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Fort-de-France (Municipality, Martinique, France)

Last modified: 2013-03-23 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Fort-de-France]

Flag of Fort-de-France - Image by Ivan Sache, 18 October 2012


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Presentation of Fort-de-France

The municipality of Fort-de-France (90,498 inhabitants - Foyalais - in 2010; 4,421 ha) located on the west coast of Martinique, is the capital of the island. Its population represents 40% of the total population of Martinique.

Fort-de-France originates in the building in 1637 of the Fort Royal by Jacques du Parquet, two years after the start of the French colonization of Martinique in Saint-Pierre. The site of Saint-Pierre was prone to attack by the sea; accordingly, the colonists sought for a more convenient place. The narrow port named Cul de Sac du Fort Royal was much safer; however, the site was made of marshy lowlands surrounded by hills (mornes), therefore extremely unhealthy and conducive to malaria. These characteristics explain the slow development of Fort Royal, as opposed to Saint-Pierre, in the early years of colonization of Martinique.

Following the outbreak of the French-Dutch War in 1672, Governor Jean- Charles de Baas increased the fortifications of the Fort Royal. The next year, it was eventually decided to establish a town near the fort, in spite of the opposition of the inhabitants of Saint-Pierre and of the very unattractive environment of the Fort Royal.
In 1674, the Fort Royal was assaulted by the Dutch fleet commanded by Admiral Ruyter, to no avail. The episode has remained famous as the "Rum victory", reported by Father Jean-Baptiste Labat (Voyage aux îles - Chronique aventureuse des Caraïbes, 1693-1705"). Soon after landing, the Dutch seamen looted the huts where wine and rum was stored during the hurricane season. When attempting to assault the fort in great disorder, the drunkards were shot by the cannons of two French vessels. In the evening, Ruyter landed to check the result of the attack; finding that more of 1,500 of his men had been either killed or injured, he decided to withdraw with the survivors to the ships. In the meantime, the Governor ordered to abandon the fort, which had been damaged during the attack, and ordered to nail the cannon. Hearing the noise, the Dutch feared a counter-attack from the fort defenders and ran away as quickly as possible, abandoning a lot of stuff and ammunition on the shore. Also scared by the turmoil an by a possible counter-counter-attack, the French soldiers also withdrew to their ships. The fort was completely abandoned, except by a Swiss guard who had also drank too much the previous evening and did not notice anything from the battle. The failed attack demonstrated the safety of the place, deemed suitable to build a town.
In 1692, the Count de Blénac, Governor and Lieutenant-General of the West Indies, ordered the transfer of the seat of his administration from Saint-Pierre to the town of Cul de Sac Royal. This was confirmed in 1700 by the Marquis d'Ablimont, Lieutenant-General of the West Indies, considered as the true founder of the town.

Renamed Fort-de-France in 1801 by a Decree of Napoléon Bonaparte, the town was destroyed by an earthquake in 1839; on 22 June 1890, most of the downtown was suppressed by a blaze. A hurricane claimed some 400 lives on 18 August 1891.
On 8 May 1902, the pyroclastic flow released by the Mount Pelée destroyed the town of Saint-Pierre, making of Fort-de-France the new economical capital of Martinique, and, at the time, the only town of significance in the island.
The population of the town dramatically increased, from 16,050 in 1894 to 52,051 in 1936 and 66,006 in 1946.

The poet and politician Aimé Césaire (1913-2008) was Mayor of Fort-de-France from 1945 to 2001 and Representative at the French Assembly from 1946 to 1993. Originally member of Parti Communiste Français, Césaire left the party in 1956 and founded in 1958 Parti Progressiste Martiniquais; he seated in the French Assembly as non inscrit from 1958 to 1978 and as apparenté au Parti Socialiste from 1978 to 1993.
Césaire, often nicknamed le nègre fondamental, was one of the "three fathers" of the Négritude literary and ideological movement. He coined the word négritude in the third issue of the magazine L'Étudiant Noir, published in 1935, and used it again in Cahiers d'un retour au pays natal, an epic poem published in 1939 (ma négritude n'est pas une pierre - my negritude is not a stone / ma négritude n'est ni une tour ni une cathédrale - my negritude is neither a tower nor a cathedral). Césaire deliberately reclaimed the word nègre as positive, while it had mostly conveyed the pejorative meaning of "nigger". In his essay Orphée Noir (1948), Jean-Paul Sartre presented the Négritude movement as "the polar opposite of colonial racism" and "the negation of the negation of the black man".

Source: Zananas Martinique website

Ivan Sache, 18 October 2012


Flag of Fort-de-France

The flag of Fort-de-France (photo) is white with the municipal logo.

Olivier Touzeau, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 18 October 2012