Martinique
St. Pierre Ruins
A terrifying example of what a volcanic explosion can do.

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Location: Designated a Ville d’Art et d’Histoire in 1960, the old city is located on the east coast about an hour’s drive from Fort-de-France. The new village of St-Pierre is growing up around it.

Called the "Petit Paris" of the West Indies, St-Pierre was once the economic, cultural and political capital of Martinique, situated picturesquely on the east coast. St-Pierre was quickly transformed from the Petit Paris to the Petit Pompeii of the Caribbean on May 8, 1902 when Mount Pelee erupted.

In 3 minutes, maybe less, a cloud of ash erupted from the volcano and covered the city, calcifying the occupants and destroying the buildings. Of the estimated 30,000 inhabitants, only 1 survived the explosion, a man thrown in prison overnight for drunkenness; he was protected by the thick walls of his cell.

Once released, the prisoner, whose named is variously reported as Cylbaris and Syparis, spent several years traveling in the sideshow of Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Some accounts say there was a second survivor; 2 out of 30,000 is still pitifully few.

His cell is one of the most easily identified ruins. It is behind the once-famed theater of St-Pierre.

In front of the theatre is a haunting statue of a woman who looks like she was calcified during the eruption. Crying out in pain, she symbolizes the agony of St-Pierre.

Not to be missed is the Volcanological Museum, open daily 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 3-5 p.m. It contains many heat-deformed and charred objects, photographs of the disaster and distorted clocks stopped at 8 a.m. The ruins, which cover 2 terraces, and the museum take about 1.5 hours to explore thoroughly.

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