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As part of France, Martinique is part of the European Union, and its currency is the Euro. Its official language is French, although many of its inhabitants also speak Antillean Creole (Créole Martiniquais).
The island was occupied first by Arawaks, then by Caribs. It was charted by Columbus in 1493, but Spain had little interest in the territory. It was claimed by France in 1635 and, despite several interludes of British occupation, once during the Seven Years' War and twice during the Napoleonic Wars, has remained a French possession. In 1946, the French National Assembly voted unanimously to transform the colony into an overseas department.
The north of the island is mountainous and lushly forested. It features four ensembles of pitons (volcanoes) and mornes (mountains): the Piton Conil on the extreme North, which dominates the Dominica Channel; Mount Pelée, an active volcano; the Morne Jacob; and the Pitons du Carbet, an ensemble of five extinct volcanoes covered with rainforest and dominating the Bay of Fort de France at 1,196 metres (3,924 ft).
The highest of the island's many mountains, at 1,397 metres (4,583 ft), is the famous volcano Mount Pelée. Its volcanic ash has created gray and black sand beaches in the north (in particular between Anse Ceron and Anse des Gallets), contrasting markedly from the white sands of Les Salines in the south.
The south is more easily traversed, though it still features some impressive geographic features. Because it is easier to travel and because of the many beaches and food facilities throughout this region, the south receives the bulk of the tourist traffic. The beaches from Pointe de Bout, through Diamant (which features right off the coast of Roche de Diamant), St. Luce, the continent of St. Anne and down to Les Salines are popular.