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Cayenne (Municipality, French Guiana, France)

Last modified: 2021-07-10 by ivan sache
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Flag of Cayenne - Image by Valentin Poposki, 29 January 2021

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Presentation of Cayenne

The municipality of Cayenne (63,652 inhabitants in 2018, therefore Guiana's most populated municipality; 2,360 ha, therefore Guiana's smallest municipality by its area) is the administrative and cultural capital of Guiana.
Cayenne is located on Cayenne Island / Peninsula, which is bordered north by the Atlantic Ocean, west by the rivière de Cayenne, east by the estuary of river Mahury, and south by rivière du Tour de l'Île. The southern river is indeed a mangrove swamp, accordingly some geographers do not consider the area as a true island but a peninsula. The two other municipalities on the island are Matoury and Remire-Montjoly. Together with Cayenne, they account for nearly 50% of Guiana's population.
Cayenne is named for the French world "caenne" used be seamen for "house", itself derived from "caya", already used in 1285. The place was originally called La Caenne, subsequently La Cayenne (as used by Voltaire), eventually shortened to Cayenne. The place was originally named Cépérou, for the hill that overlooks it, but the name was probably lost during the several breaks of the early colonization period.

Discovered by Vicente Yanez Pizon around 1500, Guiana was coveted by the French, the Brits, the Dutch and the Portuguese. The first attempt of French colonization of Cayenne is dated c. 1635, when colonists expelled from the Rémire cove by natives established a fortified camp close to Mt. Cépérou. Ruined, the fort was rebuilt in 1643 by Charles Poncet de Brétigny, who landed with 1,200 men; composed of some ten houses, the village was destroyed two years later by the natives upset by the colonists' abuses. In 1652, a new expedition rebuilt the fort and stone walls, but the colony, lacking support and food, was soon abandoned.
Cayenne was then settled by the Portuguese, subsequently expelled by the Dutch. Knight Lefebvre de la Barre organized in 1664 a new town, with a church ans streets, close to the fort, composed of 200 huts housing 350 French colonists and 50 slaves. Another 220 colonists and a hundred slaves were scattered over Cayenne Island.
Seized and burned down by the Brits in 1667, the town was resettled the next year by 200 colonists. A short-lived Dutch occupation was ended on 21 December 1676 by a fleet commanded by Count Jean II d'Estrées, Vice Admiral of Ponant.
From 1690 to 1693, the town was fully fortified by workers hired in France and slaves requisitioned from the neighboring colonial estates, which were ruined. At the time, the European population declined (352 in 1693 vs. 842 in 1663) and the town was mostly inhabited by filibusterers and wanderers. To stabilize the colony and attract workers' households, the colonial authority commissioned the Society of Jesus to establish a college.

Around 1750, Cayenne was protected by an irregular hexagonal wall equipped with five bastions and ditches. Fort Louis, built on Mt. Cépérou, was equipped with a powder-house and a cistern, while 300 soldiers were garrisoned in neighboring barracks. The town had some 200 huts inhabited by c. 1,000 people.
Knight François Étienne Turgot re-designed Cayenne in 1764 on a grid plan. Most fluent colonists did not live in the town but in their much more comfortable estates ("habitations"). In the last quarter of the 18th century, Governor Malouet commissioned the Swiss engineer Guizan to improve the town: the neighboring swamps were drained and channels were established in the town to evacuate water. During the Portuguese occupation (1809-1817), the town walls were definitively suppressed and the ditches were filled up.
After the return of Cayenne to France, Governor Laussat increased the channels and adopted in 1822 the grid plan. The emblematic Place des Palmistes, lined with royal palms, was designed in 1837. The town was then composed of 500 wooden houses inhabited by more than 5,000 inhabitants, half of them being slaves. The inhabitants complained on the bad state and loose management of the town, which was solved in 1854 with the "employment" of convicts. The development of Cayenne as "Little Paris" paralleled the development of agriculture; more than 1,700 ha were cropped as polders on Cayenne Island, mostly with sugar cane but also with cotton and achiote. Abolition of slavery, establishment of large-scale penitentiary colonies and the gold rush ended Cayenne's Gilded Age.

Engineer François-Jules Lalouette established in 1861 four public fountains in Cayenne, which supplied water brought from the Mahury lakes, 12 km away and stored in a reservoir built on Mt. Cépérou. Lalouette also built a network of roads (35 km), a sewage system and walls protecting the northern side of the town against the sea. The works were made possible by the massive "employment" of (unpaid) convicts.
The urbanization of Cayenne increased in the second half of the 20th century, in the aftermath of the proclamation of the departmental status of Guiana in 1956. In 1974 and 1975, Mayor L´opold Heder restructured the 27 boroughs that had grown anarchically from 1946 to 1970 and turned, for some of them, into slums. In 1976, the death of the mayor and the inauguration of the Kourou spatial center caused caused uncontrolled, massive immigration, without the allocation of specific funds aimed at handling the issue. Accordingly, illegal urbanization resumed.
[J. Barret (Ed.). Atlas illustré de la Guyane, 2001]

Ivan Sache, 6 April 2021

Flag of Cayenne

The flag of Cayenne (photo, photo, photo, photo) is white with the municipal logo, which features the Town Hall of Cayenne.

Valentin Poposki & Ivan Sache, 6 April 2021