First settled by Arawak Indians who arrived from South America
, the Carib Indians eventually followed, and they named the island "Soualiga," or Land of Salt.
As for European
discovery, Christopher Columbus (on his second voyage to the New World) spotted the island in 1493, on the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours, thus the modern name.
In the 1620s the Dutch
began to harvest the island's salt ponds. The Spanish
, knowing the value of salt, built a fort on the island in 1634 to control access to that valuable commodity.
In the early 17th Century, the Dutch and French
began to build small settlements and eventually drove the Spanish off the island.
On March 23, 1648, the Dutch Republic and France agreed to divide the island between their two nations, with the signing of the Treaty of Concordia.
On into the 18th century, the Dutch and French developed many large and profitable sugarcane plantations. To provide the labor they imported African
slaves in huge numbers.
Divided between two countries for over 350 years now, St. Martin/Sint Maarten is harmoniously shared by the French and the Dutch.
The border between north and south is all but invisible, and in most ways, St. Martin/Sint Maarten is simply a strikingly beautiful neighborhood with two distinct cultures.
The French side (St. Martin
), is certainly more relaxed and sophisticated, The first-class resorts and white sand beaches are mostly secluded. Marigot is Mediterranean resort-like, with yachts in the harbor, and open-air markets and shops lining the waterfront. A bit to the north, Grand Case is known for the island's best restaurants.
The Dutch side (Sint Maarten
) is a lively destination of white sand beaches, casinos, historical sites, shopping venues and a lot of nightlife. Philipsburg, a duty-free port, is the main entry point, and it vibrates with Caribbean
colors, sounds and cruise ship passengers.
Although the island is half-French and half-Dutch, English is without a doubt the dominant language.