Guadeloupe, overseas department and administrative
region of France (1995 est. pop. 403,000), 687 sq mi (1,779 sq km), in the
Leeward Islands, West Indies. The department comprises the islands of
Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe proper) and Grande-Terre, and the dependencies of
Marie-Galante and Îles des Saintes to the south, La Désirade to the east,
and Saint-Barthélemy (“Saint Bart's”) and the northern half of Saint
Martin to the north. Basse-Terre, on the island of the same name, is
Guadeloupe's capital; Pointe-à-Pitre, on Grande-Terre, is the chief port and
Sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1493, Guadeloupe was only feebly
colonized by the Spanish and was finally abandoned in 1604. In 1635 settlement
was begun by the French, who eliminated the native Caribs and imported slaves
from Africa for plantation work. By the end of the 17th cent., Guadeloupe was
a leading world sugar producer and one of France's most valuable colonies. The
islands were contested with the English until they were confirmed as
French possessions in 1815. During World War II, Guadeloupe at first adhered
to the Vichy regime in France, but an accord with the United States in 1942
led to its support of the Free French. In 1946 the colony of Guadeloupe became
an overseas department of France, and in 1974 it became an administrative
center. Its deputies sit in the French National Assembly in Paris.The islands have a mild, humid climate and are subject to
hurricanes.The population is mainly of African or mixed descent and largely Roman
Catholic. French and a Creole patois are spoken.
Tourism is the major industry. Guadeloupe is the centre of the Caribbean's Creole culture, boasting a
spirited blend of French and African influences. As well known for its sugar and
rum as for its beaches and resorts, the archipelago offers an interesting mix of
modern cities, rural hamlets, rainforests and secluded beaches.The Guadeloupe cuisine and surroundings are decidedly French, and the beaches,
casinos and nightlife are all first-class.
Agriculture, sugar and rum production, and
service industries are also important. Basse-Terre, volcanic in origin and
extremely rugged, is settled along the coasts and produces bananas, coffee,
cacao, and vanilla beans. Grande-Terre has low limestone cliffs and little
rainfall; sugar and rum are its chief products. Subsistence farming, livestock
raising, and fishing are carried on, and some salt and sulfur are mined.
France additionally provides many subsidies to Guadeloupe.