Saint Barthélemy was for many years a French commune forming part of Guadeloupe, which is an overseas region and department of France. In 2003, the island voted in favour of secession from Guadeloupe in order to form a separate overseas collectivity of France. The collectivity is one of four territories among the Leeward Islands in the northeastern Caribbean that comprise the French West Indies, along with Saint Martin, Guadeloupe, and Martinique.
Saint Barthélemy, a volcanic island fully encircled by shallow reefs, has an area of 25 square kilometres and a population of 9,278. Its capital is Gustavia, which also contains the main harbour to the island. It is the only Caribbean island which was a Swedish colony for any significant length of time; Guadeloupe was under Swedish rule only briefly at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Symbolism from the Swedish national arms, the Three Crowns, still appears in the island's coat of arms. The language, cuisine, and culture, however, are distinctly French. The island is a popular tourist destination during the winter holiday season, especially for the rich and famous during the Christmas and new year period.
Before European contact the island was possibly frequented by Eastern Caribbean Taíno people. Christopher Columbus was the first European to encounter the island in 1493. He named it after his brother Bartolomeo. Sporadic visits continued for the next hundred years until formal colonization began taking shape.
By 1648, the island was settled from St. Christopher, but the settlement was attacked and destroyed by Caribs six years later. These first French settlers had been encouraged by De Poincy, the lieutenant-governor of the French West India Company and comprised about 50 to 60 settlers. Led by Jacques Gentes, the new arrivals began cultivating cacao, until the Carib attack forced them to retreat.
De Poincy was the dominant administrator in this period and a member of the Order of Saint John. He facilitated the transfer of ownership from the Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique to the Order. He continued to rule the island until his death in 1660. Five years later, it was bought by the French West India Company along with the Order's other possessions in the Caribbean. By 1674, the company was dissolved and the islands became part of the French Kingdom.
There was a very brief takeover by the British in 1758. The island was given to Sweden in 1784 in exchange for trade rights in Gothenburg. It was only after 1784, when King Louis XVI traded the island to Sweden, that the island's fortunes changed for the better. This change of control saw progress and prosperity as the Swedes declared Gustavia a free port, convenient for trading by the Europeans for goods, including contraband material.
Slavery was practiced in St. Barthélemy under the "Ordinance concerning the Police of Slaves and free Coloured People" of 1787. The last legally-owned slaves in the Swedish colony of St. Barthélemy were granted their freedom by the state on 9 October 1847. Since the island was not a plantation area, the freed slaves suffered economic hardships due to lack of opportunities for employment.
In 1852, a devastating hurricane hit the island and this was followed by a fire. Following a referendum in 1877, Sweden gave the island back to France in 1878, after which it was administered as part of Guadeloupe.
On 19 March 1946, the people of the island became French citizens with full rights.
Many men from St. Barthélemy took jobs on Saint Thomas to support their families. The island received electricity circa 1961. Organised tourism and hotels began in earnest the 1960s and developed in the 1970s onwards particularly after the building of the island's landing strip which can accommodate mid-sized aircraft; capitalizing on its low population density, tropical peaks and sandy coastline with many coves. The coves and beach-side hotels attract catered and self-catered yachts and honeymooners. The capital has many businesses and attracts cruise liners.
Saint Barthélemy was for many years a French commune forming part of Guadeloupe, which is an overseas region and department of France. Through a referendum in 2003, island residents sought separation from the administrative jurisdiction of Guadeloupe, and it was finally accomplished in 2007. The island of Saint Barthélemy became an Overseas Collectivity (COM). A governing territorial council was elected for its administration, which has provided the island with a certain degree of autonomy. The Hotel de Ville, which was the town hall, is now the Hotel de la Collectivité. A senator represents the island in Paris. St. Barthélemy has retained its free port status. Saint Barthélemy ceased being an outermost region and left the EU, to become an OCT, on 1 January 2012.
