Basseterre, The Capital
The Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis , located in the Leeward Islands, is a federal two-island state in the West Indies. It is the smallest sovereign state in the Americas, in both area and population.
The capital city and headquarters of government for the federated state is Basseterre on the larger island of Saint Kitts. The smaller island of Nevis lies about 2 miles (3 km) southeast of Saint Kitts, across a shallow channel called "The Narrows".
Historically, the British dependency of Anguilla was also a part of this union, which was then known collectively as Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla. Saint Kitts and Nevis are geographically part of the Leeward Islands. To the north-northwest lie the islands of Sint Eustatius, Saba, Saint Barthélemy, Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten and Anguilla. To the east and northeast are Antigua and Barbuda, and to the southeast is the small uninhabited island of Redonda, and the island of Montserrat, which currently has an active volcano (see Soufrière Hills).
Saint Kitts and Nevis were among the first islands in the Caribbean to be settled by Europeans. Saint Kitts was home to the first English and French colonies in the Caribbean, and thus has also been titled "The Mother Colony of the West Indies".
Saint Kitts was named "Liamuiga" by the Kalinago Indians who inhabited the island. This name, roughly translated, in English means "fertile land," a testimony to the island's rich volcanic soil and high productivity .
Nevis's pre-Columbian name was "Oualie," which translates to "land of beautiful waters," presumably referring to the island's many freshwater springs and hot volcanic springs.
Christopher Columbus, upon sighting what we now call Nevis in 1498, gave that island the name San Martin (Saint Martin). However, the confusion of numerous, poorly charted small islands in the Leeward Island chain, meant that the name ended up being accidentally transferred to another island, the one which we now know as the French/Dutch island Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten.
The current name "Nevis" is derived from a Spanish name Nuestra Señora de las Nieves (The original name was the archaic Spanish "Noestra Siñora delas Neves"), by a process of abbreviation and anglicization. This Spanish name means Our Lady of the Snows. It is not known who chose this name for the island, but it is a reference to the story of a fourth-century Catholic miracle: a snowfall on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. Presumably the white clouds which usually wreathe the top of Nevis Peak reminded someone of the story of a miraculous snowfall in a hot climate. The island of Nevis, upon first British settlement was referred to as "Dulcina," a name meaning "sweet one." Its original Spanish name, "Nuestra Señora de las Nieves," was eventually kept however, though it was soon shortened to "Nevis."
There is some disagreement over the name which Columbus gave to St. Kitts. For many years it was thought that he named the island San Cristobal, after his patron saint Saint Christopher, the saint of travelling. However, new studies suggest that Columbus named the island Sant Yago (Saint James). The name "San Cristobal" was apparently given by Columbus to the island now known as Saba, 20 miles northwest. It seems that "San Cristobal" came to be applied to the island of St. Kitts only as the result of a mapping error. No matter the origin of the name, the island was well documented as "San Cristobal" by the 17th century. The first English colonists kept the English translation of this name, and dubbed it "St. Christopher's Island." In the 17th century Kit, or Kitt, was a common nickname for the name Christopher, and so the island was often informally referred to as "Saint Kitt's island," which was further shortened to "Saint Kitts."
Today, the Constitution refers to the state as both "Saint Kitts and Nevis" and "Saint Christopher and Nevis," but the former is the one most commonly used.