Fort-de-France

Fort-de-France became the capitol of Martinique after the 1902 eruption of Mont Pelée. The city is built into a hill, which makes it difficult to cross on foot. The cultural center of the city is near the gare des taxicos, which is right on the Baie and very convenient for people coming into the city from other towns. Driving in Fort-de-France is fine if you stick to main roads but be wary of the smaller roads. The streets are a maze of confusing names that even locals may not know, so it can be quite difficult to ask for directions.

The city itself is not actually very tourist-centric, and for good reason. The city is dead at night, and only slightly less so on Friday and Saturday nights, and nothing is open on the weekends. The city functions primarily as a place of business, which is why there are horrific traffic jams during rush hour. Many people commute from other cities into Fort-de-France, preferring to subject themselves to two hour long commutes one way than to live in this city.

Josephine

Luckily, once you are in the city, many of the tourist sites are within walking distance of the gare des taxicos and the bus station is next to the gare des taxicos for those that are not within walking distance.
The Savane is a garden with tourist boutiques surrounding it. It is actually fairly unimpressive as a garden, but it is home to the headless statue of Josephine, Napoleon’s wife. Josephine grew up in Martinique and many hold her responsible for the continuation of slavery on the island during Napoleon’s regime—long after slavery had been abolished in mainland France. For this reason, locals cut off the statue’s head and threw red paint on it. Rather than replacing the statue, the statue has remained headless for some time.

Josephine

Across from the Savane, you can see the Bibliothèque Schoelcher. It was named after Victor Schoelcher, who also lent his name to a town just to the north of Fort-de-France. He was an abolitionist and worked as deputy for France in Martinique and Guadeloupe from 1848 to 1850. (Slavery was abolished in Martinique in 1848.) He owned over 10,000 books and donated these books to the Conseil Général de la Martinique after his death.

schoelcher

The building itself is quite impressive and was designed by Pierre-Henri Picq. He first built it in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris in 1886 to be presented to Parisians. It was taken apart and shipped to Fort-de-France in 1887. The library only opened its doors in 1893 due to many unfortunate circumstances, including a fire that destroyed much of Schoelcher’s collection in 1890 and a cyclone in 1891.

schoelcher

If you are already in Fort-de-France the library and the savane are worth visiting, but keep in mind that they will only keep you occupied for about an hour. If you want to spend some time on the savane, go to the ice cream shop that sells homemade ice creams—peanut and Martinican chocolate, among other local flavors.

ice cream

Otherwise, I would recommend foregoing Fort-de-France in favor of some of the smaller towns, like le Marin and Saint-Pierre. I’m just not sure the city itself is worth the hassle of getting there.

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