Located approximately 250 kilometres (160 mi) east of Puerto Rico and the nearer Virgin Islands, St. Barthélemy lies immediately southeast of the islands of Saint Martin and Anguilla. It is one of the Renaissance Islands. St. Barthélemy is separated from Saint Martin by the Saint-Barthélemy Channel. It lies northeast of Saba and St Eustatius, and north of St Kitts. Some small satellite islets belong to St. Barthélemy including Île Chevreau (Île Bonhomme), Île Frégate, Île Toc Vers, Île Tortue and Gros Îlets (Îlots Syndare). A much bigger islet, Île Fourchue, lies on the north of the island, in the Saint-Barthélemy Channel. Other rocky islets which include Coco, the Roques (or little Turtle rocks), the Goat, and the Sugarloaf.
St. Barthélemy forms, with St. Martin, Anguilla, and Dog Island, a distinct group that lies upon the western edge of a flat bank of soundings composed chiefly of shells, sand, and coral. From St. Barthélemy, the bank extends east-southeast, ending in a small tongue or spit. It is separated from the main bank by a narrow length of deep water. East of the island, the edge of the bank lies 22 kilometres (14 miles) away.
Grande Saline Bay provides temporary anchorage for small vessels while Colombier Bay, to the northwest, has a 4 fathoms patch near mid entrance. In the bight of St. Jean Bay there is a narrow cut through the reef. The north and east sides of the island are fringed, to a short distance from the shore, by a visible coral reef. Reefs are mostly in shallow waters and are clearly visible. The coastal areas abound with beaches and many of these have offshore reefs, some of which are part of a marine reserve.
The marine reserve, founded in 1999, covers more than 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of protected and vulnerable habitats, bays and islands, and includes a zone that is restricted to scientific observations only. As the sea surrounding the St. Barthélemy is rich in coral reefs and other precious marine life, the area has been declared a protected area since 1996. Environmental awareness is quite pronounced in St. Barthélemy and is promoted by the Environmental Commission.
There are as many as 22 public beaches (most beaches on St. Barthélémy are known as "Anse de..." etc. ) of which 15 are considered suitable for swimming. They are categorized and divided into two groups, the leeward side (calm waters protected by the island itself) and windward side (some of which are protected by hills and reefs). The windward beaches are popular for windsurfing. The beach of St Jean is suitable for water sports and facilities have been created for that purpose. The long beach at Lorient has shade and is a quiet beach as compared to St. Jean.
Grand-cul-de-sac is a long beach with facilities for water sports. Anse de Flamands is a very wide sandy beach and Le petit Anse (The little beach), just to the north of Anse de Flamands is very safe and popular with the locals for their children. Anse Toiny beach is in a remote location and is considered suitable for experienced surfers as the water current is very strong.
On the leeward side, the notable beaches are: Anse du Gouverneur, Anse du Colombier which is only accessible by foot or by boat, Anse de Grand Galet (Shell Beach) and Anse de Grande Saline which is popular with nudists. The area around the salt ponds near the Anse de Grande Saline beach is marshy and is a habitat for tropical birds. Ile islet, an offshoot of the leeward side, has a white sandy beach.
Shell Beach, also called Anse de Grand Galet (in French, 'Anse' means "cove" and Galet means "pebble"), is a beach in the southwestern part of Gustavia. A large number of sea shells are scattered on this beach. This beach was subject to the strong waves of hurricane Lenny in 1999, which resulted in erosion of the sand. This necessitated supplementing the beach with new sand in 2000.
On the north coast, on the far eastern side of the island, there are two lagoons called the Anse de Marigot and Anse du Grand Cul-de-Sac.
Morne du Vitet, 286 metres (938 feet) in height, is the highest peak on the island. There are few sheep pens built with stone walls on the slopes of the mountain. A hill road leads to the Grand Cul-de-Sac from where scenic views of the entire coast line can be witnessed. Hills and valleys of varying topography cover the rest of the island. Two other hills near the island's east end are of nearly the same elevation at 250 and 262 metres (820 and 860 feet) above sea level.
