Here is our list of 5 Cultural and Historic places to see and experience on Dutch St Maarten and French St Martin.
Philipsburg is the Capital of Dutch St Maarten, is just a few blocks wide but packed with interesting sights and shops, from jewelry stores and casinos to the historic Courthouse on the Cyrus Wathey Square. Built in 1793 as the home of Commander John Philips, the town’s founder, the building has served as a fire station, jail and post office over its long history and is one of island’s most prominent landmarks. It’s hard to get lost in Philipsburg as there are only two main downtown streets between Great Bay and the the Salt Pond and the Philipsburg Courthouse is a good place to start a walking tour of the area.
Every week on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, an open-air market is set up along the wharves on the Blvd. de France on French St Martin, offering a colorful array of homegrown produce, tropical fruits and spices, and freshly caught fish. It is a perfect opportunity for mingling, people watching, and just sampling the food. Across from the market are the “Lolo’s”, featuring arts, crafts and local restaurants.
Overlooking Marigot Bay on the leeward side of the island sits the imposing figure of Fort Louis, the largest historical monument in St Martin. Named for the famous crusading king of France, it was originally built in 1767 to protect the settlement at Marigot Bay from foreign invaders. The plans were sent over directly from Versailles at the order of the ill-fated French king, Louis XVI. Following the events of 1789, the fort was temporarily occupied by the Dutch to prevent the further spread of revolutionary democracy which had reached the island from Guadeloupe. Now, it no longer serves its former purpose, but the steep climb up to the summit provides a panoramic view of the island and the sea surrounding it, and the effort is well rewarded. The area is open 24/7 and there are signs explaining historical events.
The quiet little fishing village of Orleans, also called the French Quarter, is located on the eastern side of the island just north of the border with Dutch St Maarten. It was the original settlement of the French on the island and some of the original seventeenth-century structures are still preserved here. This part of the island has not been developed extensively, so much of the old atmosphere has remained unspoiled. Don’t miss the St Joseph’s Catholic Church.
To get an alternate view, climb Mount Concordia. It was on top of this hill, which lies on the border between St Martin and St Maarten, where the original treaty dividing the island in two was signed by the French and Dutch. You can also explore the ruins of an old sugar plantation “La Sucrerie” here.