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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Devil’s Island


Devil’s Island

Coordinates: 5 16 N 52 34 W

Area: 34.6 acres (14 hectares)

Today, urban dwellers may yearn for the occasional retreat to a tropical paradise, but for about a century there were plenty of people who longed to escape from just such a place. Between 1852 and about 1953 this Atlantic island off the coast of French Guiana served as a penal colony intended for prisoners suffering from contagious diseases—leprosy in particular. The rocky shores of Devil’s Island later welcomed individuals convicted of political crimes, including Alfred Dreyfus, a French army officer charged with giving military secrets to the Germans in 1894. Since 1953 however, the smallest landmass in the Sault Islands has slowly evolved into an attraction for thousands of tourists who travel the short distance from Cayenne, French Guiana’s capital city, to the former penitentiary.


Ben Keene is the editor of Oxford Atlas of the World. Check out some of his previous places of the week.

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