Port of Papeete
Review and History

The Port of Papeete is the capital of French Polynesia. Located in the South Pacific Ocean on the northwest coast of the island of Tahiti, this overseas territory of France is home to the French High Commissioner. The Port of Papeete is also the main governmental, industrial, commercial, financial, and tourism center of the Windward Islands, containing the islands of Tahiti, Mehetia, Moorea, Maiao, and Tetiaroa.

One of the South Pacific’s biggest metropolitan areas, the Port of Papeete is a beautiful tropical city with many flowers and tall palm trees. In 2007, over 26 thousand people lived in the commune proper, but almost 132 thousand called the urban area home.

Port History

Europeans first settled the Port of Papeete in 1818 when British missionary William Crook moved there. Tahiti’s Queen Pomare IV made the Port of Papeete her capital in the late 1820s, stimulating the town’s growth as an important transportation and shipping hub for the region.

With an excellent natural harbor, whalers were frequent visitors to the Port of Papeete in the 1830s. France took control and made the Tahitian Islands a protectorate in 1842, the same year Herman Melville was imprisoned there. His novel Omoo is based on his experiences. In 1880, the French annexed the Port of Papeete and made it their colonial capital. In 1890, it gained the status of a commune.

Painter Paul Gauguin came to the Port of Papeete in 1891 and stayed there for the rest of his life, excluding a brief two-year trip to France. In 1888, the Port of Papeete was visited by Robert Louis Stevenson.

In 1884, a severe fire destroyed half of the Port of Papeete, leading the French to prohibit the use of traditional building materials. Then in 1906, a heavy cyclone seriously damaged the city.

In 1914, two German men-of-war bombarded the Port of Papeete and sun a French naval vessel in the harbor.

The Port of Papeete received a boost when the French moved their nuclear weapon testing range to Muruoa and Fangataufa from Algeria in the late 1960s. About 1500 kilometers to Tahiti’s east, the tests began about the same time as the Faa airport was built, giving French Polynesia its only airport.

In 1995, the French conducted the last series of nuclear test detonations near Moruroa. Riots in the Port of Papeete lasted two days, during which the international airport was damaged and 40 people were injured.

The Port of Papeete is a major stop on the South Pacific trade routes, both ocean-going and airborne. Its main exports are sugar cane, copra (dried coconut meat), mother of pearl, coffee, and vanilla. It is also an important base for tourism in French Polynesia and on Tahiti.

Many people, including those of European and Chinese ancestry, began to move from other areas in French Polynesia to the Port of Papeete’s suburbs in the late 1990s, increasing population growth once again.

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