The population is spread among 40 quartiers, roughly corresponding to settlements. They are grouped into two paroisses (parishes):
The island covers an area of 25 square kilometres (2,500 ha). The eastern side is wetter than the western. Although the climate is essentially arid, the rainfall does average 1,000 millimetres (39 inches) annually, but with considerable variation over the terrain. Summer is from May to November, which is also the rainy season. Winter from December to April is the dry season. Sunshine is very prominent for nearly the entire year and even during the rainy season. Humidity, however, is not very high due to the winds. The average temperature is around 25 °C (77 °F) with day temperatures rising to 32 °C (90 °F). The average high and low temperatures in January are 28 °C (82 °F) and 22 °C (72 °F), respectively, while in July they are 30 °C (86 °F) and 24 °C (75 °F). The lowest night temperature recorded is 13 °C (55 °F). The Caribbean sea waters in the vicinity generally maintain a temperature of about 27 °C (81 °F).
According to a 2013 census, St. Barthélemy had 9,279 inhabitants.
Residents of Saint-Barthélemy (Saint-Barthélemoise people) are French citizens and work at establishments on the island. Most of them are descendants of the first settlers, of Breton, Norman, Poitevin, Saintongeais and Angevin lineage. French is the native tongue of the population. English is understood in hotels and restaurants, and a small population of Anglophones have been resident in Gustavia for many years. The St. Barthélemy French patois is spoken by some 500–700 people in the leeward portion of the island and is superficially related to Quebec French, whereas Créole French is limited to the windward side. Unlike other populations in the Caribbean, language preference between the Créole and Patois is geographically, and not racially, determined.
Until 2007, administratively, the whole island of St. Barthélemy was a French commune (commune de Saint-Barthélemy) part of Guadeloupe, which is an overseas région and overseas département of France, but, as one of the overseas countries and territories, not a part of the European Union : the inhabitants vote as European citizens but the local law derogate from Community law. In 2003, the population voted through referendum in favour of secession from Guadeloupe in order to form a separate overseas collectivity (COM) of France.
On 7 February 2007, the French Parliament passed a bill granting COM status to both St. Barthélemy and (separately) to the neighbouring Saint Martin. The new status took effect on 15 July 2007, when the first territorial council was elected, according to the law. The island has a president (elected every five years), a unicameral Territorial Council of nineteen members who are elected by popular vote and serve for five-year terms, and an executive council of seven members. Elections to these councils were first held on 1 July 2007 with the most recent election in March 2012.
One senator represents the island in the French Senate. The first election was held on 21 September 2008 with the last election in September 2014. St. Barthélemy became an overseas territory of the European Union on 1 January 2012, but the island's inhabitants remain French citizens with EU status holding EU passports. France is responsible for the defence of the island and as such has stationed a security force on the island comprising six policemen and thirteen gendarmes (posted on two-year term).
The French State is represented by a prefect appointed by the president on the advice of the Minister of the Interior. As a collectivity of France, the island's national anthem is La Marseillaise.
The coat of arms of Saint Barthélemy is a shield divided into three horizontal stripes, three gold fleurs-de-lis on blue, above a white Maltese cross on red, over three gold crowns on blue, and reads "Ouanalao". On a white background, it serves as the unofficial Flag of Saint Barthélemy.
Agricultural production on the island is difficult given the dry and rocky terrain, but the early settlers managed to produce vegetables, cotton, pineapples, salt, bananas and also fishing. Sweet potato is also grown in patches. The islanders developed commerce through the port of Gustavia. Duty-free port attractions, retail trade, high-end tourism (mostly from North America) and its luxury hotels and villas have increased the island's prosperity, reflected in the high standard of living of its citizens.
The official currency of St. Barthélemy is the euro. INSEE estimated that the total GDP of St. Barthélemy amounted to 179 million euros in 1999 (US$191 million at 1999 exchange rate; US$255 million at Oct. 2007 exchange rate). In that same year the GDP per capita of St. Barthélemy was 26,000 euros (US$27,700 at 1999 exchanges rates; US$37,000 at Oct. 2007 exchange rates), which was 10% higher than the average GDP per capita of metropolitan France in 1999.
Corossol is noted for its handicrafts; weaving hats and bags from palm fronds is a low income economic activity of the indigenous people.
International investment and the wealth generated by tourists explain the high standard of living on the island. Most of the food is imported from the US or France. Tourism attracts about 200,000 visitors every year. As a result, there is a boom in house building activity catering to the tourists and also to the permanent residents of the island.
