Founded in 1635 by the filibuster Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc, who established the first permanent colony in Martinique, Saint-Pierre is located around thirty kilometres north of Fort-de-France on the magnificent Caribbean coast, at the foot of the famous Pelée mountain volcano.
Listed as a Town of Art and History since 1990, the island's former capital still has reminders of its painful past, marked by the violent volcanic eruption of the Pelée mountain on 8 May 1902, which destroyed the town and killed nearly 30,000. Struck off the list of French municipalities for many years, Saint-Pierre rose from its ashes in the 1920s to become a town in its own right again. In the districts of the Fort and the Centre, some ruins stand as moving reminders of this tragic event: the Fort Church, the colonial health centre, the Engineering offices, the old theatre and the Figuier trading premises. During your tour, you can also see the Rue Monte-au-Ciel with its picturesque original steps, or the Cyparis dungeon, famous for having sheltered one of the catastrophe's two survivors in 1902.
A hub for the local community, the charming Place Bertin in the Mouillage quarter lies next to the beach, with its magnificent stock exchange, rebuilt identically, and its covered market which is busy every morning. Not far from there stands the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, a listed historic monument. This religious building originally built in the 17th century was rebuilt in the 20th century following the destruction in 1902. Behind the cathedral, the Mouillage cemetery has an ossuary and a memorial in honour of the victims of 8 May 1902, as well as its tiled tombs which withstood the volcanic eruption.
To learn more about Saint-Pierre and the terrible catastrophe that decimated the town, head to the Frank Perret volcanological museum, founded in 1933 by the American volcanologist. With a collection of photographs, objects, archives and other documents, you can learn all about the town's history before, during and after the dramatic eruption. At the north exit from the town, don't miss the Earth Sciences Discovery Centre. In this impressive paraseismic building you'll find exhibitions about major natural hazards, from volcanic eruptions to cyclones through earthquakes and tsunamis.
While the charming Saint-Pierre harbour is equally popular among yachting enthusiasts and passing tourists, it is also of great interest to divers with its many shipwrecks, which sank to the sea bed on the day of the great volcanic eruption.
Saint-Pierre is a city on the west coast of the island of Martinique, 30 km north of Fort-de-France.
The vast majority of the habitat and therefore of the population (4,400 inhabitants) is concentrated along the coast on the Caribbean coast, but the amphitheater-like municipal territory extends to Mount Pelée and Culminates in 1395 m.
It was at Saint-Pierre that the first French settlers landed in 1635 and initiated rapid exploitation of tobacco, cocoa and then sugar, and finally the slave trade.
The city develops and becomes the economic and administrative capital of Martinique, and counts up to 26 000 inhabitants in April 1902. Nicknamed "Little Paris of the West Indies", it is richly urbanized (tramway, electricity network, cultural facilities).
On Thursday, May 8, 1902, the first alarms (ashes of ashes) were not taken into account by the authorities to trigger an evacuation (notably because of the second round of legislative elections scheduled for May 11), the eruption of the volcano Of the Pelée Mountain, a "fiery cloud" (molten lava) rushes over 600 km / h, devastating the city and killing the entire population (only two survivors).
A slow reconstruction of the city begins after the First World War, but Saint-Pierre does not regain its rank.
Labeled City of Art and History, most of the economic activity is now based on tourism and the extraction of pozzolana (volcanic rock) to make sand or building material (aggregates).
A visit to the city necessarily includes the many remains of the buildings devastated in 1902: such as the ruins of the theater, the church of the Fort, or the prison where Cyparis's dungeon is displayed, this survivor of the Disaster that was protected by the thick walls of his cell...
Also worth seeing are the later buildings, such as Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption Cathedral or Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Port Cathedral, which was erected on the site of the Anchorage Church. The style of the old cathedral was restored, and several polychrome statues are to be seen inside.
Also worth seeing is the old stock exchange, numerous fountains (Place Ernoult, rue Levassor...).
All information on the visiting circuits (for a pedestrian walk) to +33 5 96 78 34 05.
A small tourist train follows a route that also includes the main sites of the city (with commentary). Information on +33 (0) 5 96 55 50 92.
For diving enthusiasts, dozens of underwater wrecks are visible in the harbor (most of the ships sank in 1902). Contact clubs offering the services of experienced instructors in +33 6 96 50 13 68 or +33 6 96 24 24 30. Diving to take advantage of the richness of the seabed of the Caribbean Sea is obviously possible.
Also worth a visit are the Science and Earth Discovery Center, which offers permanent, temporary scientific exhibitions in memory of the 1902 eruption and related to major natural hazards (volcanoes, earthquakes, cyclones). There is also a projection room and a themed garden. Entry: 1.50 to 5 euros. Information on +33 5 96 52 82 42.
Another must-see site is the Franck A. Perret museum, which was built on the site of an old battery of guns that defended the bay of Saint-Pierre.
Founded by an American who gave it its name, this museum collects documents, archives, photographs, objects found in the ruins of the devastated city, and retraces the history of the city (monuments, everyday life) before and after the disaster. Entrance: 1 to 3 euros. Information on +33 5 96 78 15 16.
The city center (shopping district in the center, rue Mont-au-Ciel, circuit of the vestiges), its coastline but also the Mountain Pelée (via the trail of the Great Savane) can be the object of numerous excursions. Especially for tourists wishing to climb the slopes of the volcano, it is necessary to learn about the precautions to take and the degrees of difficulty. Enjoying a group tour with the presence of a guide can be relevant. Brochures and information on +33 5 96 78 34 05.
Of course, a stopover or stay at Saint-Pierre must include a break on the long gray sand beach that runs along the village, with the Mountain Pelee as background in the background.
Besides lazing around and swimming, the practice of sailing is obviously possible. Contact the nautical center on +33 5 96 78 10 32.
Once you have traveled, the colorful and lively streets of the center, you can discover the rich and gourmet products of the terroir on the covered market, open every morning until 1 pm.
At the end of February and beginning of March, the carnival brings together young and old alike for several days of festivities combining traditions, parades and musical entertainment.
Every month of May, throughout the month, the city of Saint-Pierre commemorates the anniversary of the catastrophe of 1902: thematic memorial events, but also commercial and cultural animations (exhibitions, markets, concerts). Information on +33 5 96 78 10 32.
From the first Sunday of July to the 14th of July (celebration of the national holiday), the patronal festival includes in addition to fairground attractions, one of the sailors, balls, nautical animations... Information in +33 5 96 78 10 32.