Kourou is a town and
commune in French Guiana, an overseas
région and département of France located in
the location of the Guiana Space Centre, France and ESA's main
northwest of the capital Cayenne at the mouth
of the Kourou River on the Atlantic coast, it is
ringed by four hills: Carapa, Pariacabo, Café and Lombard, with the
Singes and Condamine mountains not far behind.
Kourou's long, sandy beach.
three lakes within the city limits: Lake Bois Diable (where one can
take lessons in jetski and other aquatic sports), Lake Marie-Claire
(the smallest and calmest), and Lake Bois Chaudat (the biggest of
the three; also open to sport lovers, especially canoers and
kayakers). Long white sand beaches and some rocky outcrops line its
ocean coast, the riverbank and all points inland consisting mostly
of mangrove and dense tropical rainforest.
It had a fast-growing population of 19,107 inhabitants at the 1999
census. Its inhabitants can be classified into three ethnic groups
of roughly equal size:
- Indigenous peoples (mostly Kalina - also called Galibi), Creoles,
Maroons (Boni and Saramaka),
- Whites (mostly French, from Metropolitan France), and
- Foreigners (Brazilians, Surinamese, Hmong, Haitians, Guyanese, etc.)
The Saramaka mostly settled in the quartier Saramaka
along the river. Much of it burned down in a fire in 2006, and
hasn't yet fully recovered.
Guiana in general has a high level of crime compared to the rest of
; Kourou has an average of two armed
robberies a day. A march protesting the high level of insecurity
felt by most of the population was held in Kourou on 27 October
2006. Shopkeepers of Chinese descent in particular are often
targeted by armed robbers, their cash registers emptied and some
the port of departure for those going to the îles du Salut, of which the most famous
It is also common for many to go up the
river in canoes on weekends to camp in the forest.
Centre, where the European Space Agency starts missions, is located a little behind and
outside the town.
Part of the town and the islands are
closed during rocket launches.
Before the Europeans
Kourou's Bois Chaudat
during the rainy season.
Not much is known of the pre-colonial era. The area was mostly
populated by Kalina, or Galibi
arrival of the French in the late 17th century.
There is a place not far from the town called les Roches
("The Carved Rocks"), where indigenous art can be seen
on the rock walls.
Vicente Yanez Pinzon
along most of the north coast of South America and passed by the
current location of Kourou in 1500.
The Jesuits Lombard and Creuilly baptised a few Galibis at the
church of Saint Nicholas in Cayenne in December 1710 and returned
with them soon after to farm the land at Guatémala, across the
river from Kourou. The Society of
was disbanded (in Guiana) in 1762, however, and Kourou
was nothing more than a small village until the arrival of the
In 1744, La Condamine
in charge of the expedition sent to Peru in 1735 to determine the
length of a degree of the meridian in the neighbourhood of the
equator, passed by and gave his name to one of the mountains behind
The mission at Kourou being abandoned by the Jesuits, the engineers
Mentelle and Tugny designed the layout of the future town. This
resulted in the neighborhood called the Bourg
, around the
Church of Saint Catherine and next to the port on the river.
year, 1763, as agreed in the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain took control of New
Having lost their largest and richest colony,
the French decided to send a large expedition to Guiana, commanded
10,000 to 12,000 people, mostly Frenchmen, tempted by stories of an
on the other side of the ocean,
settled in Kourou.
The small town, surrounded by marshes and rainforest, was
unprepared for such a massive influx of people, and around 6,000 of
the pioneers died within the year due to fevers and other
illnesses. Those remaining fled to the îles du Salut
, free of mosquitoes due to
constant winds, to recover before being repatriated to Metropolitan France
. Hence the name,
"Salvation Islands." Previously they had been known as the îles
("Devil's Islands"), and one of the islands retains
the name to this day.
The failure of the Expedition only served to discourage settling in
Guiana. The colony earned the nickname Enfer Vert
Hell"), which it is still trying to shake. No other project of mass
colonisation was undertaken, and the population of Whites was
always drastically lower than that of the slaves. The population of
the colony, of all races, did not rise above 20,000 until the gold
rush (starting in 1855), the second abolition
in 1848 and the founding of the prisons.
The Dreyfus Tower on the Pointe
Kourou contained one of the many prisons in Guiana. It was
dedicated mostly to agriculture.
coast, the Îles du
Salut also became prisons starting in 1852, holding
mostly political prisoners and some of the toughest
The first prisoners arrived in 1862.
The prisons were shut down by law in 1938, stopping the transport
of prisoners, but it wasn't truly closed until 1946, and the last
repatriations were only done in 1953.
Most of the prison buildings were demolished to make room for the
Hôtel des Roches
, but some vestiges of that period remain.
The Dreyfus Tower, where the river meets the ocean, was used to
communicate with the islands via Morse
. The ruins of the prison bakery are now on private
property - but can be seen from a cul-de-sac -, and a fountain
remains near the moucaya palm trees.
The CSG and the French Foreign Legion Arrive
Spatial Guyanais (Guiana Space Centre) was founded a little
behind the town, and the urbanisation of Kourou began in
The population of the town grew rapidly, and has
not showed any signs of slowing since.
The 3rd Foreign Infantry
of the French Foreign
, whose mission is to protect the CSG, has had a base in
neighborhood since 1973. They clashed with the
Creoles in 1985 and 2006.
Kourou's economy is largely dominated by the CSG, from which the
European Ariane rockets
launched, as will the Russian Soyuz
and the Italian Vega
Spatial Guyanais (CSG) gets many visitors all year
- The Musée de l'Espace is a museum devoted to space and
- The Îles du Salut: Of the three islands, only two, Île
Royale and Île Saint-Joseph, can be visited. The third is Devil's
- Les Roches gravées: Indigenous rock art, not far from
the small industrial zone called Pariacabo.
- There are several marked public footpaths in the jungle, of
which the most well-known and used is the one on the Montagne
- Kourou River: Many people go up the river on canoes or small
boats to camp along the shore in open dwellings, or simply in
- The ocean may not be clear (it is brown due to the Amazonian
silt), but both it and the beaches are clean.