Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadaloupe

pntptrA piece of France in the Caribbean, Guadaloupe, which is in the Lesser Antilles, is not a separate country, merely an overseas region of France.  This group of islands is also a popular tourist destination, both for French-speaking people and the cruise ships which regularly call into port.

The largest city on Guadaloupe is Pointe-à-Pitre, located on the isthmus which joins Guadeloupe’s two main islands Basse-Terre and Grande Terre, where most tourists who do stay on the island head.

The main airport is just outside Pointe-à-Pitre, but in the main the city is not considered to be a major attraction of Guadaloupe.

The history of Pointe-à-Pitre is marked by many disasters: the fires of 1850, 1871, and 1931, the earthquakes of 1851 and 1897, and the hurricanes of 1865 and 1928. The city also experienced several epidemics of cholera.

As a result of all this destruction, the city is a conglomeration of architectural styles. Visitors will see some surviving colonial buildings juxtaposed among the more modern buildings which somehow do manage to complement each other.  There is certainly some charm due to the tree-lined parks and the large market square. However, 20th century apartment blocks and condominiums form a high-rise backdrop over jerry-built shacks and industrial suburbs, which do detract somewhat from the overall appearance of the city.

The residents are known as ‘Pointois’, and from their perspective, it is a good place in which to conduct business.

The main reason for tourists to visit the city is for the shopping.

Being a Department of France, French products, particularly high end goods such as perfumes, are available here.  In town, the stores on Rue Frebault are among the most popular places in which to go on a spree. Also, Rues de Nozieres and Schoelcher have a number of shops which sell many French goods as well as quality stock from elsewhere.

The waterfront, especially around Centre Saint-John Perse, also boasts outlets for good shopping.  Most people tend to head into the city in the morning or early afternoon, then head back to the resorts later in the day.

Musée Saint-John Perse is a museum which occupies an attractive 19th-century colonial building. The museum is dedicated to the renowned poet and Nobel laureate Alexis Léger who is better known as St John Perse.  He grew up on Nozieres Street, where the museum is now located. The house offers both a glimpse of a period Creole home and displays on Perse’s life and work.

Although Pointe-à-Pitre is peaceful these days, it does have a fairly violent past.

The town centre is Place de la Victoire, a quite lovely, shady park. A feature is some old sandbox trees said to have been planted by Victor Hugues, the mulatto who organized a revolutionary army of both whites and blacks to establish a dictatorship. In this square he kept a guillotine busy, and the death-dealing instrument stood here until modern times.

Today it is used by the shopkeepers, who use it to separate you from your wallet.

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