Martinique, island, overseas department of France, in the French West Indies, in the eastern Caribbean Sea, off the northwestern coast of South America. One of the Windward Islands, Martinique is largely of volcanic origin and essentially mountainous. The island has an area of 1102 sq km (425 sq mi).
Martinique had a population (1990) of 363,031. Fort-de-France, the most populous city (101,540) is the capital and chief seaport. Other important towns are Le Lamentin (30,596) and Sainte Marie (19,760). Although the official language of the department is French, a majority of the inhabitants use a Creole dialect in conversation.
Martinique's economy is based largely on agriculture, and about 18 percent of the island is cultivable. Fruits, sugarcane, vanilla, and tobacco are the island's principal agricultural products. Refined petroleum products, rum, sugar, cement, and processed food are major manufactures. Tourism and fishing are also important to the economy. In the early 1990s Martinique's imports cost about $1.7 billion, and its exports earned approximately $211 million. Principal trading partners were France and Guadeloupe. The French franc is the legal currency (5.728 francs equal United States $1; 1990).
Martinique is administered by a prefect and an elected general council of 45 members and a regional council of 41 members. The department is represented in the French National Assembly by two senators and four deputies.
Martinique was visited, probably in 1502, by Christopher Columbus. From 1635 to 1674 it was owned by a private French concern established for the purpose of colonizing America. In 1674 the island was purchased by the French government. During the colonial wars between France and Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries, Martinique was occupied by the British on several occasions. The island was the birthplace of Josephine, wife of Napoleon. Montagne Pelee, about 1,397 m (4,583 ft) above sea level, erupted in 1902, destroying Saint-Pierre, which was once the largest city on the island. In 1946 Martinique became an overseas department of France.
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