The Port of Pointe-a-Pitre is located on the Bay of Cul-de-Sac Marin in the French department of Guadeloupe on the island of Grande-Terre in the eastern Caribbean Sea. On the shores of the Salee River that separates Grande-Terre from Basse-Terre, it is the biggest city and economic capital of Guadeloupe.
Being the commercial capital of Guadeloupe, the Port of Pointe-a-Pitre is the main port of call for both passengers and cargo. The main cargo seaport, de Jarry, is part of the Port of Pointe-a-Pitre and lies on the opposite side of the Bay of Cul-de-Sac Marin. It is the industrial zone for the port and a center for light industry and commerce. Le Gosier is a nearby suburb and seaside resort. In 1999, almost 21 thousand people lived in the city of Pointe-a-Pitre, but over 171 thousand lived in the urban area.
The islands were inhabited by the indigenous Karukera when Christopher Columbus discovered Guadeloupe in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. The Spanish crown claimed the islands, but the French arrived in 1635 and drove the Spanish out of the Caribbean.
The Port of Pointe-a-Pitre is centrally located at the junction of Guadeloupe’s main islands, and the French colonial authority attempted to establish a settlement there in the early 18th Century. However, the swampy terrain made a settlement unlikely.
When the English occupied Guadeloupe in the mid-18th Century, the first settlement for the Port of Pointe-a-Pitre began to appear on a hill that overlooked the swamps. Plans for the new Port of Pointe-a-Pitre were completed in 1759. After the French returned to Guadeloupe in 1764, the Port of Pointe-a-Pitre was founded officially by royal edict. The first quays were constructed in 1765. In the latter half of the 18th Century, the swamps were drained, and urban development was possible.
The story of the Pointe-a-Pitre is one of frequent catastrophe. In 1780, the city burned to the ground. In 1843, an earthquake destroyed the rebuilt city. More fires struck in 1850, 1871, and 1931. Natural disasters included earthquakes in 1851 and 1897 and hurricanes in 1865 and 1928. The Port of Pointe-a-Pitre was also plagued by cholera epidemics. Despite these problems, the city’s central location and big sheltered harbor supported the growth of what became Guadeloupe’s economic capital.
In 1903, the Transatlantic General Company built a wooden quay at the Port of Pointe-a-Pitre. In 1947, three new hangars were constructed, and the Harbour Station was completed in 1959. In 1965, cargo-handling reached a record 600 thousand tons. In 1975, the Port Authority of Guadeloupe, France’s seventh autonomous seaport, was established by decree. In 2002, construction began on the new Interregional Harbour Station.
The Port of Pointe-a-Pitre does not have the same charm as other French settlements in the Caribbean. Today, a handful of modern buildings are intermixed with colonial homes, and the city contains many beautiful parks and a large market square. But hidden within this setting are many 20th Century apartment buildings, industrial suburbs, and shanties. The city is busy and crowded during the day but at night, the streets are almost deserted, making much of the waterfront dangerous. Many visitors to the Port of Pointe-a-Pitre come to shop and walk along the waterfront while the sun shines.