St. Barthélemy has about 25 hotels, most of them with 15 rooms or fewer. The largest has 58 rooms. Hotels are classified in the traditional French manner; 3 Star, 4 Star and 4 Star Luxe. Of particular note are Eden Rock and Cheval Blanc. Hotel Le Toiny, the most expensive hotel on the island, has 12 rooms. Most places of accommodation are in the form of private villas, of which there are some 400 available to rent on the island. The island's tourism industry, though expensive, attracts 70,000 visitors every year to its hotels and villas and another 130,000 people arrive by boat. It also attracts a labour force from Brazil and Portugal.
The height of tourism is New Year's Eve, with celebrities and the wealthy converging on the island in yachts up to 550 feet (170 metres) in length for the occasion.
As the terrain is generally arid, the hills have mostly poor soil and support only cacti and succulent plants. During the rainy season the area turns green with vegetation and grass. The eastern part of the island is greener as it receives more rainfall. A 1994 survey has revealed several hundred indigenous species of plants including the naturalized varieties of flora; some growing in irrigated areas while the dry areas are dominated by the cacti variety. Sea grapes and palm trees are a common sight with mangroves and shrubs surviving in the saline coastal swamps. Coconut palm was brought to the island from the Pacific islands. Important plants noted on the island are:
There are Flamboyant trees, frangipanis, sabal palms, wild trumpet and Manchineel trees on the island.
Other trees of note include the royal palm, sea grape trees in the form of shrubs on the beaches and as 5 to 7 metres (16 to 23 feet) trees in the interior areas of the island, aloe or aloe vera (brought from the Mediterranean), the night blooming cereus, mamillaria nivosa, yellow prickly pear or barbary fig which was planted as barbed wire defences against invading British army in 1773, Mexican cactus, stapelia gigantea, golden trumpet or yellow bell which was originally from South America, bougainvillea and others.
Marine mammals are many, such as the dolphins, porpoises and whales, which are seen here during the migration period from December till May. Turtles are a common sight along the coastline of the island. They are a protected species and in the endangered list. It is stated that it will take 15–50 years for this species to attain reproductive age. Though they live in the sea, the females come to the shore to lay eggs and are protected by private societies. Three species of turtles are particularly notable. These are: The leatherback sea turtles which have leather skin instead of a shell and are the largest of the type found here, some times measuring a much as 3 metres (9.8 feet) (average is about 1.5 m or 4.9 ft) and weighing about 450 (jellyfish is their favourite diet); the hawksbill turtles, which have hawk-like beaks and found near reefs, generally about 90 centimetres (35 inches) in diameter and weigh about 60 and their diet consists of crabs and snails; and the green turtles, herbivores which have rounded heads, generally about 90 centimetres (35 inches) in diameter and live amidst tall sea grasses.
Avifauna in the wild, both native and migrating include brown pelican along the shore line, magnificent frigatebirds with long wingspans of up to 1.8 metres (5 feet 11 inches), green herons, snowy egrets, belted kingfishers; bananaquits; broad-winged hawks; two species of hummingbirds, the green-throated carib and Antillean crested hummingbird; and zenaida doves.
The marine life found here consists of anemones, urchins, sea cucumbers, and eels, which all live on the reefs along with turtles, conch and many varieties of marine fishes. The marine aquafauna is rich in conch, which has pearly-pink shells. Its meat is a favourite food supplement item and their shells are a collectors item. Other species of fish which are recorded close to the shore line in shallow waters are: sergeant majors, the blue chromis, brown chromis, surgeon fish; blue tangs and trumpet fish. On the shore are ghost crabs, which always live on the beach in small burrowed tunnels made in sand, and the hermit crabs, which live in land but lay eggs in water and which also eat garbage and sewerage. They spend some months in the sea during and after the hatching season.
