The island of Martinique is situated from 14° 26′ to 14° 53′ N and 61° W among the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, between the islands of Dominica and St. Lucia. It has an area of 1,110 sq km (429 sq mi), with a length of 75 km (47 mi) SE–NW and a maximum width of 34 km (21 mi) NE–SW . Its total coastline is about 350 km (220 mi). Most of the island is mountainous. The two highest peaks, Pelée (1,397 m/4,583 ft) and Carbet (1,196 m/3,923 ft), are volcanoes. On 8 May 1902, Mt. Pelée erupted, completely destroying the city of St. Pierre and killing 30,000 inhabitants. About 25% of the land is wooded, with both European and tropical trees represented. Average temperature is about 26° C (80° F ) and average annual rainfall about 190 cm (75 in).
The mid-2002 estimated population was 422,277. The population, composed mostly of descendants of black Africans, Carib Indians, and Europeans, is predominantly Roman Catholic. French is the official language, but a Creole dialect is widely spoken and English is understood in tourist areas.
There were reportedly 2,105 km (1,314 mi) of highway in 2000, and no railways. Steamer service connects Martinique with North and South America and France. Air France and other airlines provide air service from Lamentin Airport near Fort-de-France.
First inhabited by Carib Indians, Martinique was discovered by Columbus in 1502, and colonized by the French in 1635. Except for the periods 1762–63, 1793–1802, and 1809–15, the island has remained in French hands ever since. It is represented in the French parliament by four deputies and two senators.
Martinique's economy is agricultural. Sugarcane and bananas are the leading crops; pineapples, citrus fruit, mangoes, avocados, coffee, and cacao are also grown. Sugar refining, rum distilling, and fruit processing are the chief industries. Bananas, petroleum products, and rum are the principal exports; foodstuffs and oil are the main imports. In 1997, exports totaled US $250 million; imports totaled US $2 billion. Trade is mainly with France, which heavily subsidizes the budget. Tourism has become more important than agriculture as a source of foreign exchange.
Education is compulsory through the primary and secondary levels. There is a branch of the Centre Universitaire Antilles-Guyana. Martinique has 16 hospitals. The infant mortality rate in 2002 was estimated at 7.62 deaths per 1,000 live births, up from 6.76 per 1,000 live births in 1999, but down significantly from 14 in 1985. Life expectancy was 78.56 years in 2002, down from 79.3 years in 1999.