Posted by: travelrat | May 15, 2015

Sint Maarten


One day in 1493, Christopher Columbus came upon an island. What’s the date today, he demanded.

‘November 11th, Sir! St. Martin’s Day!’

‘Okay! We’ll call it St, Martin’ (only, being Genoese, he called it  Isla de San Martín)

Then, he took possession of it in the name of the King of Spain, and sailed off to see what else he could find.

However, His Catholic Majesty doesn’t seem to have taken much of an interest in the place, for, by 1624, the French were growing tobacco on the island and, a few years later, the Dutch had set up a colony to work the salt pans. But, in 1633, the Spanish were involved in the Eight Years War, and asked for their island back.

But, the Dutch and the French were soon back, and formalised the arrangement in 1648, with the signing of the Treaty of Concordia, which divided the island up between the two nations,

The islanders like to tell a story of how the nations divided the island by sending a soldier from each country for a walk, on a blazing summer day.

For refreshment, the Frenchman took a bottle of wine, and the Dutchman a bottle of gin. The heat of the day, and the strength of the refreshment took more of a toll on the Dutchman, so the French were able to claim a greater part of the island.

In the years between 1679 and 1816, the island changed hands at regular intervals between the French and the Dutch; even the English took possession from time to time.

In 1816 affairs settled down, to the situation that prevails nowadays. The French part (St. Martin) uses the euro as currency (technically, it’s a DOM, and as much a part of France as a Parisian suburb) and the Dutch part (Sint Maarten) uses the Netherlands Antilles guilder … although, in practice, the US dollar is widely accepted.

If you like quizzes, and you’re ever asked ‘Where do France and the Netherlands share a border?’ … it’s here, on St Martin/Maarten. There are border posts, but they’re rarely, if ever manned. If you do see a border guard, it’s usually a case of ‘wave, and he might wave back’


  1. That does make a great quiz question and a very interesting post.

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