Saint-Barthélemy has a marine nature reserve, known as the Reserve Naturelle that covers 1.200 ha, and is divided into 5 zones all around the island to form a network of protected areas. The Reserve includes the bays of Grand Cul de Sac, Colombier, Marigot, Petit Cul de Sac, Petite Anse as well as waters around offshore rocks such as Les Gross Islets, Pain de Sucre, Tortue and Forchue. The Reserve is designed to protect the islands coral reefs, seagrass and endangered marine species including sea turtles. The Reserve has two levels of protection, the yellow zones of protection where certain non-extractive activities, like snorkeling and boating, are allowed and the red zones of high protection where most activities including SCUBA are restricted in order to protect or recover marine life. Anchoring is prohibited in the Reserve and mooring buoys are in place in some of the protected bays like Colombier
Apart from Gustavia, the capital of St. Barthélemy, there are many notable places and monuments in the island which testify to the colonial regime of the Spanish, Swedes, the British and the French, and now a French territory.
Gustavia is in a U-shaped cove facing the harbour on the west. The water side arm of this cove is in a peninsula while the dockyard is on the east side.
When the British invaded the harbour town in 1744, the town’s architectural buildings were destroyed. Subsequently, new structures were built in the town around the harbour area and the Swedes had also further added to the architectural beauty of the town in 1785 with more buildings, when they had occupied the town. Earlier to their occupation, the port was known as "Carénage". The Swedes renamed it as Gustavia in honour of their king Gustav III. It was then their prime trading center. The port maintained a neutral stance since the Caribbean war was on in the 18th century. They used it as trading post of contraband and the city of Gustavia prospered but this prosperity was short lived.
These buildings also underwent further destruction during the hurricanes and also by gutting in 1852. However, some monuments are still intact such as the residence of the then Swedish governor, now the town hall. The oldest colonial structure in the town is stated to be the bell tower (now without a bell) built in 1799, as part of a church (destroyed in the past), in the southeast end of the town on Rue Du Presbytere. Now, a large clock is installed in place of the bell.
The road that runs parallel to the harbour face of the sea called the Rue de la Republique and two other roads connect to the two arms of the U-shaped bay. The city has a network of roads, inherited from the Swedish period, that are laid in a grid pattern, which are either parallel or perpendicular to the three main roads that encompass the bay.
Église anglicane de Gustavia, the Saint-Bartholomew Anglican Church, is an important religious building in the town built in 1855 with stones brought from St Eustatius. It is on one of the most elegant roads of the town called the Rue du Centenaire. It has a bell tower. A rock wall encircles the church.
Ancien presbytère de l'église catholique de Gustavia is the Catholic Church built in 1822 is a replacement of the oldest church of the same name in Lorient. This church also has a bell tower which is separated from the main church and which rings loud and clear.
Musée Territorial de St.-Barthélemy is a historical museum known as the "St. Barts Municipal Museum" also called the "Wall House" (musée – bibliothèque) in Gustavia, which is located on the far end of La Pointe. The museum is housed in an old stone house, a two-storey building which has been refurbished. The island’s history relating to French, Swedish and British period of occupation is well presented in the museum with photographs, maps and paintings. Also on display are the ancestral costumes, antique tools, models of Creole houses and ancient fishing boats. It also houses a library.
The 9 metres (30 ft) white tower of the Gustavia Lighthouse was built in 1961. Situated on the crest of a hill north of the town, its focal plane is 64 metres (210 ft) above the level of the sea. It flashes every 12 seconds, white, green or red depending on direction. The round conical tower has a single red band at the top.
Among the notable structures in the town are the three forts built by the Swedes for defense purposes. One of these forts, known as Fort Oscar (formerly Gustav Adolph), which overlooks the sea is located on the far side of La Pointe. However, the ruins have been replaced by a modern military building which now houses the local gendarmerie. The other fort known as Fort Karl now presents a very few ruins. The third fort built by the Swedes is the Fort Gustav, which is also seen in ruins strewn around the weather station and the Light House. The fort built in 1787 over a hill slope has ruins of ramparts, guardhouse, munitions depot, wood-burning oven and so forth.
A statue, "Savaku", representing the Arawak Indians is present at Saint-Jean.
Some of the festivals held each year in St. Barthélemy are:
Some other festivals held are the Festival Gastronomique (April) and Yacht Festival (May). The national holidays observed are the Bastille Day and St. Barthélemy Day (day of adoption of French Constitution). Feast of St Louis is held on November 1 when thousands of candles are lit in the evening hours, which is a public holiday. All Souls Day is observed on November 2, and it is public holiday.
