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Morne-à-l'Eau

Grande-Terre - 17 504 Hab.

Morne-à-l'Eau: land of encounters

The Carib people originally called this location “Manatee Place” (“case aux lamantins”), as it was a popular mating spot for manatees. Throughout the 18th century, Vieux-Bourg, on the coast facing the bay of Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin, was the center of human activity. Then, at a place called Grippon (named after a local landowner), a new town sprang up by the name of "Bordeaux-Bourg".  The name Morne-à-l'Eau (literally “Water Hill”) comes from the presence of a stream flowing down Grippon Hill. The arrival and rapid development of the sugar cane industry, mainly in the fertile plain known as Plaine de Grippon, redoubled the settlers’ interest in this area. Plans were subsequently made to dig a canal so the cane could be transported more easily.
With the arrival of the governor of Rotours in the early 19th century, the canal project became a reality. Due to the construction of the 6 km. long Rotours Canal, which ultimately cost the lives of around 30 laborers, recruited from among slaves and freemen, the urban center moved away from the coast and further inland. Once the canal was opened, it was immediately adopted by barges transporting sugar, resulting in the development of the new town. Several sugar plantations were created, including the important central factory at Blanchet, opened in 1869. By 1889, there were 19 sugar refineries sustaining an economy that was entirely devoted to the production of sugar. The town’s relocation not only brought a strategic benefit, since it was better protected further inland, but it also had the effect of bringing the population of the whole area closer together. 
The Grands-Fonds region, further south, already provided significant resources for food production: some even say that the first breadfruit tree in Guadeloupe was planted in this parish, having been introduced by a certain Mr. Avril after he brought it from Polynesia.
The town grew up around a central marketplace where plantation slaves and freemen came every Sunday to sell their produce.
However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the sugar crisis and its accompanying labor conflicts gradually weakened the region’s economy, finally resulting in the closure of the central factory in Blanchet in 1979. A number of people have left their mark on this area’s history. In addition to Pierre Monnerville (brother of Gaston), elected mayor in 1947, and Gerty Archimède, an activist woman politician, Morne-à-l'Eau gave birth to Auguste Bébian, known for his groundbreaking work in developing techniques to help deaf-mutes communicate.
A marketplace and gathering spot, standing at the crossroads of the main routes to Pointe-à-Pitre and northern Grande Terre, Morne-à-l'Eau, with a current population of nearly 17,000, has managed to maintain a vibrant economy while also preserving the richness of its culture, heritage and natural beauty. Visitors will certainly appreciate all the public areas that have now been renovated. In addition to the remarkable cemetery, with its checkerboard pattern, you can also admire several buildings designed by Ali Tur, the architect appointed by the government following the hurricane of 1928 (e.g. the church of Saint-André, the presbytery, Jeanne de Kermadec school, the tax office, and the typical local houses), and appreciate the quiet charms of the Rotours canal that cuts through the town. The food market, currently undergoing renovation, is a real showcase for selling local products. The Vieux-Bourg Community Center, the Cheick Anta Diop Arts Center, and the various local activities held by community organizations in private homes all attest to the town’s vibrant cultural scene. A number of festivals take place in the town every year, particularly in Place Gerty Archimède, the scene of many festive events. The Crab Festival, which takes place every Easter, is renowned as one of the great culinary events in Guadeloupe’s calendar.
Cock-fighting remains a very popular sport in Morne-à-l'Eau, and the cockfights, which take place from January to July, often give rise to noisy and passionate exchanges between punters.

Comforting its reputation as a sports city (Jocelyn Angloma, former international footballer, is a child of the country) many titles are regularly won by Mornaliens sportsmen (French champion of N1 handball for the girls of Zayen'la in 2015, multiple titles of champion of Guadeloupe in football for “l’Etoile“ and in handball for the Star and the Zayen'la). Besides football and handball, sports kings in the municipality, judo, athletics, volleyball and cycling regularly reveal new talents. The city also has a dense associative fabric. The stadium Pierre Monnerville, with a capacity of 1500 seats under covered stand (3000 seats in total), hosts high level competitions and the town has many infrastructures well distributed throughout the territory. The municipal water sports center of Vieux-Bourg is home to water sports and outdoor activities. The variety of natural sites, but also the fragility of the ecosystem of the territory has led the city to encourage the development of biodiversity accompanying associations working in this area. With the development of a local Agenda 21 in line with the Local Urban Plan (PLU) and the urban renewal program, the city obtained the first sustainable cities prize in 2014 for the overseas territories, and in 2018 the 2nd prize Eco Actions. Continuing this process towards the city of the future, the city has launched "Coeur de Grippon" the first EcoQuartier project in Guadeloupe. Extending over 54 ha of the village including 13 ha of green space, it is an innovative and participatory approach that relies on a network of partner experts. The Urban Master Plan was built through numerous meetings with the population, an inexhaustible source of suggestions, which, having become a major player, is concretely involved in the issues of biodiversity, planning, innovation, management of the everyday life. The pilot operations launched in 2018 concern the development of land (abandoned plots), economical public lighting, and the planting of 1,000 trees.

