The history of the area around Diego Suarez is intimately linked to its enormous bay; its strategic location on the Indian Ocean trade routes and the natural shelter it provides have been prized by generations of pirates, slave traders, merchants and navies.
The earliest evidence of human settlement in Madagascar was found here. The bay was frequently visited by East African and Arab traders, but it wasn’t until the 16th century that Portuguese explorers landed here. In 1885, France, which had gradually increased its presence on the big island, signed a treaty with Madagascar granting France the right to occupy the territories of Diego Suarez and Nosy Be, a precedent which eventually led to colonial occupation.
In 1942, during WWII, British forces seized Diego Suarez from the French, fearing that Vichy-supporting troops (who had capitulated to Hitler) might support the Japanese navy, allied to Germany. The area was handed back to the French at the end of the war in 1946. Madagascar finally obtained independence from France in 1960, but the French Foreign Legion retained a base in Diego until 1975.