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Saint Martin ( ; ) is a tropical island in the northeast Caribbeanmarker, approximately 300 km (186 miles) east of Puerto Rico. The 87 km2 island is divided roughly in half between Francemarker (53 km2) and the Netherlands Antillesmarker (34 km2) ; it is the smallest inhabited sea island divided between two nations, a division dating to 1648. The southern Dutch half comprises the Eilandgebied Sint Maartenmarker (Island area of St. Martin) and is part of the Netherlands Antilles. The northern French half comprises the Collectivité de Saint-Martin (Collectivity of St. Martin) and is an overseas collectivity of Francemarker.

On January 1, 2006 the population of the entire island was 72,892 inhabitants, 37,629 of whom lived on the Dutch side, and 35,263 on the French side.

Collectively, the two territories are known as "St-Martin/St Maarten". Sometimes SXM, the IATA identifier for Princess Juliana International Airportmarker (the island's main airport), is used to refer to the island.


Map of Saint Martin.
Saint Martin has a land area of 87 km2, 53 km2 of which is under the sovereignty of Francemarker, and 34 km² under the sovereignty of the Netherlandsmarker.

The main towns are Philipsburgmarker (Dutch side) and Marigotmarker (French side).

The highest hilltop is the Pic Paradismarker (424 m) on center of a hill chain (French side). There is no river on the island, but many dry guts. Hiking trails give access to the dry forest covering tops and slopes.

The average yearly air temperature is 27 °C (min 17 °C, max 35 °C) and sea surface temperature 26.4 °C. The total average yearly rainfall is 995 mm, with 99 days of thunder.

Neither of the two halves of St Martin had separate FIPS PUB 10-4 territory codes or ISO 3166-1 codes prior to 2007; they were coded as GP (Guadeloupemarker) and NA/AN (Netherlands Antillesmarker). The status of the French side changed to an overseas collectivity in February 2007, and it received the ISO 3166-1 code MF in October 2007. The status of the Dutch side was due to change to a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in December 2008, but this has been postponed to 10 October 2010. It is expected the Dutch part will also get its own ISO 3166-1 code when the status change goes into effect.


Short review

  • circa 800AD Settled by Arawak Indians who arrived from South America, given the name Soualiga, or Land of Salt.
  • November 11, 1493 Claimed for Spain by Columbus, named Isla de Saint Martin, upon his arrival.
  • 1624 Some French cultivate tobacco on French Quarter.
  • 1631 Dutch small colony on Groot baai to collect salt.
  • 1633–1647 Spanish army from Puerto Rico builds the first military fort, but after a few years destroy it and abandon the island forever.
  • March 23, 1648 Divided into French (north) and Dutch (south) zones
    (Dutch zone subordinate to Sint Eustatiusmarker until 1672).
  • 1679–1689 French occupy entire island.
  • 1689–1792 Dutch zone under Dutch West India Company administration.
  • 1690–1699 English occupy entire island.
  • 1699–1702 French occupy entire island.
  • 1703–1717 Dutch occupy entire island
  • February 24, 1779 – February 3, 1781 French occupy entire island.
  • February 3, 1781 – November 26, 1781 British occupy entire island.
  • May 18, 1793 – April 5, 1794 Dutch administer entire island
  • April 29, 1795 – March 24, 1801 French occupy entire island.
  • March 24, 1801 – December 1, 1802 British occupy entire island.
  • July 9, 1810 Annexed along with the Netherlands by France (not effected).
  • 1810–1816 British occupy entire island.
  • 1816 French and Dutch zones resumed.
  • 1919 – April 1, 1983 Sabamarker, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten united as Netherlands Windward Islands.
  • 1936 Dutch side officially adopted the Dutch spelling Sint Maarten.
  • September 4, 1960 Hurricane Donna hit the island causing extensive damage.
  • September 5, 1995 Hurricane Luis devastated the island.
  • June 23, 2000 Referendum supports a "status aparte" as a separate entity within The Netherlands by 68.9%.
  • December 7, 2003 The population of the French part of the island votes in favour of secession from Guadeloupemarker in order to form a separate overseas collectivity (COM) of France
  • November 2, 2006 Sint Maarten and Curaçao sign agreement with the Netherlands on "status aparte"
  • February 22, 2007 French side becomes a separate overseas collectivity (COM)
  • December 15, 2008 Date set for dissolution of Netherlands Antilles. This date has been postponed, although it is still planned


Flags flying in Marigot harbor, Saint-Martin.
In 1493, Christopher Columbus embarked on his second voyage to the New World. According to legend, Columbus sighted and perhaps anchored at the island of Saint Martin on November 11, 1493, the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours. In his honor, Columbus named the island San Martin. This name was translated to Sint Maarten (Dutch), Saint-Martin (French) and "Saint Martin" in English.

