La Rochelle

La Rochelle

[la raw-shel]
Rochelle, La, city (1990 pop. 73,744), capital of Charente-Maritime dept., W France, on the Bay of Biscay. Industries include naval, aircraft, and automobile construction. La Rochelle is the principal French fishing port on the Atlantic coast. Chartered in the 12th cent., it soon became one of the chief seaports of France. It was a Huguenot stronghold during the Wars of Religion and successfully resisted Catholic besiegers for half a year (1572-73). However, when Cardinal Richelieu resolved to crush the Huguenots, La Rochelle fell after a siege of 14 months (1627-28). Louis XIV had the port refortified by Vauban; his revocation (1685) of the Edict of Nantes resulted in the foundation of New Rochelle, N.Y., by Protestant refugees. La Rochelle prospered again as it became the chief center of trade with Canada, but it suffered from the loss of Canada by France and from the Continental System under Napoleon. Although its fisheries, canneries, and shipyards still make it a busy port, La Rochelle never recovered its former importance. The principal harbor is now at La Pallice, some 3 mi (5 km) distant. The picturesque old fishing port in the heart of the city, the Renaissance town hall, and other old buildings make the city a favorite tourist center.

La Rochelle is a city in western France, and a seaport on the Bay of Biscay, a part of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the capital of the Charente-Maritime department.

The city is connected to the Île de Ré by a 2.9 km bridge, completed in 1988. Its harbour opens into a protected strait, the Pertuis d'Antioche.

History

Antiquity

The area of La Rochelle was occupied in antiquity by the Gaul tribe of the Santones, who gave their name to the nearby region of Saintonge and the city of Saintes. The Romans then occupied the area, where they developed salt production along the coast as well as wine production, which was then reexported throughout the Empire. Roman villas were found at Saint-Éloi and at Les Minimes, as well as salt evaporation ponds dating to the same period.

Foundation

La Rochelle was founded during the 10th century, and became an important harbour from the 12th century. In 1137, Guillaume X, Duke of Aquitaine essentially made La Rochelle a free port and gave it the right to establish itself as a commune. Fifty years later Eleanor of Aquitaine upheld the communal charter promulgated by her father, and for the first time in France, a city mayor was named for La Rochelle, Guillaume de Montmirail. Guillaume was assisted in his responsibilities by 24 municipal magistrates, and 75 notables who had jurisdiction over the inhabitants. Under the communal charter, the city obtained many privileges, such as the right to mint its own coins, and to operate some businesses free of royal taxes, dispositions which would favour the development of the entrepreuneurial middle-class (bourgeoisie).

The main activities of the city were in the areas of maritime commerce and trade, especially with England, the Netherlands and Spain. In 1196, wealthy bourgeois named Alexandre Auffredi sent a fleet of seven ships to Africa to tap the riches of the continent. He went bankrupt and went into poverty as he waited for the return of his ships, but they finally returned seven years later filled with riches.

Until the 15th century, La Rochelle was to be the largest French harbour on the Atlantic coast, dealing mainly in wine, salt and cheese.

Hundred Years War

The naval Battle of La Rochelle took place on 22 June 1372 during the Hundred Years War between a Castilian-French and an English fleet. The Spanish had 60 ships and the English 40. They also had more knights and men than the English. The French and Castilians decisively defeated the English, securing French control of the Channel for the first time since the Battle of Sluys in 1340.

Sieges of La Rochelle

During the Renaissance, La Rochelle adopted Protestant ideas, and from 1568 became a centre for the Huguenots. The city was besieged during the French Wars of Religion: Siege of La Rochelle (1572-1573). Under Henry IV the city enjoyed a certain freedom and prosperity until the 1620s, but the city entered in conflict with the central authority of the King Louis XIII, when cannon shots were exchanged on September 10 1627 with Royal troops. This resulted in the Siege of La Rochelle in which Cardinal Richelieu blockaded the city for 14 months, until the city surrendered and lost its mayor and its privileges. The growing persecution of the Huguenots culminated with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV. Many Huguenots emigrated, founding such cities as New Rochelle in the vicinity of today's New York in 1689. La Rochelle, and the siege of 1627 form much of the backdrop of the later chapters of Alexandre Dumas, père's classic novel, The Three Musketeers

La Rochelle and the New World

The following period was a prosperous one, marked by intense exchanges with the New World (Nouvelle France in Canada, and the Antilles). La Rochelle became very active in triangular trade with the New World, dealing in the slave trade with Africa, sugar trade with plantations of the Antilles, and fur trade with Canada. This was a period of high artistic, cultural and architectural achievements for the city.

The city eventually lost its trade and prominence during the decades spanning the Seven Years' War, the French revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. During that period France lost many of the territorial possessions it had in the new World, and also saw a strong decrease in its sea power in the continuing conflicts with Britain, ultimately diminishing the role of such harbours as La Rochelle.

19th century

In 1864, the harbour of La Rochelle (area of the "Bassin à flot" behind the water locks), was the site for the maiden dive experiments of the first mechanically-powered submarine in the World, Plongeur, commanded by Marie-Joseph-Camille Doré, a native of La Rochelle.

