Because Martinique's three mountain ranges account for a considerable portion of the island's area, 90 percent of the population lives on one-quarter of the land. The island population is dispersed among thirty-four communes, most of which are coastal. The administrative capital is Fort-de-France.
Fort-de-France became the capital of Martinique when picturesque Saint Pierre was destroyed by the eruption of Montagne Pelée in 1902. Fort-de-France is situated at the edge of Caribbean waters and benefits from a calm, deepwater port that supports the island's import-driven economy. The urban center is comprised of several square kilometers of boutiques and offices, a large park, the cathedral, and government offices, banks, restaurants, and rented residences located on upper floors of the street-level storefronts.
Two classes of people were the first to populate the port town: the emerging group of mulatre merchants and a number of younger Békés whose families had invested their plantation fortunes in the import-export trade. By the 1950s, when agricultural workers began to stream into the city in search of wage labor, working-class neighborhoods sprouted up in the hills around the flat town center, eventually surrounding it on three sides. Today, the residents of Fort-de-France span all socioeconomic groups and ethnic identities.
The greater Fort-de-France area extends almost without interruption north to Schoelcher, a town of 20,000, and south to Lamentin, the industrial center of the island where 30,000 people live and where the international airport is located. Compared to the size and density of this urban sprawl, which continues to lead island growth, other settlements are quite small, most under 10,000 people. The population residing in the lush, mountainous northern area is thinning, but the island's southern end, with its agricultural possibilities, fine beaches, and tourist economy, attracts an increasing number of residents.