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The island's true history started peacefully - traces of Stone Age people have been found on the island, dating back to 4,000 BC. Around 800 AD the island, as many of its neighbors was settles by Arawak Indians who arrived from South America to settle down to a life of fishing, hunting and farming.
The Arawaks were not alone, however. They were followed in the 14th century by a much more war-like tribe - the cannibalistic Carib Indians. These new arrivals are the ones who gave the region its name, and knew St. Maarten as Soualiga, or "Salt Island" after its main mineral deposit. The remains of the Great Salt Pond can still be seen in Philipsburg today.
According to legend, Christopher Columbus sighted Soualiga on the 11th of November in the year 1493, the holy day of St. Martin of Tours, and he named the island after him - hence the name St. Maarten. The 11th of November is celebrated to this day, as St. Martin/St. Maarten's Day.
Although Columbus sighted and named the island, the Spanish made no initial attempt to settle here. Around the year 1630 the Dutch and French established small settlements on the island. The Spanish must have not taken to well to this settlement - they saw it as a threat to their influence in the region and attacked the island - driving out both the Dutch and French settlements.
The Dutch and French joined forces to repel the Spanish, and finally achieved this goal around 1644 when the Spanish finally abandoned their claims to the Eastern Caribbean altogether. After driving out the Spanish, the Dutch and French signed an accord (in 1648) and agreed to divide the island. Over the next few years, the boundary was the subject of numerous disputes. which were not settled until 1817. In this timeframe the island changed hands between the two powers 16 times.