Second World War

During the Second World War, Germany established a submarine naval base at La Pallice (the main port of La Rochelle), which became the setting for the movie Das Boot. The U-Boat scenes in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark were also shot in La Rochelle.

A German stronghold, La Rochelle was the last French city to be freed at the end of the War. A siege took place between September 12, 1944, and May 7, 1945, in which the stronghold, including the islands of and Oléron, was held by 20,000 German troops under a German vice-admiral Ernst Schirlitz. Following negotiations by the French Navy frigate captain Meyer, and the general German capitulation on May 7th, French troops entered La Rochelle on May 8th.

Geography

Geology

The bedrock of La Rochelle and surrounding areas is composed of layers of limestone dating back to the Sequanian stage (upper Oxfordian stage) of the Jurassic period (circa 160 million years ago), when a large part of France was submerged. These rocks were formed by the accumulation of organisms falling on the seabed, where they solidified. This happened at the time dinosaurs were roaming the earth.

Many of these layers are visible in the white cliffs that border the sea, which encapsulate many small marine fossils. Layers of thick white rocks, formed during period of relatively warm seas, alternate with highly friable layers containing sands and remains of mud, formed during colder periods, and with layers containing various corals, that were formed during warmer, tropical times.

The limestone thus formed is traditionally used as the main building material throughout the region.

The area of La Pointe du Chay, about 5 kilometers from La Rochelle is a popular cliff area for leisurely archaeological surveys.

Climate

Although at the same latitude as Montreal in Canada or the Kuril islands in Russia, the area is quite warm throughout the year due to the influence of the Gulf Stream waters, and insolation is remarkably high, on a par with the French Riviera on the Mediterranean Southern coast of France.

Weather averages for La Rochelle, France
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Avg low (°C) 3.4 4.0 5.4 7.4 10.7 13.7 15.8 15.7 13.7 10.5 6.3 3.9 9.2
Avg high (°C) 8.5 9.9 12.1 14.7 17.9 21.3 23.8 23.5 21.8 18.0 12.6 9.2 16.1
Average (°C) 5.9 6.9 8.7 11.1 14.3 17.5 19.8 19.6 17.8 14.2 9.4 6.6 12.7
Insolation (h) 84 111 174 212 239 272 305 277 218 167 107 85 2250
Precipitation (mm) 82.5 66.1 57.0 52.7 61.1 42.9 35.1 46.4 56.5 81.6 91.8 81.8 755.3

Demographics

La Rochelle population by year
1821 1831 1836 1841 1846 1851 1856 1861
12,327 14,629 14,857 16,720 17,465 16,507 16,175 18,904
1866 1872 1876 1881 1886 1891 1896 1901
18,710 19,506 19,583 22,464 23,829 26,808 28,376 31,559
1906 1911 1921 1926 1931 1936 1945 1954
33,858 36,371 39,770 41,521 45,043 47,737 48,923 58,799
1962 1968 1975 1982 1990 1999 2004
66,590 73,347 75,367 75,840 76,094 76,584 78,000

Today

The city has beautifully maintained its past architecture, making it one of the most picturesque and historically rich cities on the Atlantic coast. This helped develop a strong tourism industry.

La Rochelle possesses a commercial harbour in deep water, named La Pallice. The large submarine bunker built during World War II still stands there, although it is not being used. La Pallice is equipped with oil unloading equipment, and mainly handles tropical wood. It is also the location of the fishing fleet, which was moved from the old harbour at the center of the city during the 1980s.

La Rochelle also maintains strong links with the sea by harbouring the largest marina for pleasure boats in Europe at Les Minimes, and a rather rich boat-building industry.

La Rochelle has a very big aquarium.

The Calypso, the ship used by Jacques-Yves Cousteau as a mobile laboratory for oceanography, and which was sunk after a collision in the port of Singapore (1996) is now displayed (sadly rotting) at the Maritime Museum of La Rochelle.

One of the biggest music festivals in France, "FrancoFolies," takes place each summer in La Rochelle, where Francophone musicians come together for a week of concerts and celebration. 2004 marked the 20th anniversary of this event.

La Rochelle is the setting for the best-selling series of French language textbooks in the UK, titled Tricolore. The central character, Martine Domme, lives with her family at the fictional address of 12, Rue de la République.

Tourism

La Rochelle's main feature is the "Vieux Port" ("Old Harbour"), which is at the heart of the city, picturesque and lined with seafood restaurants. The city walls are open to an evening promenade. The old town has been well-preserved. From the harbour, boating trips can be taken to the Île d'Aix and Fort Boyard (home to the internationally famous tv show of the same name). Nearby Île de Ré is a short drive to the North. The countryside of the surrounding Charente-Maritime is very rural and full of history (Saintes). To the North is Venise Verte, a marshy area of country, criss-crossed with tiny canals and a popular resort for inland boating. Inland is the country of Cognac and Pineau.

Famous people born in La Rochelle

Famous people who lived in La Rochelle

Sport

Notes

See also

Gallery

External links

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