préfect, and the Musée Départmental Franconie. To the west of this area lies Fort Cépérou, built in the 17th century, though now mostly in ruins. To the south lie the Place du Coq and Place Victor Schoelcher (named in honour of the anti-slavery activist) and a market.
To the south of this compact region is the Village Chinois (known as Chicago), separated from the rest of Cayenne by the Canal Laussat. It has a reputation for being a dangerous area.
Other buildings in the city include the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur de Cayenne, municipal library, the municipal museum and a museum of French Guianese Culture (Musée des Cultures Guyanaise) and a scientific research institute (IRD or Institut de recherche pour le développement, formerly Orstom).
There are many hotels in the city: Central Hotel, La Bodéga, Hôtel Ajoupa, Hôtel Amazonia, Hôtel les Amandiers, Hôtel Neptima, Hôtel Novotel and Ket-Tai.
Cayenne is the chief town of six cantons: