- For other places with the same name, see Saint Denis (disambiguation).
Saint-Denis (créole: Sin-Dni) is the capital of Réunion Island, and the city with the most inhabitants on the island. It hosts all the important administrative offices, and is also a cultural center with numerous museums. Saint-Denis is also the largest city in all of the French Overseas Departments.
Saint-Denis is the prefecture (administrative seat) of the French island of Réunion. The island lies between Mauritius and Madagascar and has the status of a French Overseas Department and is officially an administrative division of France. The General Council and Regional Council, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Chamber of Trades and Craft Industry, the rectorate, the state university, the employment office, and the customs authority are to be found in the commune of Saint-Denis.
Saint-Denis was named in 1669 by Étienne Régnault, who later became governor of Réunion from 1665 to 1671. The settlement was named after the ship "Saint-Denis", which in 1664, as part of a fleet sailing under the flag of the French India Company, was sent to Réunion Island and then on to India. Governor Régnault arrived with the fleet from France, and established a resupply outpost on the coast at Saint-Paul, the first capital of the island.
The small 60-ton ship "Saint-Denis", which had been separated from the fleet at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, still managed to find its own way to the island, arriving in 1667. The captain of the ship, named Chanlette, was a good friend of Régnault, so the bay, the harbor, and later the city, were named "Saint-Denis" in honor of return of the lost ship. The ship was, in turn, named after Saint Denis, a third century bishop and missionary to Gaul, who was martyred with his companions Rusticus and Elentère in what would become modern-day France.
Under Mahé de Labourdonnais, then Governor of the East India Company and an important figure in the history of the island, the town of Saint-Denis replaced the former capital of Saint-Paul due to the general quality and favorable location of its harbor. Though the small settlement had just 2166 inhabitants, it had become the capital of the island and seat of the colonial government of the whole of the Mascarene islands.
In the year 1743, the first church and the new governor's palace (the modern Prefecture) were built. In 1771, a formal plan for the city was instituted. This followed the typical colonial grid pattern, with 12 streets in the east-west direction and 7 running north-south.
The administrative headquarters and warehouse of the French East India Company was established in 1773. It was built in the typical French colonial vernacular style and was later the official residence of the Governor and Prefect. In 1790, Saint Denis was incorporated as a commune, and Jean Baptiste Delestrac became its first mayor.
Saint-Denis remained only a small town, trailing behind Saint-Paul in population and Saint-Pierre in economic power. At the turn the 19th century, the city was little more than a boring bureaucratic backwater, where the most exciting activity was still taking a walk. By mid-century, however, sugar barons had begun pouring money into the local economy, and Saint-Denis blossomed into an important cultural and commercial center. In 1852, both the colonial bank and the natural history museum were founded in the city.
By the 20th century, political and economic life on the island had become directly tied to the fortunes of the capital: two world wars, malaria epidemics, and increasing cultivation of the sugar beet in Europe all lead to an economic recession in the city and on the island in general, from which it has emerged with subsidies from Paris and the European Union.
The primary ethnic groups of the city are European immigrants, former slaves, Chinese and Muslim Indian immigrants and their descendants, and créoles. The demographics are highly mixed, and ghettos of any particular ethnicity do not exist.
Well-known people from Saint-Denis include French aviation pioneer Roland Garros (1886 – 1918), the writer Marius Leblond (1877 – 1953), French politician Raymond Barre (1924 – 2007), and handballer Daniel Narcisse (1979-).
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- 1 Roland Garros Airport (RUN IATA) (8 km from the city centre). The airport has daily connections to Paris and other destinations in France via Air France and Air Austral, the official airline of Réunion. Direct flights from other European destinations are not available, but there are connecting flights from Mauritius and other regional hubs.
The international airport for Réunion is Roland Garros.
The airport has a shuttle bus service that takes passengers directly to the main bus station, L'Ocean Terminal, in central Saint-Denis. Travel time is roughly 20 minutes.
Visitors can also travel by (expensive) taxi service or by renting a car from one of the several providers serving the airport.
There is another airport on Réunion, Pierrefonds Airport, near Saint-Pierre in the south of the island, offering flights to regional destinations in Mauritius and Madagascar.
- The Route du Littoral, RN1, opened in 1976, connecting Saint Denis to the southwest of the island along the steep north coast. The route is subject to frequent rock slides, and remains hazardous, despite the protective barriers and safety nets.
- Route RN2 runs from Saint-Denis along the east coast of Réunion.
The city of Saint-Denis is the terminus for several bus routes.
- Route A, A1 (Express), and B: Saint-Denis - Saint-Paul - Saint-Gilles-Les-Bains - Saint-Leu - Saint-Louis - Saint-Pierre. Follows RN1 along the west coast. Approximately 90 minutes, €4.20.
- Route B1, C1, and E: Similar to route A on the west coast, but terminating instead at Saint-Leu.
- Route F (Express) and G: Saint-Denis - Sainte-Marie - Saint-Benoit. Follows RN2 on the north coast.
