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Marie-Galante - 2 540 Hab.

Saint-Louis:  Passionately Natural

The fortunes of Saint-Louis have always been closely linked with those of the two other communes of Marie-Galante, Grand-Bourg and Capesterre, and its history has much in common with that of the island as a whole:  Amerindian occupation, the advent of the sugar economy, and many conflicts between the French and the British. However, over the centuries, Saint-Louis, with its distinct geography, has forged an identity all its own. The area was occupied by the Huecoid peoples, who came here from South America (Andes mountains) approximately 500 years B.C.E. These were followed by the Caribs, who settled primarily on the Plateau des Coqs (“Rooster Plateau”) and Anse du Coq (“Rooster Cove”), where they subsisted on fishing and slash-and-burn agriculture, growing cotton and manioc.
On November 3, 1493, after a voyage of 21 days from El Hierro (Canary Islands), Christopher Columbus landed on Dominica, continuing on the same day to the island the Caribs knew as Aichi, which he christened “Maria Galanda” (Marie-Galante), after his flagship. Following exploratory forays along the leeward coast in the area of Folle Anse, Columbus deemed the island too arid and lacking in fresh water to be of interest and soon departed.
The first Frenchmen arrived in November of 1648, dispatched by Guadeloupe Governor Charles Houël. Approximately fifty in number, they landed in a small, sheltered bay in the vicinity of present-day Vieux-Fort, northeast of where the town of Saint-Louis is currently located. This site was selected not only because of its freshwater lake, surrounded by mangrove swamps, but also because it directly faces the larger island of Guadeloupe. These early colonists chose a headland extending into the bay for their encampment, which consisted of modest huts inside an enclosure of timber rounds planted firmly in the ground, an arrangement they referred to as a fort. After a period of peaceful cohabitation, the colonists began encountering resistance from the indigenous Caribs, who invaded from Dominica in 1653. In reprisal for rapes and robberies committed in their villages, the Caribs massacred the entire population of colonists, mounting their heads on spikes. The site where this occurred is today called Massacre.
The conflict between the Caribs and the colonists lasted until 1660, when a peace treaty was signed in Basse-Terre. The main crops initially grown on the island were cotton, tobacco, and indigo.
In the late 17th century, sugar cane was introduced to Marie-Galante, followed shortly thereafter by the arrival of the first African slaves, who were brought here to work the plantations. Beginning in 1676, the French were attacked several times by the Dutch, and then by the British, with whom the French waged many battles over the course of more than a century (1692 - 1816). The parish of Saint-Louis received its first chapel in 1706.
Slavery was abolished in 1794 (initial abolition), but was reinstated in 1802. The sugar industry continued to grow, with the establishment of several sugar plantations here (Mayoumbé in 1825, Grand Bassin in 1827). The mill of the Grand Pierre Plantation (late 18th century) was the last to survive, finally ceasing operations in 1941.
In 1843, an earthquake hit the island, destroying Vieux-Fort. With this, local authorities relocated to the area around the Bay of Saint-Louis, and the town developed in tandem with the sugar industry. Slave revolts and abolitionist activities finally achieved their goal in 1848, with the definitive abolition of slavery. In 1864, the Desmarais refinery was built, closing its doors 14 years later in 1878. In 1865, the island was struck by a hurricane, followed by a cholera epidemic, resulting in many deaths. Other hurricanes have hit the island, including that of 1928, which led during the 1930s to the reconstruction of many buildings by Ali Tur, architect dispatched to the colonies by the French government.
In 1994, Marie-Galante signed a regional development charter. The three communes making up the Marie-Galante region committed to a program of developing local industry and protecting the island’s ecological heritage. Marie-Galante is now on the road to becoming a “green region” and Saint-Louis has every intention of playing a major role in realizing this new destiny.
Supported by a wealth of natural attractions, the commune of Saint-Louis, population 2,650, has embraced eco-tourism, promoting environmentally responsible behaviors across its 56.28-square-kilometer area. In partnership with the Amicale Ecolambda organization, it has designated the northeastern part of the island as a protected area. The coastline, in particular, is recognized as being environmentally and historically important, and has been the focus of careful preservation efforts. Tourist accommodations (multi-guest lodgings and bungalows) are kept to a small scale throughout the commune, and many eco-tourism activities are being developed not only on the coast, but also inland, where the area’s agricultural heritage is showcased. In August of each year, Saint-Louis celebrates its cattle-raising and sugar-cane-growing traditions at the “Fête de la Charrette” (“Cart Festival”).
Well known Saint-Louisans include world-renowned musician Camille Soprann and Maurice Barbotin (aka Zagaya), former parish priest who published a number of works on Marie-Galante and its mills, boroughs, and communes.

