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7 Position

7.1 Site of Roseau

Roseau is the capital of Dominica, which is an independent island state between the French isles of Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south. To avoid confusion with the Dominican Republic the official name of the country is the Commonwealth of Dominica. The Carib name for the island, Waitikubuli, is no longer used even though it would probably not cause as many confusions as the current name does. The land area of Dominica is 751 sq.kms and it is therefore the second largest of independent island state in the Eastern Caribbean. Only Trinidad and Tobago is larger.

Throughout history of the Caribbean, coastal locations have been preferred for siting cities. Some of the earliest towns, such as Trinidad in Cuba, Spanish Town in Jamaica, and St. Joseph in Trinidad, were exceptions. They were established inland mainly to avoid the unhealthy conditions of swamp areas on the coasts. Even though any of them was far from the sea, their importance was greatly reduced after establishing coastal cities, the location of which was more suitable for commercial activities (Hudson 1998: 77). Roseau, as do most of the major cities in the Caribbean region, has a coastal location. It is situated on a round headland in the SW part of Dominica. Unlike many other Caribbean capitals, e.g. Castries in St. Lucia, or St. Johns in Antigua, Roseau does not have a sheltered harbour. It is. however, situated on the Leeward (West) coast of the island, which is more sheltered than the Windward (East) coast facing the trade winds (see Figs. 8 and 9).

According to an estimate by Michel-Rolph Trouillot, less than 240 sq.kms of land area of Dominica is under cultivation or inhabited. As Trouillot states, 'Historical Dominica is but a narrow belt, at times scarcely a mile [1,6 km] wide' (Trouillot 1988: 28). The very rugged nature of Dominican terrain has retained large portions of island untouched by human activities. Only two percent of land area in Dominica has a gradient of 10 degrees or less, a total of 14 percent having 20 degrees or less (see Table 2). This means that flat land is a scarce resource in Dominica.

Roseau is built on the delta of Roseau (or Queen's) River, which is the largest portion of relatively flat land on the southern Leeward coast of Dominica. It was an important location already in the pre-Columbian times. Kalinagos--or Carib indians--had a village called Sairi on the same site, and it is probable that the area was inhabited even earlier by Ortoroid peoples (after Ortoire, a place in Trinidad), who are assumed to have occupied Dominica roughly from 3000 BC to 400 BC. After them came the Igneris--or Arawaks--who were absorbed by Kalinagos by AD 1400. (Honychurch 1995a: 15-18, 23)

Dominica is divided in north-south direction by a volcanic mountain axis. Volcanic nature of Dominica poses a serious threat to the future of Roseau. According to Jan M. Lindsay, John Shepherd and Mark V. Stasiuk (2001, cit. Honychurch 2001), Dominica has one of the highest concentrations of live volcanoes in the world, and particulary active is the southern half of the island where Roseau is located. Dominica has eight live volcanoes of which six are located within ten kilometres of Roseau (see Fig. 9). Volcanic eruption is expected to occur in the next hundred years. The magma movement is already causing earthquakes which have steadily become stronger since the 1960s.

Most likely volcanic events to happen are a phreatic eruption in the Valley of Desolation where the Boiling Lake is situated, and a dome eruption at Morne Plat Pays. Eruption at Boiling Lake would probably just cover Roseau ith light ash as happened in 1880. A minor eruption with no consequenses for Roseau took place also in 1997. But a full-scale eruption at Morne Plat Pays complex--supposed eruption centre of Morne Canot being located just some five kilometres to the SE from Roseau--would extent the serious danger zone to the capital (Lindsay et al. 2001, cit. Honychurch 2001). Two island capitals of the Eastern Caribbean were destroyed by volcanic eruptions in the 20th century: St. Pierre in Martinique in 1902, and Plymouth in Montserrat in 1997.

The site of Roseau--or that of the Inner City area--is framed by the Caribbean Sea in the West and the SW, by Roseau River in the North and the NE, and by Morne Bruce in the SE. Flat area is restricted to the Inner City grid area and to Potter's Ville on the northern side of Roseau River (see Fig. 7). The location between mountains, river and sea gives Roseau an impressive visual appearance (Fig. 10). Thomas Atwood (1791: 173), for instance, appreciates Roseau's pleasant site (see Chapter 7.2). About two hundred years later, Patrick Leigh Fermor (1950: 103) found that even the existence of a town on such a site was a miracle:

Altogether, the capital was scarcely more than a village, an Antillean Cranford clustering gracefully on the edge of a blazing extent of water, and overshadowed by steep and enormous hills fleecy with every access of tropical vegetation. If they escape the gloom and the ungainliness which is so often their lot, there is something delightfully comic about many of these little Caribbean towns. The fact that there is a town at all, especially an almost European town, in the middle of such violence of flora and the elements, seems as unnatural an effect as a swimmer remaining for long periods under water.

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