Port Louis is the capital and main port for the island nation of Mauritius. About 500 nautical miles east of the island of Madagascar in the western Indian Ocean, Port Louis lies between its protected natural deep-water harbor and mountains encircling the city. Ships access Port Louis through a break in the coral reef that protects the harbor.
One of Africa’s major financial centers (after only Johannesburg), the Port Louis economy is based its port that handles all of the country’s international trade. With the highest per capita income in Africa, almost 148 thousand people called Port Louis home in 2003. It is the biggest container facility in the Indian Ocean, accommodating today’s fourth- and fifth-generation container vessels. Cape Town is the only other port in this part of the world with that capability. Local industries include manufacturing of textiles and clothing as well as production of plastics, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals.
Founded by the French in 1736 as a port of call for ships coming around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the African continent, the British occupied the island from 1815 during the Napoleonic Wars.
Until the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, Port Louis was on the critical path for trade vessels moving between Europe, Africa, and India. After opening of the canal, shipping activity in Port Louis decreased. When the Suez Canal was closed from 1967 to 1975, ocean-going traffic rebounded for Port Louis. The port facilities were modernized in the late 1970s.
Today, Port Louis is the gateway for Mauritius’ imports and exports. It is connected by road to all other populated places on this island of two thousand square kilometers. While export of sugar was once the base of the economy, textiles and tourism underpin the island’s economy today.
Port Louis is dominated by the 1838 Citadel, a fortress on a hill in the center of town. The city contains both Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals, government offices, a natural history museum, an art gallery, publishers, research institutes, and several libraries and schools.
From 1849 until 1923, the indentured labor system first established in Port Louis by the British was operated out of the Aapravasi Ghat immigration depot. The depot was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006.