Smallest Internationally-Divided Landmass

On August 5, 2008 · 3 Comments

According to the CIA World Fact Book, the island of Saint Martin is the world’s smallest landmass shared by two independent states. A 15 kilometer border separates France’s Saint Martin from the Netherlands Antilles’ Sint Maarten, an autonomous area of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The entire landmass covers only 87 square kilometers, or about half the size of Washington, DC. That’s a mighty small parcel of land to have an international border running across it.


International Boundary between St. Martin and Sint Maarten

Source of Image: CIA World Fact Book


So how did it get that way?

Once again, history and geography interlace with interesting results. Christopher Columbus spotted the island in 1493 during his second voyage to the New World. He named it after St. Marina of Tours, having seen it for the first time on November 11, St. Marina Day. He never set foot on the island and Spain soon focused its attention elsewhere in spite of Columbus’ initial territorial claim.

The Dutch wanted a stopping point between their colonies in North and South America. The French wished to control Caribbean islands in general. Both nations eyed St. Martin, with the Dutch established a settlement first, in 1631. Spain attacked and captured the Dutch settlement in 1633 as part of a much broader dispute – the Eighty Years’ War – which ended in 1648. With that larger conflict concluded, Spain no longer had a reason to hold onto St. Martin so they left.

France and the Dutch Republic used this as an opportunity to claim Saint Martin and both held firm. Soon they concluded that sharing territory was better than starting a war. They agreed to split the island in the Treaty of Concordia. Even with an agreement in place, they continued move the border and argue about it repeatedly until it was finally fixed in 1817.

The separate halves of Saint Martin have coexisted peacefully side-by-side every since.

On August 5, 2008 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Smallest Internationally-Divided Landmass”

  1. Joshua says:

    To be more specific, Saint Martin is the world’s smallest inhabited island. Märket Island, between the autonomous Finnish province of Åland (50%) and Sweden (50%) is the world’s smallest divided sea island.
    http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/2006/09/11/6-market-reef/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Märket

    Keep up the great work on the blog. I really love it!

  2. Joshua says:

    Wow, I’m returning for another comment on this post a year later! I just found on Facebook a friend of mine from university who grew up on Aruba. Now he’s working as a teacher in Sint Maarten (Dutch side)! He does go over to Saint Martin (French side) from time to time, he mentioned to me.

  3. Scott Lieberman says:

    I haven’t looked at all of your blog articles, so you might have covered this, but this is probably the world’s shortest international border

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pe%C3%B1%C3%B3n_de_V%C3%A9lez_de_la_Gomera

    There are a few other weird Spanish territories – for example – the exclave of Llivia that is contained by France, and a couple of microscopic islands that are owned by Spain but are within a half-mile of Morroco – see

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Spain-related_topics#Territory

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