Located at the feet of La Soufrière, Basse Terre is one of the oldest parishes on the island. Mistreated by history, its role in the island’s economy has slowly but surely disappeared to Pointe à Pitre’s advantage but it remained Guadeloupe’s political capital.
Originally, this was the location of an important Caribbean Indians settlement. Fertile soils on the edge of the volcano and the abundance of water sources and rivers made for a privileged site. Spanish seamen did not refrain from fighting Indians to come fill their kegs with nice and clear water on their way to Mexico.
The parish was founded in 1643 around the fortified house of Governor Houël. It experienced quick development and found prosperity in sugar cane culture with the arrival of 900 Dutch settlers driven out of Brazil. These were established masters in cane crushing and sugar production. By the end of the 18th century, the British occupation redirected maritime traffic to the newly founded parish in Pointe à Pitre which has started becoming the new economic capital, which proved detrimental to the older parishes. From then on, the city’s decline has begun and a succession of disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, La Soufrière volcanic eruption, ravaging cyclones and other cholera epidemics, had the best of the city. Basse Terre had a hard time holding on to its population until the 1976 evacuation, completing the economy’s transfer to Pointe à Pitre.
Today, Basse-Terre is still Guadeloupe’s political capital and is the home of the Conseil Régional and of the prefecture as well as two architectural landmarks, the Courthouse and the General Council, both created by Ali Tur, a Tunisian architect.
With the current status of City of the arts and history, Basse-Terre only offers a few memories of days past: a few colonial houses around the Champ d’Arbaud plaza or the Mont-Carmel quarter, one of the oldest in town, a former parish founded by the Dominican religious order that came in with Sir l’Olive and Sir Duplessis. Don’t miss the downtown cathedral’s facade. At the edge of town rises Fort Louis Delgrès, built in 1650 around the fortified house of Governor Houël, which has been modified several times since. The fort’s reassuring presence favoured the founding of the city although it never experienced any real assaults. The location was badly picked since it benefits from no real good point of view on the sea and it has never been at stake during battles. It was named after Abolitionist hero Louis Delgrès who resisted Napoleon’s reestablishment of slavery and fled here with his men before evacuating to Matouba.
The city is slowly but surely coming out of lethargy and attempts to be more welcoming. The waterfront was reshaped and prides of its superb boardwalk, giving a change to road traffic that had been suffering since.
During carnival season, the whole city comes to life, euphoria catches the people violently. Traffic is not permitted; big parades and parties follow one another. Basse-Terre’s Carnival is in every people’s mind the liveliest and most reputed carnival in Guadeloupe, attracting more and more enthusiastic visitors year after year.
On the dominating heights of Basse-Terre, on the road leading to the top of La Soufrière, Saint Claude is a fresh and green parish. It benefits from the island’s coolest weather and exceptional air quality which led to its sanitary vocation, being the home of many health establishments. Many clouds crowd on top of the volcano (the highest peak of the little Antilles) and they generously water the parish and its numerous rivers. With its particular climate, Saint Claude has become a residential zone, essentially inhabited by the island’s public servants and the important families living in beautiful houses hidden behind luxurious vegetation and sumptuous gardens.
Located at the edge of Guadeloupe’s National Park, Saint Claude is the starting point for many hikes. Several beautiful paths lead to the volcano or its mountainsides to benefit from the exuberant charms of the tropical forest and its many waterfalls and flowing rivers.