Located on Grande-Terre, Pointe-a-Pitre is Guadeloupe's largest city (pop. 33,000). Expect to be immediately immersed in the French Caribbean way of life when you arrive: Vendors hawk everything from hairpins to bouquets of anthuriums on the congested narrow streets, and the markets are some of the Caribbean's most colorful. The largest, Marche St. Antoine, at the corner of Rues Frebault and Peynier, teems with activity all day long: Tropical produce and spices in madras bags are sold by very vocal market women. (Trying to take a photo of their wares will bring loud tirades in high-pitched Creole, unless you've first received permission—preferably by purchasing something.) Marche de la Darse's exotic fruit, vegetables and souvenirs are set up under bright umbrellas along the waterfront. The Place Gourbeyre Flower Market is ablaze with tropical blooms. It's best to visit the markets in the morning, and bargaining is expected.
Place de la Victoire, bordered with blooming trees and royal palms, celebrates the defeat of the English in 1794 by Victor Hugues. The Cathedral of St. Pierre and St. Paul, just off Place de la Victoire, was built in 1871 of an imposing iron framework, Eiffel-style, to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes (it sits on the ruins of three former churches destroyed by successive earthquakes). Three grandiose naves under a large vaulted roof accommodate up to 3,000 people.
The city itself is an amalgam of lovely old balconied buildings scattered between modern apartment complexes. Musee Saint-John Perse is in the city's most beautifully restored colonial mansion. It chronicles the life of native poet Alexis Leger, who won the Nobel Prize under the pen name of Saint-John Perse. In the Musee Schoelcher, the story of Victor Schoelcher, the prime mover for the abolition of slavery in Guadeloupe, is told through his possessions, which are displayed in a renovated 100-year-old house. The very moving exhibit includes engravings and implements depicting the inhuman treatment of slaves.
The Aquarium de la Guadeloupe in the Place Creole area of the Bas du Fort Marina just east of town is Guadeloupe's most visited site. Visitors come face-to-face with seahorses, sharks, tarpon and a polka-dot grouper called Merou de Grace Kelly. More than a dozen separate habitats are represented. Also at Bas du Fort you'll find Fort Fleur d'Epee, a 1700s structure overlooking the Bay of Gosier. Aboveground there are only a few walls, a chapel and a sweeping view—the real fascination is the circle of dungeons and passageways below.
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