Commune (pop., 2002: commune, 26,181; urban agglom., 124,864), port, and capital of French Polynesia. It is located on the northwestern coast of Tahiti. A tropical city with tall palms and exotic flowers, it is one of the largest urban and commercial centres in the South Pacific Ocean. By 1829 its excellent harbour made it a place of trade and a port of call for whalers. In 1880 it was annexed by the French, and it became a commune in 1890. It is a major tourist base and a centre for Pacific Rim trade.
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Papeete ("water from a basket", see footnote for variant spelling) is the capital of French Polynesia, an overseas territory of France in the Pacific Ocean. The commune (municipality) of Papeete is located on the island of Tahiti, in the administrative subdivision of the Windward Islands, of which Papeete is the administrative capital. The French High Commissioner also resides in Papeete. It is the primary center of Tahitian and French Polynesian public and private governmental, commercial, industrial and financial services, the hub of French Polynesian tourism and a commonly used Port of call. The Windward Islands are themselves part of the Society Islands.
The area that now constitutes Papeete was first settled by the British missionary William Crook of the London Missionary Society in 1818. Queen Pōmare IV moved her court to Papeete and made it her capital in the late 1820s, and the town grew into a major regional shipping and transportation center. Papeete was retained as Tahiti's capital after France took control of the Tahitian Islands and made them a protectorate in 1842. Herman Melville was imprisoned in Papeete in 1842; his experiences there became the basis for the novel Omoo. Paul Gauguin journeyed to and toured Papeete in 1891 and, except for a two-year period in 1893-1895, never returned to France. Robert Louis Stevenson also spent time in Papeete in 1888. Half of Papeete was destroyed by a major fire in 1884, which then prohibited the use of native building materials. A major cyclone caused extensive damage to the city in 1906, and a French naval vessel was sunk in the harbor in October 1914 by two German men-of war, which bombarded Papeete.
The growth of the city was boosted by the decision to move the nuclear weapon test range from Algeria to the atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa, some 1,500 km at the east of Tahiti; this originated in particular in the construction of the Faa'a airport next to Pape'ete, the only international airport in French Polynesia. In 1983, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built the Papeete Tahiti Temple here because of the large number of members in the region. On September 5, 1995 the government of Jacques Chirac conducted the first of the last series of nuclear test detonations off the shores of Moruroa. A resulting riot in Papeete lasted for two days and damaged the international airport, injured 40 people, and scared away tourism for some time.(Similar rioting occurred after another French nuclear test in the same area in 1987).
The urban area of Papeete had a total population of 131,695 inhabitants at the August 2007 census, 26,017 of whom lived in the commune of Papeete proper. The urban area of Papeete is made up of 7 communes:
Construction has boomed since the 1960s due to an influx of 35,000 immigrants (20,000 from France and 15,000 from French Polynesia's outer islands) in response to an improved infrastructure and France's nuclear testing program.