The buses run from around 04:30 on weekday mornings, but much later on Sundays and holidays, until 18:00, at hourly intervals.
The island's bus service is known as Car Jaune (Yellow Car, for their official colour scheme). The central bus station of Saint-Denis is L'Océan Terminal. It is located by the beach, just a few meters east from the Barachois waterfront.
The small harbor of Saint-Denis has no significant tourist interest. The international harbor serving the island is in Le Port.
The city center is very compact and can be toured easily on foot. The central zone extends from Barachois near the coast, along the Avenue de La Victoire and its extension, Rue de Paris, until the Jardin de L'Etat. The pedestrian zone (Carré Piéton) is in the area around Rue Marchel Leclérc.
During business hours, traffic in central Saint-Denis can be chaotic, and parking places may be scarce, whereas on Sundays, the city may seem nearly deserted, with many businesses closed and shuttered.
The important sights all lie along the axis of Avenue de La Victoire and Rue de Paris and are very compact to one another, so it is recommend to go on foot. In the city center, brand new buildings are often interspersed with decaying ones. Along side the many properly well-appointed and the most representative buildings of the colonial style, there those with little more to interest the tourist than their "historical patina", often immediately next door.
Churches, mosques, and temples
- 1 Cathedral of Saint-Denis Saint-Sauveur, On Rue de la Victoire, at the corner of Rue Alexis de Villeneuve. Catholic. Built between 1829 and 1832 as designed by Jean-Baptiste Dumas. Became the cathedral in 1850. Expanded between 1856 and 1860.
- 2 Chapelle de l'Immaculée Conception (Chapel of the Immaculate Conception), 10 Rue Sainte-Anne. Catholic. Consecrated February 6, 1869.
- 3 Église Notre Dame de La Délivrance (Church of Our Lady of Deliverance), Place de La Deliverance (slightly west of the city center and the Saint-Denis River). Catholic. Built between 1893 and 1898 in neo-gothic style.
- 4 Église Notre Dame de l'Assomption (Church of Our Lady of the Assumption), On the corner of Général de Gaulle and Rue Jean Chatel..
- 5 Grand Mosque Noor al Islam, Rue du Marechal Leclerc. Built in 1990. Open to men and women, outside of prayer hours, from 09:00-12:00, and 14:00-16:00. No shoes permitted.
- 6 Pagoda Lisi Tong, Rue Sainte-Anne (somewhat east of the city center). Built in 1896
- 7 Pagoda Guan Di, Near the corner of Rue du Marechal Leclerc and Rue Sainte-Anne (somewhat east of the city center).
- 8 L'ancien Hôtel de Ville (Old City Hall, Mayoral Residence), 2 Avenue de la Victoire. Built between 1846 and 1860 (with interruptions due to lack of funds)
- 9 Hôtel de la Préfecture (Governor's Palace), 4 Avenue de la Victoire. Originated as the warehouses of the French East India Company, and is the both one of the first large public buildings built on the island, and its oldest extant structure.
- 10 University of Réunion, 9 Avenue de la Victoire.
- 11 Banque de La Réunion (Bank of Réunion), 27 Rue Jean Chatel. The oldest operating enterprise on the island. The bank is a prestigious villa in the colonial vernacular style, completed in 1858.
- 12 Palais Rontaunay, 5 Rue Rontaunay. This prestigious villa was built in the early 19th century in the créole vernacular style, and was the residence of Julien Rontaunay Gaultier, which later became the location of the government and Consul General of the island.
- 13 Villa du Général, 49 Rue du Paris. An excellent example of villa in the créole vernacular style.
- 14 Villa Mas, 18 Rue de Paris. A colonial-style villa with an exemplary portico. built from 1973 to 1804 for Baptiste Lestrac, the first mayor of Saint-Denis. Now serves as the home of the Ministry of Culture.
- 15 Villa Déramond-Barre, 15 Rue de Paris. Another outstanding example of the colonial vernacular style. This villa has been home to several important locals, such as painter and poet Leon Dierx.
- 16 Monument aux Morts (World War I Memorial), At the intersection of Avenue de la Victoire and Rue de la Compangie.
- 17 Léon Dierx Museum (Modern Art Museum), 28 rue de Paris, ☏ . Tu-Su 09:00-17:30. The museum was founded in 1911 and occupies the colonial-style Villa Manès, which had been the official bishop's residence. One can see works from local artists together with those of Picasso, Renoir, Gauguin, Vlaminck, Bourdelle, and Jean Le Gac. The museum's namesake, Léon Dierx, was a local painter and poet who died in the year 1912. €2.00, free on the first Sunday each month..
- 18 Artothèque (Museum of Contemporary Art), 26 Rue de Paris, ☏ , fax: . Exhibitions change bimonthly.
- 19 Muséum Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum), 1 Rue Poivre (Located within the Jardin de L´Etat).
