Martinique's Mont Pelée may be best known for its eruption but it continues to play an important role on the island today.
Martinique’s Mont Pelée erupts 120 years ago
On May 8, 1902, the towering Mont Pelée erupts with tremendous effect. The west side of Mount Pelée was devastated from Le Prêcheur to Petite Anse du Carbet. Saint-Pierre—Martinique’s former capital, was totally destroyed and lost 30,000 of its residents—only a few survived.
At the time, Saint-Pierre was the island’s capital. Located at the north-western tip of the Isle of Flowers. Saint-Pierre was the island’s cultural and economic center, home to the main port. It was founded in 1635, on the sea routes between Europe and the Americas. In the Caribbean this vibrant city was known as the “petit Paris” or the “Little Paris” of the Antilles. Of course Saint-Pierre was rebuilt and is now known as the “Little Pompeii.” Although it lost its place as the island’s capital and economic heart to Fort-de-France, this lovely town by the sea is still a vibrant city of art and culture.
To commemorate the tragedy, a museum was founded in 1933. It was the idea of the self-taught American volcanologist and engineer Frank A. Perret, who helped in the reconstruction of Saint-Pierre. This passionate man was adamant about collecting and preserving objects after the eruption—from volcanic rocks and stones, and melted artefacts that emerged from the hardened lava flows and ash. The museum, now known as the Mémorial de la catastrophe de 1902 | Musée Frank A. Perret, was closed in 2019 for a 5-month redesign and reopened May 8, 2019. Visitors will see 432 artefacts that were recovered in the following decades and reconstruction of Saint-Pierre. The collection also has 28 new objects that have been discovered these recent years following construction work in the city or environs. For more on the Memorial, click here.
“We are very proud of Saint-Pierre, our very own hub of contemporary art, said Bénédicte di Geronimo, Tourism Commissioner of Martinique, “as we are of the Frank A. Perret memorial museum. Ms. Di Geronimo went on to say, “Today, our dormant volcano, surrounding rain forests and twin volcanic peaks of Le Carbet provide our visitors with unique and spectacular hikes, to the point that UNESCO is considering them for a spot on their Natural Sites list; and that it’s immediate environs are at the origin of our Café Excellence—our coffee production renaissance. Both of these developments are also a source of great pride for all Martinicans, ones that we are eager to share.”
Did you know? Its claim to fame today
Martinique is up for its third UNESCO nod, this time for the Natural Sites List: the now dormant 4,583-foot Mount Pelée volcano is a candidate, along with its forests and the Pitons of Northern Martinique. The UNESCO committee is due de visit Martinique this spring to deliberate. The whole island of Martinique was named UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in September 2021 & its traditional Yole sailboat was recognized in December 2020 on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Flanks & environs of Mont Pelée @ Origin of Caribbean & Americas coffee plantations:
In 1720, French naval officer Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu based in Martinique and after a leave in France, crossed the Atlantic from Rochefort, France (departure point of Lafayette’s Hermione) to Martinique with a coffee plant. Upon arrival in Le Precheur—on the island’s North Atlantic and not far from the famous Mount Pelée, he transplanted the coffee tree on his property. His endeavor succeeded so well that coffee growing was taken up by other producers, to the point that they started exporting. The exports started in 1725, first to Haiti, then one year later to Guadeloupe and around 1728, a plant was offered by the Governor of Martinique to the Governor of Jamaica—gift at the origin of the once English colony’s famed Blue Mountain coffee. In addition to other Caribbean island, the coffee trees made their way to Surinam, Guyana and Brazil, among others. After two centuries of decline and the end of coffee production in Martinique, there is pilot project supported by the Parc Naturel de Martinique and the CIRAD called “Café Excellence” which resumed coffee production in Martinique with a first harvest in 2017-2018. It involved taking seeds from two coffee trees found in Northern Martinique to produce the top quality Typica variety. The two trees were found 15 years ago near the Mount Pelée and scientists have recently confirmed that the two different Arabica trees can be traced back to Gabriel de Clieu’s one surviving coffee seedling that first arrived here in 1720.
About Martinique | us.martinique.org The French Caribbean Island of Martinique is also known as the Isle of Flowers, The Rum Capital of the World, the Birthplace of coffee in the New World, The Isle of the Famed Poet (Aimé Césaire) – Martinique ranks among the most alluring and enchanting destinations in the world. As an overseas region of France, Martinique boasts modern and reliable infrastructure – roads, water and power utilities, hospitals, and telecommunications, services all on par with any other part of the European Union. At the same time, Martinique’s beautifully unspoiled beaches, volcanic peaks, rainforests, 80+ miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, streams, and other natural wonders are unparalleled in the Caribbean, so visitors here truly get the best of both worlds. The currency is the Euro, the flag and the official language are French, but Martinique’s character, cuisine, musical heritage, art, culture, common language, and identity are of a distinctly Afro-Caribbean inclination known as Creole. It is this special combination of modern world conveniences, pristine nature, and rich heritage that has earned for Martinique several notable distinctions in recent years.: Martinique named the world's top emerging destination by TripAdvisor for 2021. In late 2020, Martinique’s traditional Yole Boat was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List and the Isle of Flowers also earned Silver honors in Travel Weekly’s 2020 Magellan Awards as an Art & Culture Caribbean Destination. In December 2019 and for the second year in a row, Martinique was named “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean” by the Caribbean Journal. The island was also recognized in January 2019 by OprahMag.com and in first place in their list of “The 19 Best Winter Getaways.” Martinique was also featured in the Caribbean Journal’s Best Caribbean Islands to visit in 2019. Martinique has also been featured in Travel + Leisure and the New York Time’s “52 Places to go in 2018.” Hot off the press: the UNESCO Committee will visit Martinique in spring 2022 to weigh the candidacy of Mount Pelée and the Pitons du Carbet for induction in their Natural Sites List.