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Capesterre Belle-Eau

Basse Terre - 19 315 Hab.

Capesterre Belle Eau:  Resplendent Nature, Valiant People

Bordered to the west by the Madeleine range and Capesterre Mountain (1,134 meters), and to the east by a 16-km Atlantic shoreline, Capesterre Belle Eau (103.26 km2) is the third largest commune, in terms of area, in the Guadeloupe archipelago. Its name is derived from the French naval expression “cab-est-terre,” meaning “land exposed to east winds.” “Belle Eau“ was added by decree in 1976 in homage to the commune’s abundant waterfalls and rivers.
On Monday, November 4, 1493, Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the Antilles, landed near the mouth of the Grand-Carbet River where there was a Caribbean village, and sent out rowboats to seek fresh water. He then sailed along the shoreline, anchoring in the natural harbor of Sainte-Marie and naming it for one of the ships of the expedition. In a subsequent landing, in 1496, Columbus was confronted by the island’s indigenous Caribbean residents, who had made Guadeloupe a bastion of resistance and a rear base from which to attack Spanish galleons and possessions. Despite repeated attempts to exterminate those they considered savages, the Spaniards ultimately abandoned the region for other destinations deemed more profitable, in particular the Greater Antilles, and the island was left in peace until the arrival of the French in 1635, when it was occupied again. Between 1637 and 1640, fierce battles were waged, but in the end, the Carib people were made to abandon the island for Marie-Galante and Dominica, leaving behind many traces of their presence here, including petroglyphs (rock carvings), notably along the banks of the Pérou and Bananier rivers.
In 1644, Charles Houël du Petit Pré, Governor of Guadeloupe from 1643 to 1664, became a driving force in the development of the archipelago through the introduction and organization of growing operations, primarily sugar cane plantations. Father Du Tertre (author of numerous works, including L’Histoire Générale des Antilles Habitées par les Français—“A General History of the French-Occupied Antilles”) was parish priest in Capesterre from 1642 to 1647. In around 1654, Dutch Jews and Protestants settled in Capesterre to develop the territory’s agricultural resources. The triangular trade system brought in imported slave labor to assist in building the economy. Despite the success of the system, trouble arose, and in 1656 Capesterre was the scene of the first slave uprising, led by Jean Leblanc and Pèdre. In 1659, the governor built a fort here and made Sainte-Marie a strategic military base; the ruins of its powder magazine and other defensive structures are still visible along the coast. In April 1661, Louis XIV made Sainte-Marie and the surrounding area a marquisate. Capesterre then entered a period of colonial prosperity that would last over a century.
During the 18th century, Capesterre was home to many large plantations. The French Revolution of 1789, followed by the initial abolition of slavery in 1794, gave rise to social movements and workers’ uprisings, some of which were harshly repressed. When slavery was reinstituted in 1802, Capesterre became a popular refuge for escaped slaves, its forests offering cover for all resistors of oppression. In 1843 and 1851, Guadeloupe was struck by terrible earthquakes, the first severely damaging buildings, the second completely destroying the parish church. When slavery was definitively abolished in 1848, the vast estates found themselves short of manpower, as newly freed slaves were not inclined to continuing working for their former masters. At this time, workers were recruited from India, marking the beginning of regulated immigration. The first convoy of voluntary workers arrived on December 24, 1854, at the port of Pointe-à-Pitre on the Aurélie, bearing 314 Indians under five-year contracts. From 1854 to 1889, many such “free workers under contract” were recruited from India; they now have many descendants in the region. One of these, Henry Sidambarom, played a major role in the defense and recognition of this community. Over the course of the 20th century, the sugar cane economy—battling competition from sugar beets and products from other countries, and mired in social conflict—gradually declined, despite a few notable comebacks. Its death knell was sounded by the hurricane of 1928, which severely damaged coffee, cacao, and sugar cane plantations. The Marquisat factory finally closed its doors in 1970. The Longueteau Distillery, flagship of Capesterre economy, remains as a must-see attraction.
Today, the health of the economy of Capesterre Belle Eau, population 19,321, rests on three areas of activity:  agriculture (over half of Guadeloupe’s bananas are produced here); trade, thanks to its very active urban center, spurred by the arrival, in 1938, of Lebanese and Syrian families; and ecotourism, showcasing the commune’s rich heritage and natural resources. In terms of infrastructure, the commune will soon inaugurate a hospital center with over 240 beds. Capesterre’s native sons include not only well-known politicians such as Amédée Fengarol, former deputy-mayor Paul Lacavé, Henry Sidambarom, and politician and philosopher Gérard Lauriette, but also men of arts and letters such as playwright Philippe-François Pinel Dumanoir, militant poet Sonny Rupaire, singer / story-teller Benjamin Moise (aka “Benzo”), and researcher and historian Germain Saint-Ruf.

