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Saint Pierre, Martinique

Founded in 1635 as one of the first French trading posts in the Caribbean, Saint-Pierre was inundated and destroyed by floodwaters from a hurricane in 1780. It was rebuilt and grew rich on the profits of sugar and rum to become a financial and cultural capital renowned as ‘The Paris of the Caribbean.’ Its predominance ended in a matter of a few minutes in 1902 when the nearby dormant volcano of Mount Pelée erupted, spewing a horrific pyroclastic flow that decimated the town and killed nearly 30,000 people, the largest natural disaster of the 20th century. Rebuilt beginning in the 1920s, Saint-Pierre never regained its former prominence after the island capital was relocated to Fort-de-France. Evocative remnants of the disaster remain, including the ruined theater, the old church of the Fort, a portion of the original Rue de Monte-au-Ciel and the thick-walled cell of the city jail that saved the day’s sole survivor. The cathedral of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption was rebuilt behind its surviving façade. The Market Square hosts a colorful daily gathering of vendors. Numerous hiking trails penetrate the lush forests around the town, and Anse Couleuvre is an attractive black sand beach. Excursionists can travel to Le Morne-Rouge and ascend the slopes of Mount Pelée or take in the panoramic views from the old military battery at Vierge des Marins and the statue of Our Lady of Morne d’Orange. The town also boasts the volcanological Museum Franck Perret and a modern Center of Science and Discovery. Several venerable rum distilleries are likewise popular attractions for visitors.