 

Visiting Morne-à-l'Eau

Situated in the heart of Grande Terre and covering an area of 6,450 hectares, Morne-à-l’Eau provides an incredibly varied landscape.  It consists of three major zones: Plaine de Grippon, Grands-Fonds, and the coastal region known as Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin. Each of these areas is known for its remarkable biodiversity.
The uniform flatness of the fertile Plaine de Grippon contrasts with the fault scarps in the north and south (Grands-Fonds), which stand out clearly within the landscape. The plain sits on top of an excellent groundwater source, one of the biggest water reserves on Grande Terre, and the principal supply of water for the municipality. Being a landscaped nature reserve, the plain is ideal for taking a leisurely walk through the ubiquitous cane fields. Near the N5 highway, you can see the ruins of the former Blanchet factory. Morne-à-l’Eau has maintained its agricultural traditions, and although the main crop is still sugar cane, the land itself is mostly given over to cattle farming, and to a lesser extent, food and vegetable crops. If you take the D109 towards Jabrun, you will find yourself in the Grands Fonds region (shared with the districts of Les Abymes, Sainte-Anne and Le Gosier). Here you’ll find narrow valleys (known as dolines) tucked between the little chalky hills where fruit and food crops are cultivated and breadfruit trees grow in abundance. Take a walk around the bustling town center, where you can admire a number of public buildings designed by Ali Tur, in particular the church of Saint-André, the Town Hall, and Jeanne de Kermadec Primary School (note the tiling, the movable wooden shutters, the parapets, and the external staircases). During your visit you may also notice several busts of historic figures, such as Delgrès, Schœlcher, Eboué, and Gerty Archimède, plus a number of traditional houses with interesting façades. Take a moment to relax in the central Place Gerty Archimède, or in the more discreet Place Nelson Mandela, a small square that is currently being renovated, with its pretty line of black olive trees. The tranquil Rotours Canal, which runs through the town, is also close by. If you head out of town towards Petit-Canal (N6), you can see the ruins of the old factory in Pointe-à-Retz. Or take the N5 out towards Les Abymes to see the cemetery with the checkerboard pattern – not to be missed! The D107 will take you to Vieux-Bourg, where you can explore the department’s fishing port. Fishing remains an important activity, and each year the town organizes the Queen Conch Festival. Vieux-Bourg is a typical fishing village, and from here boats head out for a tour of  the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin, a huge area of around 15,000 hectares, protected by the long coral reef of the Lesser Antilles and home to an exceptional range of flora and fauna. You can easily get on a boat and explore the smaller islands, or take a trip up the Rotours Canal or the Perrin Canal. The site is tailor-made to be one of the stops on the TGVT (tour of Guadeloupe in a traditional sailing vessel) and the nautical center offers a number of activities, including kayaking, stand-up paddle, sailing, traditional sailing, rowing, etc.). From the church, you get an exceptional view of the sea and the Plaine de Grippon. In the adjoining cemetery lies the tomb of Félix Gama, Morne-à-l'Eau’s first black mayor. Below you’ll find a pretty creole garden, where a wide range of horticultural species adds a special cachet to this picturesque spot. Heading out of town, a small road takes you to the charming Babin Beach. Alternatively, if you take the D106 towards Les Abymes, you will end up at Perrin Canal. On your left, fields of sugar cane as far as the eye can see, and perched on top of a hill, the chapel of Notre-Dame de la Belle Espérance (Our Lady of Good Hope), which affords a stunning view of the surrounding countryside. At Easter time, huge numbers of stalls selling crabs line the roadside, for in Morne-à-l'Eau, crab is king! The crabs live in the mangrove swamps and further inland, and you’ll also find that they’re available in restaurants everywhere: either in a “matété” (a sort of crab curry) stuffed, in a pâté, or baked in cooking salt. They are also eaten in households throughout Morne-à-l'Eau, and the locals know every which way of preparing crab. Additionally, crabs are a real money-maker for those smart hunters who know how to use crab traps.

“Chemin Bleu” Guadeloupe tourist maps and street plans are available from major Tourist Offices.

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