- 20 Brewery Museum, 60 Quay Ouest (within La Maison de la Bière Dodo). Tu-Th 09:30, 11:00, 14:00, 15:30. A museum to the islands omnipresent Bière Dodo (which is owned by Heineken), that opened in 2005. 1-hour guided tours by appointment only. €6.
- 21 La Barachois. This waterfront promenade with its distinctive cannons is located where Avenue de La Victoire meets the sea. The name can roughly be translated as "little harbor", and the cannon date from the early 19th century when the island was threatened with British invasion during the Napoleonic wars. Also at La Barachois are monuments to aviation pioneer and native Réunionnais Roland Garros (after whom the city's airport is also named), to prominent Governor of the French East India Company Mahé de la Bourdonnais, and to General Charles de Gaulle.
- 22 Jardin de l'Etat (State Garden). Historic botanical garden built from 1767 to 1773 and containing roughly 5 hectares of open space, located at the southern terminus of the Rue de Paris. The Natural History Museum is also within the grounds of the park.
- 23 Jardin de Cendrillon, 48 route des Palmiers. A crėole garden with flowers, fruit trees and spices in La Montagne.
- 1 Casino Saint-Denis, Barachois Place Sarda Garriga, ☏ , fax: . Gaming casino, hotel, bar, and restaurant adjacent to La Barachois
- 2 Cinéma Ritz, 53 rue Juliette Dodu, ☏ . Movie theater.
- 3 Golf Club du Colorado, Parc de Loisirs du Colorado, La Montange, ☏ . 9-hole golf course located in the La Montagne district.
- 4 Guan Di Festival. A colourful festival held each August celebrating the birthday of the Chinese god of war.
- 5 TCF (Théatre de Champ Fleuri), 2 rue du Théâtre, ☏ , fax: .
- 6 Théâtre Le Grand Marché, 2 rue du Maréchal Leclerc (Near the Grand Marché), ☏ , fax: .
- 7 Théâtre Vollard, 2 Avenue Andre Malraux, ☏ , fax: . Theater group that performs both on the island and internationally. Named after Reunionais publisher and art dealer Ambrosius Vollard.
- 8 Parc du Colorado. A sports and recreation complex southwest of Saint-Denis with opportunities for jogging, golf, hiking, mountain biking, and picnicking.
The main shopping district of Saint-Denis is in the pedestrian zone around Rue Marechal Leclerc, with plenty of small shops, as well as the large public market. The wide range of goods exhibited in the shops reflects the diverse cultural heritage of the island.
- 1 Maison de la Presse, Le Rallye Press, 3 avenue de la Victoire, ☏ . Newspapers and periodicals, with some international selection.
- 2 Le Mahal, 50 rue Maréchal Leclerc, ☏ . Artisanal handcrafts and souveniers.
- 3 Grand Marché (Big Market), 3 Rue Maréchal Leclerc. May-Oct: 06:00-19:00; Nov-Apr: 07:00-19:00; closed Mondays. A covered open market hall. Goods available in this location include fruits and vegetables, spices, textiles and wood carvings from Madagascar, and other various souvenirs from the Indian Ocean region.
- 4 Petit Marche (Little Market), corner of rue Maréchal Leclerc and rue Sainte-Anne. Weekday mornings. Primarily offering food and flowers.
- 5 Marché des Camélias, Avenue des Cocotiers. F 06:00-12:00. Artisanal crafts, vegetables, meat and fish (it has been relocated to nearby Boulevard Sud due to construction).
- 6 Marché du Chaudron, Place Nelson Mandela. An annual fair in the Chaudron District with over 400 stalls, featuring seafood, fish, meat, and vegetables.
For a quick bite, there are a number of snack shacks at La Barschois, with a variety flavors represented (including McDonald's).
- 1 Le First, 8 Avenue de la Victoire, ☏ .
- 1 Tulip Inn Sainte-Clotilde La Réunion, 3 rue Laferierre (near the central bus terminal L'Ocean), ☏ . This hotel features rooms with balconies, a restaurant, and an outdoor pool. $76.
- 2 Hotel Mercure Creolia, 14 rue du Stade Montgaillard, ☏ , fax: . From €110.
- 3 Radisson Hotel Le Saint-Denis, 2 rue Doret. Apparently will be opening soon, as of June 2021? From.
- 1 Office de Tourisme Intercommunal du Nord (Northern Tourism Office), Maison Carrère, 14 rue de Paris, ☏ .
- 2 Ile de La Réunion Tourisme IRT (Réunion Island Tourism), 1 Rue Jean Chatel, ☏ , fax: . M-Th 08:00-12:00, 13:00-17:00; F 08:00-12:00.
- 3 Maison de la Montagne, 5 rue Rontaunay, ☏ , fax: . Reservation agency for mountain cabins.
- 4 PTT (Central Post Office), 60 Rue du Maréchal Leclerc.. M-Th 08:00-12:00, 14:00-18:00; Sa 08:00-12:00.