Tour of Capesterre Belle Eau

The natural and historical attractions of this vast commune offer a wealth of opportunities to unravel the secrets of the past and marvel at the wonders of nature. The chiseled coastline features a number of coves popular with fishermen, offering, here and there, a sandy corner for a moment of relaxation. Lovely gray-sand Roseau beach, with its many amenities, is especially family-friendly. Traveling south, the coast is marked by Anse à la Fontaine, Anse de Saint-Sauveur, charming Bananier Beach, and Anse Bernard. At Sainte-Marie village on National Highway RN1, visit Christopher Columbus’s landing spot, marked by a monument. The shoreline beckons, but so do the steep, lush slopes of the interior, covered with banana plantations and, higher up, Sainte-Marie, Digue and Féfé forests, with the imposing La Soufrière volcano rising above them framed by the familiar silhouettes of mounts Capesterre and Madeleine. The commune boasts spectacular waterfalls, peaceful ponds, and luxurious gardens. One kilometer south, at the traffic circle, take D53 to Longueteau Distillery (open to the public) and the 30-hectare Grand Café banana plantation (open for tours). Highway RN1 continues past Changy Hindu Temple, a striking monument to the pride of the Indian community, a large presence in Capesterre Belle Eau. At the entrance to the town of Capesterre Belle Eau, be sure to stop at the “manioquerie” just off the national highway to taste the famous cassava and witness each stage in the production of this manioc-based dish, introduced to the Antilles in the Pre-Columbian era.
Enter town via an avenue lined with Poinciana trees, whose scarlet flowers bloom in May and June. A tour of the town offers many interesting edifices designed by Georges Ali Tur (the Town Hall, market, schools, and church bell tower), the architect dispatched to the colonies by the French government to reconstruct public buildings following the hurricane of 1928, which ravaged Guadeloupe. A stroll through town takes visitors past the busts of several of the commune’s important figures, including Paul Lacavé and Henry Sidambarom. Enjoy the liveliness of the shopping streets, then continue on to the more tranquil “Boulevard Maritime” to explore of the “Quartier de Brest“ neighborhood above Anse Sarlassone cove. Exiting town to the right on highway D3, visitors will see the vestiges of the Marquisat factory. Travel eight kilometers higher to arrive at the Third Carbet Waterfall.
Visit the interesting and sumptuous “Jardin de la Rencontre“ (“garden of encounters”) to enjoy the pleasing colors and aromas of medicinal plants, flowers, and fruit trees, surrounded by banana groves. Straight ahead, arrive at the majestic Allée Dumanoir, a long avenue bordered by royal palm trees. Nearby lies the famous Bois Debout plantation, the residence of poet Saint-John Perse. Take National Highway N1 south past Anse à la Fontaine (“Fountain Cove”) to a slave cemetery created to honor those who lost their lives far from the land of their ancestors, continuing on to Bananier Port (small beach and surf spot), followed by Anse Bernard (“Bernard Cove”), before reaching the commune of Trois-Rivières.
Capesterre Belle Eau, with its lush landscapes and tropical vegetation, is worth exploring in depth, crossing the national and departmental forests to the Guadeloupe National Park preserve, the heart of a unique sanctuary that is home to over 300 species of trees and shrubs and nearly 250 species of ferns. Here in this privileged place visitors may explore the famous Carbet Waterfalls. The First and Second Waterfalls (the most spectacular) may be reached via Departmental Highway D4 traveling from Saint-Sauveur toward l’Habituée. Recognized as among the highest and most spectacular waterfalls of the Lesser Antilles, the First and Second Waterfalls may be accessed easily via trails that are regularly maintained by the National Park. The falls owe their name to Grand Carbet River, whose source springs from the eastern flank of La Soufrière Mountain. Sulfurous water tumbles over high cliffs, spilling toward the Atlantic eleven kilometers away. Take Highway D4 to reach “Jardins de Cantamerle,” an interpretive tropical flower park. Hike the nearby superb trail around Grand Etang pond, with its extraordinary plants and wildlife. This is also the starting point for the exceptional “Trace des Etangs” hiking trail. Chemin Bleu tourist maps of Guadeloupe and city street maps are available at the Office of Tourism.

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