Tour of Saint-Louis

Mother Nature has been especially generous with this area, bestowing on it a variety of landscapes. The northern coast, facing the island of Grande-Terre, is characterized by high cliffs. The northern quarter is separated from the rest of the island by a fault scarp known as “La Barre.” To the west, beaches and mangrove swamps line the ocean shore. The rivers of Saint-Louis and Vieux-Fort, originating in the island’s center, traverse the plateau to empty themselves in the sea here. From its long, white-sand beaches and small coves, to its bucolic back-country, forests, cane fields, and mangrove swamps, Saint-Louis has much to offer nature-lovers.
The town is a very pleasant place to stroll. Stop to admire the Town Hall with its tower—resembling that of a mosque—designed by Ali Tur. A cross commemorates the abolition of slavery (1849). Nearby stands the War Memorial, depicting a French World War I solider in his blue uniform. The landing dock is flanked on both sides by a long, fine-sand beach wide open to the sea. Many sailboats and pleasure boats anchor here. On any given day, young members of the water sports club may be seen busying themselves around their kayaks while fishermen prepare for their next runs. The town itself features a few lovely wooden traditional houses. Take Rue Raphaël Jerpan, one the town’s main thoroughfares, past Camille Soprann Square, an important gathering place, to the small chapel, a place of offering and reflection. Across from here stands the monument to Louis Delgrès, who fought in 1802 against the reinstitution of slavery. Enjoy a panoramic view from the old Desmarais site.
Take Departmental Highway D205 toward Vieux-Fort. The square in front of the church, named for Father Barbotin, former parish priest, features a crucifix and a Sailors’ Monument. Follow the coast past beautiful beaches at Mays and Moustique coves. Leaving D 205, continue along the coast, where you will soon come to the small, pleasant beach of Anse Canot, followed by another beach at Vieux-Fort, a popular mooring place featuring a view of the island of the same name. The current hamlet of Vieux-Fort marks the site where the colonists dispatched by Governor Charles Houël settled in 1648.  Pleasant paddle-boat and kayak outings are available on the river that passes through the mangrove swamp.
The scalloped eastern shoreline down to Pointe Ménard is characterized by cliffs rising over 100 meters high, alternating with a few low, sandy coves:  Anse Bois d’Inde (“Indian Bay Tree Cove”), Anse Chapelle (“Chapel Cove”), and Anse Coudrier (“Hazelnut Cove”). Continuing along the coast, enjoy a view of the nicely restored Ménard Mill. In two kilometers, a trail on the left can be taken to Gueule Grand Gouffre, a massive hole in the rocky cliff (approximately thirty meters in circumference) formed by wave action and erosion. Continue eastward toward Caye Plate (“Flat Key”). Sainte-Thérèse Chapel may be accessed via a small road on the right. Anse du Coq (“Rooster Cove”) trail offers a sensational hike to a small cove of the same name tucked between the cliffs where Amerindians once lived. Caye Plate is a rocky outcropping very popular for line fishing. The trail from Caye Plate to Anse Piton (“Pinnacle Cove”) features stunning views. The cliffs are formed by crashing waves whose violence is unmitigated by offshore reefs.
From Pointe Cavale (“Escape Point”) and Anse Chapelle, which may be reached via a small road, enjoy a spectacular view of Frégate Rock and Pointe Saragot. It is possible to distinguish the displacement of the Saragot cliffs that occurred during the major earthquake of February 1843. Return to Departmental Highway D205, on the right, where a wide pool of water known as Grand Bassin may be seen on the left, along with Grand Bassin Plantation, whose old sugar refinery has been converted into a private house. Less then two kilometers away, Mayoumbé Mill stands as the last vestige of the sugar plantation established here in 1825.
Take Departmental Highway D201 toward Grelin. Just before arriving at the hamlet, visitors will see a small road on the right that leads to Fréchy. Carts loaded with freshly cut cane once traveled this road to the Dorot sugar mill-distillery. Note Grelin primary school, the work of architect Ali Tur. From behind the school there is a beautiful view. Grelin is also home to the Maison de l'Indigo (“House of Indigo”). Past the hamlet of Bois Rouge (“Red Wood”), take the small road to Grand Pierre Mill. Continue on D 201 toward Saint-Louis for one kilometer before turning left to Découverte (“Discovery”) and Les Sources (“The Springs”). Stop at a lookout point to enjoy the view across the coastal plain of Folle Anse, Basse-Terre and the Saintes islands. A hiking trail through a labyrinth of deep ravines leads to Les Sources and the peaceful Saint-Louis River. Return to Saint-Louis in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the ocean. Chemin Bleu tourist maps of Guadeloupe and city street maps are available at the Office of Tourism.

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