In anticipation of an upcoming visit to Saint Lucia, we wanted to learn more about this sovereign island country in the Caribbean located northwest of Barbados and south of Martinique between the Caribbean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean.
1. Covering 238.23 square miles, Saint Lucia is three and a half times the size of Washington, DC. The island is 27 miles long and 14 miles across at its widest point.
2. About 165,000 people live in St. Lucia, most around the coastal perimeter of the mountainous island. About 60,000 people live in or near Castries, the capital city on the northern part of the island.
3. Saint Lucia is said to be named after Saint Lucy of Syracuse by French sailors who were shipwrecked on the island on the Saint’s feast day of December 13th.
4. Saint Lucia is the world’s only country named after a woman.
5. The French were the island’s first European settlers. They signed a treaty with the native Carib Indians in 1660.
6. England took control of the island from 1663 to 1667.
7. France and England fought over Saint Lucia throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries with possession changing 14 times between the two countries. Because it switched so often between British and French control, Saint Lucia was also known as the “Helen of the West Indies“.
8. In 1814, the British took definitive control of the island.
9. From 1958 to 1962, the island was a member of the Federation of the West Indies. On February 22, 1979, Saint Lucia became an independent state of the Commonwealth of Nations associated with the United Kingdom.
10. As a Commonwealth realm, Saint Lucia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and shares Queen Elizabeth the II as its head of state and reigning constitutional monarch, but retains a crown legally distinct from the other 15 realms. (Australia, Canada, Jamaica, Tuvalu, Barbados and the United Kingdom are some of the other Commonwealth realms.)
11. As the Head of State of Saint Lucia, Queen Elizabeth II is represented on the island by an appointed Governor-General. Dame Pearlette Louisy, who took office on September 17, 1997, is the current Governor-General of Saint Lucia.
12. The Government House, located on the crest of Morne Fortune near Castries, is the official residence of the Governor-General of Saint Lucia.
13. Although slavery was abolished on it plantations in 1834, Saint Lucia remained an agricultural island focused on producing sugarcane. In 1964, sugarcane fields were converted to banana production. Today bananas are the island’s principal agricultural crop, along with the production of coconuts, cacao, citrus, spices, cassava, yams, and a steady fishing industry.
14. Tourism — developed rapidly since 1970 — is vital to Saint Lucia’s economy. The largest number of visitors to Saint Lucia arrive by cruise ship.
15. Saint Lucia’s currency is the East Caribbean Dollar, a regional currency shared among members of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECU). $1 U.S. dollar is worth about 2.70 XCD (Eastern Caribbean Dollars.)
16. While English is the official language of Saint Lucia, Saint Lucian Creole French (Kwéyòl) or Patois (“Patwa”) is spoken by 95 percent of the population.
17. More mountainous than most Caribbean islands, St. Lucia is of volcanic origin. Rising to 3,145 feet, Mount Gimie is the island’s highest point among a ridge of wooded mountains bisecting the island from north to south.
18. Two other mountains form the Pitons, St. Lucia’s most famous landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Gros and Petit Pitons are two rock pyramids rising sharply from the sea and enclosing a small bay. They are linked by the Piton Mitan ridge.
19. Piton beer is a local pilsner lager named for the Gros Piton and Petit Piton mountains. While the Piton beer brand is owned by Heineken, it is brewed in brewed in Saint Lucia and commands more that 50 percent of the island’s lager beer market share.
20. The town of Soufrière — French for sulfur — takes its name from the boiling Sulphur Springs in the crater of an ancient volcano near Petit Piton.
21. An upheaval of lava through a weak spot in a collapsed crater 410,000 years ago created the Sulpher Springs. At their center, scalding hot boiling water creates large plumes of steam. The water coming out of the springs is blackened by a reaction between the sulfur and iron.
22. Promoted as the “world’s only drive in volcano,” tourists can literally drive up to the edge of Sulpher Springs. Up until the mid-1990s, tourists were able to walk right up to the end of the tar-colored pits. This changed after a local guide named Gabriel fell through the crust into a pit and was burned. Now, visitors are restricted to viewing “Gabriel’s Hole” from a platform a few hundred feet away.
23. The Saint Lucia Jazz Festival each May draws visitors and musicians from around the world. The Festival’s grand finale takes place on Pigeon Island, located north of the main island of St. Lucia.
24. Saint Lucia’s cuisine includes flavors from West Africa, Great Britain, France and East India. Hearty fish soups, macaroni pie, and stewed chicken are popular dishes. Common ingredients include potatoes, onions, celery, thyme, coconut milk, spicy scotch bonnet peppers, flour and cornmeal.
25. The island is also home to fried or baked dough referred to as ‘Johnny Cake’ and often served with salt fish sauteed with peppers and onions.
26. With two Nobel prize winners, Saint Lucia boasts the world’s second highest ratio of Nobel laureates compared to the total population. Sir Arthur Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979, and poet Derek Walcott received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.
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