During your holidays in Réunion Island, you will surely not miss any opportunity to visit its capital: Saint-Denis. It is located in the North of the island at a distance of 7 kilometers from the main airport of Réunion Island, Roland Garros. It occupies an area of 142.79 square kilometers and its population is of more than 144238 inhabitants who are called Dionysiens.
It was founded in 1669 and became the capital of Réunion Island in 1738 and thus it possesses a rich history and you’ll find quite a number of ancient buildings and historical sites there, such as: the ancient Félix Guyon colonial hospital, the Art Library, the Barachois, the Cathedral of Saint-Denis, the garden of Cinderella, the Lazarets of Grande Chaloupe, the Natural History Museum and the State Gardens and much more.
The Félix Guyon former colonial hospital
The Félix Guyon former military hospital, also known as the ancient military hospital of Saint-Denis is a historical site that is known for the beauty of its façade. Its construction was started in 1731 by the East India Company and continued until the end of the 1860’s. Nowadays this historical site consists of several 3 storey buildings decorated with cast iron columns, spread in the form of a horseshoe around a large rectangular courtyard and also houses an old chapel which has been converted into the administrative court.
The Art Library
The Art Library of the city of Saint-Denis, previously known as the Mancini house and the old Mas house, is housed in a magnificent colonial mansion dating from 1843, with a ground floor and a storey made entirely of wood. All around, you will find a colonial garden decorated with circular basins and several sculptures. At the back you will find several outbuildings such as a kitchen, huts, several warehouses, aviaries and old stables.
Nowadays this historical building houses an art museum that includes more than 2000 art pieces and books on art that subscribers can borrow on a regular basis. It’s a living art space that is also used as a training, information, gathering and exchange center for artists and their local public.
Right beside it is the Léon-Dierx museum, another art museum that houses certain artworks from Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Jean Renoir among others.
The Barachois is the northernmost neighborhood of Saint-Denis. It’s also the historic neighborhood of the capital. The plaza and the promenade that are located between the road and the coastline bear the same name. Its construction was started in 1819 and it was originally a dock that was destroyed during a cyclone. The debris of that dock formed what became the Barachois. Nowadays you will find a battery of cannons and a monument dedicated to Roland Garros, a hero from the First World War.
The cathedral of Saint-Denis
The Cathedral of the town of Saint-Denis is a magnificent building whose construction started in 1829 and ended in 1863 with the construction of its beautiful porch decorated with white columns and topped by a splendid sandstone carved pediment embellished with statues of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph, Saint John and the center of Saint Paul and Saint Peter at the ends. Inside you will not fail to notice the magnificent ceiling that adorns the nave of the building and the stained glass windows created by the master glassmaker Henri Martin-Granel. In front of the cathedral you will find a fountain which was installed in 1854 and which is registered as a historical monument as is the cathedral.
The garden of Cinderella
Another place in Saint-Denis that you must absolutely visit during your holidays in Réunion Island is the garden of Cinderella, one of the last authentic Creole gardens of the area that is spread over an area of 3000 square meters at the village of La Montagne. There, you will find a unique collection of tropical plants. This beautiful garden owes its name to an Indian flower, the Thunbergia Mysorensis, which lies in a horizontal position when it flowers and remotely resembles a slipper. The garden was created by the first florists of the island, Odette and Valère Roche in 1935 to supply their shops. Nowadays we can find more than 450 plant species such as Beaucarnea, Ylang-ylang, litchis, Cinammomum, Begonias, caladium, Strelitzia and other trees, shrubs, lianas, plants and flowers.
The Lazarets of Grande Chaloupe
Grande Chaloupe is situated between the communes of Saint-Denis and La Possession. It is a testimony of the British occupation and of the arrival of Indian indentured laborers in the 18th century.
This place is best known for the Lazarets, the infirmaries that were built by the British to house indentured laborers from India and elsewhere. These infirmaries were primarily used to hold laborers in quarantine after a long 30 day voyage by sea.
Nowadays, one of the buildings houses a permanent exhibition on the theme of indentured immigration.
The Natural History Museum and the State Gardens
The Natural History Museum of the city of Saint-Denis occupies the building that used to house the former Colonial Council and which was built in 1834. In 1855, the notables of the area decided to convert it into a natural museum.
Nowadays it houses more than 42000 items such as bird, fish, crustacean specimens, minerals, books, engravings, models of extinct animals, among others. It is a place that you must absolutely visit during your holidays in Réunion Island.
The State Gardens
All around the Natural History Museum you will find the State Gardens. They were created between 1767 and 1773 and were formerly known as the Jardin du Roy, the King’s garden. Plants that were newly introduced in Réunion Island were cultivated there before their distribution to the settlers. Famous botanists like Pierre Poivre and Joseph Hubert introduced plants and species there. Nowadays you can find more than 70 tree species in those gardens.
During your holidays in Réunion Island, there will be more places that you will have the opportunity to visit in the commune of Saint Denis, such as the Fock-Yee house, the Lisi Tong and Chane Chinese Temples, the Ponama House, the Repiquet house, etc…