At Columbus's time, St. Martin was populated, if populated at all, by Carib amerindians. The former Arawaks had been chased by the Caribs coming from the North coast of South America a short time before the arrival of the Spaniards who followed in Columbus' wake. The English word cannibal is derived from the Spanish pronunciation for Carib. The Arawaks were agricultural people who fashioned pottery and whose social organization was headed by hereditary chieftains who derived their power from personal deities called zemis.

The Caribs' territory was not completely conquered until the mid-17th century when most of them perished in the struggle between the French, English, Dutchmarker, Danesmarker and Spanish for control of the West Indiesmarker. The Dutch first began to ply the island's ponds for salt in the 1620s. Despite the Dutch presence on the island, the Spaniards recaptured St. Martin in 1633 and, one year later, built a fort (now Ft. Amsterdam) and another artillery battery at Pointe Blanche to assert their claim and control access to Great bay salt pond. The Spaniards introduced the first African slave to the area in the 16th century but the main influx of African slaves took place in the 18th century with the development of Sugarcane plantations by the French Protestants and some Dutch Jews. Slavery was abolished in the first half of the 19th century, whereupon on some of their territories the British imported Chinese and East Indian to take the place of slaves. Thus, St. Martin and the other islands are populated by a mixture of Amerindian, European, African, Indians and Asian peoples. West Indianmarker cultures such as in St. Martin are, consequently, exceedingly rich and varied.

Border division

Border crossing between St Martin and Sint Maarten

On March 23, 1648, France and the Dutch Republic agreed to divide the island between their two nations, so they signed the Treaty of Concordia.

Folklore surrounds the history of the once ever-changing border division between St. Martin and Sint Maarten, and a popular story among locals narrates that "to divide the island in two sections, [in 1648] the inhabitants were told to choose two walkers, one chosen by the French-dominated community and the other one by the Dutch-dominated community, who were put back to back in one extreme of the island, making them walk in opposite directions while stuck to the litoral line, and not allowing them to run. The point where they eventually met was set as the other extreme of the island, and the subsequently created line was chosen as the frontier, dividing Saint-Martin from Sint Maarten. Seemingly, the French walker had walked more than his Dutch counterpart (each one earned his land, respectively, 54km² and 32km²). As the first man chose wine as his stimulant prior to the race, while the latter chose beer, the difference between such beverages' lightness was said to be the cause of the territorial differences by French locals, while Dutch locals tended to blame the French walker for running."


On January 1, 2006 the population of the entire island of Saint Martin was 72,892 inhabitants, 37,629 of whom lived on the Dutch side of the island, and 35,263 on the French side of the island. In addition there is an average of 1,000,000 tourist visitors per year.

Culture and tourism

St. Martin's Dutch sidemarker is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, exotic drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and plentiful casinos, while its French side, is known more for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping (including outdoor markets), and rich French and Indian Caribbean cuisine.

The island is home to accommodations including hotels, villas, and timeshares, many of which are privately available for rent or sale.

Rental cars are the primary mode of transportation for visitors staying on island. If any driving is expected off the major roads (such as to some of the more secluded beaches), a 4-wheel drive is recommended. Traffic on the island, however, has become a major problem; long traffic jams between Marigot, Philipsburg and the airport are common.

Because the island is located along the intertropical convergence zone, it is occasionally menaced by tropical storm activity in the late summer and early fall.

The island is widely known for its hundreds of gourmet (and more moderately priced) restaurants on both sides of the island.

Neighbouring islands include Saint Barthélemymarker (French), Anguillamarker (British), Sabamarker (Dutch), Sint Eustatiusmarker "Statia" (Dutch), Saint Kittsmarker and Nevismarker (Independent, formerly British). With the exception of Nevis, all of these islands are easily visible on a clear day from St. Martin.


Shopping on St Maarten and Saint Martin offers duty-free goods in numerous boutiques. Popular goods include local crafts & arts, exotic foods, jewelry, liquor, tobacco, leather goods, as well as most designer goods. Most often the designer goods are offered at significant discounts, often up to 40% lower than US retail prices.

Saint Martin uses the euro as its currency, while Sint Maarten is currently outside the Eurozone and uses the Netherlands Antillean guilder, pegged at 1.79 per United States dollar. It is unknown if Sint Maarten will shift to the euro some time after the Netherlands Antilles dissolves. Almost every store on the island also accepts the United States dollar, although sometimes a more expensive exchange rate is used (even 1 to 1 is no exception).



Air France Airbus A340
The island is served by many major airlines that bring in large jet aircrafts, including Boeing 747's, Airbus A340's, and McDonnell Douglas MD-11's carrying tourists from across the world on a daily basis. The short length of the main runway at Princess Juliana International Airportmarker, and its position between a large hill and a beach causes some spectacular approaches. Aviation photographers flock to the airport to capture pictures of large jets just a few metres above sunbathers on Maho Beach.
There is a small airport on the French side of the island at Grand Case, L'Espérance Airportmarker for small jet and propeller planes serving neighbouring Caribbean islands. Due to its location, Grand Case-Esperance Airport frequently suffers from heavy fog during the hurricane season.

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