Orléans is a city and commune in north-central France, about 130 km (80 miles) southwest of Paris. It is the préfecture (capital) of the Loiret département and of the Centre région. Population (1999): 113,126.
Five bridges in the town cross the river :
To the south of the Loire (on the "rive gauche") is to be found a small hill (102m at the pont Georges-V, 110m at the place du Martroi) which gently rises to 125m at la Croix Fleury, at the limits of Fleury-les-Aubrais.
Conversely, the north (on the "rive droite") has a gentle depression to about 95 m above sea level (at Saint-Marceau) between the Loire and the Loiret, designated a "zone inondable" (flood-risk zone).
At the end of the 1960s the Orléans-la-Source quarter was created, 12km to the south of the original city and separated from it by the Val d'Orléans and the Loiret River (whose source is in the Parc floral de La Source). This quarter's altitude varues from about 100 to 110m.
Orléans is an autoroute intersection : the A10 (linking Paris to Bordeaux) links to the city outskirts, and A71 (whose bridge over the Loire is outside the city limits) begins here, heading for the Mediterranean via Clermont-Ferrand (where it becomes the A75).
In Orléans, the Loire is separated by a submerged dike known as the dhuis into the Grande Loire to the north, no longer navigable, and the Petite Loire to the south. This dike is just one part of a vast system of construction that previously allowed the Loire to remain navigable.
The Loire was formerly an important navigation and trading route, but now large ships can only navigate the estuary up to about Nantes.
Boats on the river were traditionally flat-bottomed boats, with large but foldable masts to gather wind from above the river banks but also to allow them to pass under bridges - they are known as gabarre, futreau, and so on, still on view for tourists near pont Royal.
The river's irregular flow strongly limits traffic on it, in particular at its ascent, though this can be overcome by boats being given a tow.
An "Inexplosible"-type paddle steamer owned by the mairie was put in place in August 2007, facing place de la Loire and containing a bar.
Every two years, the Festival de Loire recalls the role played by the river in the city's history.
Joined to it, on the river's north bank near the town centre, is the canal d'Orléans, which rejoins the river at Montargis but is no longer used along its whole length. Its route within Orléans runs parallel to the river, separated from it by a wall or muret, with a promenade along the top. Its last pound was transformed into an outdoor swimming pool in the 1960s, then filled in. It was reopened in 2007 for the "fêtes de Loire", with the intention of reviving it and installing a pleasure-boat port there.
Accompanying the Vandals, the Alans crossed the Loire in 408. One of their groups, under Goar, joined the Roman forces of Flavius Aetius to fight Attila when he invaded Gaul in 451, taking part in the Battle of Chalons under their king Sangiban. Installed in Orléans and along the Loire, they were unruly (killing the town's senators when they felt they had been paid too slowly or too little) and resented by the local inhabitants. 10000000000000s around the present city have names bearing witness to the Alan presence - Allaines, Allainville, etc.
The city was always a strategic point on the Loire, for it was sited at the river's most northerly point, and thus its closest point to Paris. There were few bridges over the dangerous river Loire, and Orléans had one of them, and so became - with Rouen and Paris - one of medieval France's three richest cities.
On the south bank the "châtelet des Tourelles" protected access to the bridge. This was the site of the battle on 8 May 1429 which allowed Joan of Arc to enter and liberate the city, with the help of the royal generals Dunois and Florent d'Illiers. The city's inhabitants have continued to remain faithful and grateful to her to this day, calling her "la pucelle d'Orléans" (the maid of Orléans), offering her a middle-class house in the city, and contributing to her ransom when she was taken prisoner (though this ransom was sequestred by Charles VII and Joan was never released).
The University of Orléans also contributed to the city's prestige. Specializing in law, it was highly regarded throughout Europe. John Calvin was received and accommodated there (during which time he wrote part of his reforming theses) and in return Henry VIII of England (who had drawn on Calvin's work in his separation from Rome) offered to fund a scholarship at the University. Many other Protestants were sheltered by the city. Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known by his pseudonym Molière, also studied law at the University, but was expelled for attending a carnival contrary to University rules.
From 13 December 1560 to 31 January 1561, the French States-General met here. This was just after the death of Francis II of France, the eldest son of Catherine de Médicis and Henry II, on 5 December 1560 in the Hôtel Groslot in Orléans, with his queen Mary at his side.
The cathedral was rebuilt several times. The present structure had its first stone laid by Henry IV, and work on it took a century. It thus is a mix of late Renaissance and early Louis XIV styles, and one of the last cathedrals to be built in France.
The Dukes of Orléans hardly ever visited their city since, as brothers or cousins of the king, they took such a major role in court life that they could hardly ever leave. Officially their castle was that at Blois. The duchy of Orléans was the largest of the French duchies, starting at Arpajon, continuing to Chartres, Vendôme, Blois, Vierzon, and Montargis. The duke's son bore the title duke of Chartres. Inheritances from great families and marriage alliances allowed them to accumulate huge wealth, and one of them - Philippe Égalité is sometimes said to have been the richest man in the world at the time. His son, Louis-Philippe I, inherited the Penthièvre and Condé family fortunes.
1852 saw the creation of the "Compagnies ferroviaires Paris-Orléans" and its famous gare d'Orsay in Paris. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the city again became strategically important thanks to its geographical position, and was occupied by the Prussians on 13 October that year. The armée de la Loire was formed under the orders of général d'Aurelle de Paladines and based itself not far from Orléans at Beauce.
The big city of former time is today an average-sized city of 250000 inhabitants. It is still using its strategically central position less than an hour from the French capital in attracting businesses interested in reducing transport costs.
According to Victor Adolphe Malte-Brun in La France Illustrée, 1882, Orléans's arms are "gules, with three caillous in cœurs de lys of argent, two and one, at the top azure, charged with three fleur de lys or. Charle Grandmaison, in the Dictionnaire Héraldique of 1861, states that it is "Or, with three hearts in gules", without the azure top. Sometimes, in faulty designs, we find it described "gules, with three fleurs de lys of argent, azure at the top charged with three fleurs de lys, or.
It is to be noted that the design shown left shows three "cœurs de lys" (heart of a lily), seen from above. This "cœurs de lys" is therefore not a true lily, which would have 6 tepals, but a hypothetical aerial view of a symbolic lily. It has probably also been stylised more and more in heraldry, as in the heart in a pack of cards. Certain authors solve the problem by calling this symbol a "tiercefeuille", defined as a stemless clover leaf, with one leaf at the top and two below, thus making this coat of arms "gules, with three reversed tiercefeuilles in argent, etc".