The Caribbean, the birthplace of the calypso, méringue, soca, zouk and reggae music influence the culture tremendously. The St. Barthélemy Music Festival is a major international performing arts event held every year.
French cuisine, West Indian cuisine, Creole cuisine, Italian cuisine and Asian cuisine are common in St. Barthélemy. The island has over 70 restaurants serving many dishes and others are a significant number of gourmet restaurants; many of the finest restaurants are located in the hotels. There are also a number of snack restaurants which the French call "les snacks" or "les petits creux" which include sandwiches, pizzas and salads. West Indian cuisine, steamed vegetables with fresh fish is common; Creole dishes tend to be spicier. The island hosts gastronomic events throughout the year, with dishes such as spring roll of shrimp and bacon, fresh grilled lobster, Chinese noodle salad with coconut milk, and grilled beef fillet etc.
In the early 1990s, the island had two cooking schools: the Saint Barts Cooking School which emphasizes classical French cuisine, and Cooking in Paradise which emphasizes creole cuisine.
The traditional costume which is seen only among older women consists of starched white bonnets called kichnottes.
A popular legend related to St. Barthélemy is of a seafarer hooligan looking to loot Spanish ships. A French pirate Daniel Montbars, who was given the epithet "Montbars the Exterminator", took shelter in St. Barthélemy during his pirate operations and hid the loot in the sandy coves at Anse du Gouverneur.
Rugby is a popular sport in the island. One of the major teams on the island is "Les Barracudas," named after the ferocious fish of the Caribbean. They often play teams from Anguilla and other surrounding islands.
Gustavia is also known as a haven for yachting, with many events being held there each year. These include the St Barths Bucket Regatta, the Saint Barth’s Cup and Les Voiles de St. Barth in April, and the International Regatta in May. Deep sea fishing is also undertaken from the waterfront of Lorient, Flamands and Corossol to fish for tuna, marlin, bonito, barracuda and wahoo. St Barth Open Fishing tournament is held in July.
The Transat AG2R Race, held every alternate year, is an event which originates in Concarneau in Brittany, France, reaching St. Barthélemy. It is a boat race with boats of 10-metre (33-foot) length with a single hull and with essential safety equipment. Each boat is navigated by two sailors. Kitesurfing and other water sports have also become popular on the island in recent years, especially at Grand Cul-de-Sac beach (Baie de Grand Cul de Sac) for windy sports as kitesurfing and Saint Jean Beach ( Baie de Saint Jean), Lorient, Toiny and Anse des Cayes for surfing. Tennis is also popular on the island and it has several tennis clubs, Tennis Clube de Flamboyant in Grand Cul-de-Sac, AJOE Tennis Club in Orient and ASCO in Colombier.
The Swedish Marathon Race, also called the Gustavialoppet, is held in December. Races of 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) and 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) are conducted when children, women and men participate in the races.
St. Barthélemy has a small airport known as Gustaf III Airport on the north coast of the island that is served by small regional commercial aircraft and charters. The nearest airport with a runway length sufficient to land a typical commercial jet airliner is on the neighboring island of Sint Maarten: Princess Juliana International Airport, which acts as a hub, providing connecting flights with regional carriers to St. Barthélemy. Several international airlines and domestic Caribbean airlines operate in this sector.
Many Inter Inland ferry services operate regularly between St. Martin and St. Barts.
The narrow and congested roads, and difficulty in parking, have been an impetus for driving Smart cars.
A weekly journal entitled Journal de St. Barth is published in the French language. Its English language abridged version is published as St. Barth Weekly only during the winter months (for Anglophone tourists). Other tourist related information is available at the airport and in the offices of the Tourist Authority.
There is no local TV broadcasting station. However, the island has three FM radio channels, out of which two operate via repeaters. The island has a fully integrated access telephone system and with capability for direct dial on fixed and wireless systems.
The island has a small hospital, the "Hopital de Bruyn", in Gustavia with an adjacent diagnostic laboratory. There is also at least one private diagnostic facility. Specialists in cardiology, general medicine, dentists, ENT, OB/GYN, paediatrics and rheumatology are also available. There are many pharmacies dispensing medicines. For more sophisticated facilities, patients go to Guadeloupe, San Juan, Atlanta or France.