Martinique, overseas department and administrative region of France (2005 est. pop. 433,000), 425 sq mi (1,101 sq km), in the Windward Islands, West Indies. Fort-de-France is the capital. The department and the island of Martinique are coextensive.

Land, People, and Economy

Of volcanic origin, the island is rugged and mountainous, reaching its greatest height in Mt. Pelée. The mainly Roman Catholic population is largely of African or mixed descent. French and a creole patois are spoken.

Most agriculture occurs in the hot valleys and along the coastal strips; a large part of this area is devoted to sugarcane, which was introduced from Brazil in 1654 and which provides one of Martinique's chief exports, rum. Bananas and pineapples are also important agricultural products. The island's industries consist mainly of petroleum refining, sugar and rum production, and pineapple canning. Tourism, which has eclipsed agriculture as a source of foreign exchange, constitutes a major sector of the economy, and the majority of the people work in the service sector or administration.


Visited by Columbus, probably in 1502, the island was ignored by the Spanish; colonization began in 1635, when the French, who had promised the native Caribs the western half of the island, established a settlement. The French proceeded to eliminate the Caribs and later imported African slaves as sugar plantation workers. In the 18th cent. Martinique's sugar exports made it one of France's most valuable colonies; although slavery was abolished in 1848, sugar continued to hold a dominant position in the economy. A target of dispute during the Anglo-French worldwide colonial struggles, Martinique was finally confirmed as a French possession after the Napoleonic wars. In 1902 an eruption of Mt. Pelée destroyed the town of St. Pierre.

Martinique supported the Vichy regime after France's collapse in World War II, but in 1943 a U.S. naval blockade forced the island to transfer its allegiance to the Free French. It became a department of France in 1946 and an administrative region in 1974. Although the island has recovered from the extensive damage caused by a hurricane in 1980, France has continued its attempts to improve the economic life of the Martinique, which is plagued by overpopulation and a lack of development. A referendum on increasing the island's autonomy was defeated in 2010, in part because the proposal did not specify the extent of the change.

Martinique is an island in the eastern Caribbean Sea, having a land area of 1,128 km². It is an overseas department of France. As with the other overseas departments, Martinique is also one of the twenty-six regions of France (being an overseas region) and an integral part of the Republic. As part of France, Martinique is part of the European Union, and its currency is the euro. Its official language is French, although almost all of its inhabitants also speak Antillean Creole (Créole Martiniquais). Martinique is pictured on all euro banknotes, on the reverse at the bottom of each note, right of the Greek ΕΥΡΩ (EURO) next to the denomination.

  • Largest urban areas: Fort-de-France (134,727 inhabitants in 1999, 35% of Martinique's population), Le Lamentin (35,460 in 1999), Sainte-Marie (32,988 in 1999), Le Robert (31,905 in 1999)
  • Population: 381,427 inhabitants after the census of 1999 (359,572 en 1990), estimated 401,000 in January 2007.
  • Population density: 338 inhab./km² (1999, estimated 354 in 2006)
  • Urban population: 42%
  • Life expectancy: 79 years (men) and 82 (women) (2000)
  • Official language: French
  • Principal religion: Roman Catholicism
  • GDP/inhab.: €19,050 in 2006, i.e. US$23,931 at 2006 market exchange rates
  • Total GDP: €7.65 billion in 2006, i.e. US$9.61 billion at 2006 market exchange rates
  • Exports: €606 million (2006)
  • Imports: €2,584 million (2006)
  • Principal suppliers: Metropolitan France, European Union, Latin America
  • Unemployment rate: 23% (2004, (without taking into account "non-declared" revenues). 26,3% in 2000).



The inhabitants of Martinique are French citizens with full political and legal rights.

Martinique sends four deputies to the French National Assembly and two senators to the French Senate.


  • Surface area: 1,130 km² (length 75 km, width 35 km)
  • Status: overseas department since 19 March 1946, overseas region since 1982
  • Prefectorial office: Fort-de-France (a total of 34 habitations).




The north of the island is mountainous and lushly forested. It features 4 ensembles of dramatic pitons and mornes: the Piton Conil on the extreme North, which dominates the Dominica Channel, the Mount Pelee, an active volcano, the Morne Jacob, and the Pitons du Carbet, an ensemble of 5 beautifully shaped, rainforest covered extinct volcanoes dominating the Bay of Fort de France at 1,196 meters. The most dominating of the island's many beautiful mountains, with 1397 meters, is the infamous volcano Mount Pelée. The volcanic ash has created beautiful grey and black sand beaches in the north (in particular between Anse Ceron and Anse des Gallets), contrasting markedly from the white sands of Les Salines in the south.

The south is more easily traversed, though it still features some impressive geographic features. Because it is easier to travel and because of the many beautiful beaches and food throughout this region, the south receives the bulk of the tourist traffic. The beaches from Pointe de Bout, through Diamant (which features right off the coast the beautiful Roche de Diamant), St. Luce, the town of St. Anne all the way down to Les Salines are very popular.


Historical population

Historical population
24,000 74,000 120,400 152,925 157,805 162,861 167,119 175,863 189,599
203,781 239,130 292,062 320,030 324,832 328,566 359,572 381,427 401,000
Official figures from past censuses and INSEE estimates.


As an overseas département of France, Martinique's culture blends French and Caribbean influences. The city of Saint-Pierre (destroyed by a volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée), was often referred to as the Paris of the Lesser Antilles. Following traditional French custom, many businesses close at midday, then reopen later in the afternoon. The official language is French, although many Martinicans speak Martinican Creole, a subdivision of Antillean Creole virtually identical to the varieties spoken in neighbouring British-speaking islands of Saint Lucia and Dominica. Mostly based on French and African languages, Martinique's creole also incorporates a few elements of English, Spanish, Portuguese. Originally passed down through oral storytelling traditions, it continues to be used more often in speech than in writing. Its use is predominant within friends and the family cell. Though it is normally not to be used in professional situations, it is being increasingly used in the media and by politicians as a way to redeem national identity and by fear from a complete cultural assimilation by mainland France.

Most of Martinique's population is descended from African slaves brought to work on sugar plantations during the colonial era, generally mixed with some French, Amerindian, Indian (Tamil), Lebanese or Chinese elements. Between 5 to 10% of the population is of Eastern Indian (Tamil) origin. The island also boasts a small Syro-Lebanese community, a small but increasing Chinese community, and the "Beke" community, White descendants from the first French and British settlers, which still dominate parts of the Agricultal and Trade sectors. The Beke people (which total around 5,000 people in the island, most of them of aristocratic origin) generally live in mansions on the Atlantic coast of the island (mostly in the François - Cap Est district). In addition to the island population, the island hosts a metropolitan French community, most of which lives on the island on a temporary basis (generally from 3 to 5 years).

There are an estimated 250,000 people of Martinican origin living in mainland France, most of them in the Parisian region.

Today, the island enjoys a higher standard of living than most other Caribbean countries. The finest French products are easily available, from Chanel fashions to Limoges porcelain. Studying in the métropole is common for young adults. For the rest of the French, Martinique has been a vacation hotspot for many years, attracting both upper-class and more budget-conscious travelers.

Martinique has a hybrid cuisine, mixing elements of African, French, and Asian traditions. One of its most famous dishes is the Colombo, a unique curry of chicken (curry chicken), meat or fish with vegetables, spiced with a distinctive masala of Bengali or Tamil origins, acidulated with tamarind and often containing wine, coconut milk, and rum. There is also a strong tradition of créole desserts and cakes, often employing pineapple, rum, and a wide range of local ingredients.

Martinique in Popular Culture

Miscellaneous topics

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