Saint Louis Catholic Cathedral, Rue Victor Schoelcher, Fort-de-France, Martinique
History ClassFort-de-France is among the oldest European settlements in the Caribbean, with a fort first built here in 1638. It was destroyed, and the earliest portions of the Fort Saint-Louis that now stands on the same site date from 1669. The fort entices present-day visitors with postcard views of the harbor and city.
While the city is almost 400 years old, many of its most famous landmarks date to the late 19th century. The Bibliothèque Schoelcher was designed with a cast-iron framework and assembled in France in 1889 before being dismantled and shipped to Martinique. Its Byzantine and Romanesque elements and innovative design make it one of the island’s most eye-catching buildings.
Cast iron was also used for the 19th-century Saint-Louis Cathedral. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel and built by Pierre-Henri Picq. The Grand Marché, which opened in 1885, recalls the cast-iron markets of Europe being built at the same period. It’s a good place to stock up on souvenirs from local cinnamon to madras clothing.
Outside Fort-de-France, the island’s past has been frozen in time at Saint-Pierre. Founded in 1635 and long a cosmopolitan center and an economic capital, the city’s heyday was brought to an abrupt end in 1902 when Mount Pelée erupted and buried the city in volcanic ash. Today, the buildings have been excavated and visitors can wander the streets of this fascinating Pompeii of the West Indies.
In Trois-Ilets, at the southern end of the island, visitors to Savane des Esclaves can learn about the realities of plantation life for Martinique’s slaves. A number of slave cabins from around 1800 have been restored while a museum recounts the history, ending with their emancipation in 1848.