La Rochelle

La Rochelle

French commune
nomcommune=La Rochelle

département=Charente-Maritime | arrondissement=La Rochelle
canton=Chief town of 9 cantons
maire=Maxime Bono
de La Rochelle

longitude= -1.151389
latitude= 46.059444
alt moy=4 m
alt mini=0
alt maxi=28 m
sans= 201,655

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.



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.


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.



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. [Source: La Rochelle touristic board at the "Pointe du Chay"]

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.


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.



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.


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

Guy-Victor Duperré (1775-1846).]

* Aimé Bonpland (1773-1858), botanist.
* Alexandre Aufrédy (11??-1220).
* Amos Barbot de Buzay (1566-1625), magistrate, deputy, historian, writer of "Archives historiques de la Saintonge et de l'Aunis de 1199 à en 1575", Pair de France.
* Antoine Albeau (born in 1972), windsurfing French champion, freestyle world champion in 2001, and Formula Windsurfing world champion in 2004.
* Arthur Verdier (1835-1898), captain.
* Bernard Giraudeau (born in 1947), actor, movie and play director.
* Charles Édouard Beltremieux (1825 - 1897), politician, naturalist, and mayor.
* Damien Touya (born in 1975), fencer who won a gold medal of the Athens 2004 Olympic games, and fencing world champion in 1999.
* Eugène Fromentin (1820-1876), writer-painter.
* Fabrice Neaud (born in 1968), artist, cartoonist.
* François Tallemant (1620-1693), membre of the Académie française.
* Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve (1695-1755), a 18th century French writer.
* Gédéon Tallemant des Réaux (1619-1692), a 17th century French writer.
* Georges Rignoux.
* Guy Laroche (1923-1989), fashion designer.
* Guy-Victor Duperré (1775-1846), admiral, Pair de France, burrier in the Invalides. His name is listed on the inside walls of the Arc de Triomphe.
* Jacques Grollet, explorer of the Mississippi.
* Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne (1756-1819), politician and revolutionary.
* Jean Chaudrier (1323-1392), mayor.
* Jean Duvignaud (1921-2007), French writer.
* Jean Guiton (1585-1654), mayor during the Siege of La Rochelle.
* Jean-Louis Foulquier (born in 1943), actor.
* Jean-Loup Chrétien (born in 1938), the first non-American/non-Soviet cosmonaut to walk in space.
* Jean-Baptiste Élissalde (born in 1977), son of Jean-Pierre Élissalde, rugby unionman, playing as a scrumhalf in the Stade Toulousain and in the French XV
* Jean-Pierre Élissalde (born in 1953), former rugby unionman, French international, former coach of the Japanese national rugby team
* Jean-Pierre Favreau, photographer.
* John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744), physician, mathematician, Isaac Newton's friend and assistant, member of the Royal Society.
* Léon Robert de L'Astran (1767-1861), naturalist and scientist.
* Louis Gargoulleau, captain and mayor.
* Marie Madeleine Sophie Armant (1778-1819).
* Marie-Joseph Camille Doré, captain of the "Plongeur" in 1863-1864.
* Melissa Lauren, porn star.
* Nicolas Gargot de La Rochette (1619-1664), captain, corsair, governor of Placentia.
* Paul Ramadier (1888-1961), politician and member of the French Resistance.
* Pierre Doriole (1407-1485), mayor and Chancelier de France.
* René Dorin (1891-1969), French singer.
* René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur (1683-1757), one of the great scientists of the 18th century.
* William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), 19th century painter.
* Winshluss (born in 1970), artist, cartoonist.
* Yohan Ploquin (born in 1978), goalkeeper of the French Handball team.

Famous people who lived in La Rochelle

*Saint Louis de Montfort
*Blessed Marie Louise Trichet
*Alcide d'Orbigny, 18th century botanist.
*Oscar Dahl, uncle of author Roald Dahl, who owned a fishing business
*Fanny Violeau, freestyle roller slalom skater.
*Colette Besson, former sprinter and Olympic gold medal winner
*David McGowan, scottish midfielder and plays for cyde fc


* Atlantique Stade Rochelais - rugby union team


See also


External links

* [ City council website]
* [ La Rochelle News]
* [ Visiting La Rochelle] (English with PDF map and photos)
* [ Webpage about the fortifications]
* [ Focus on La Rochelle]
* [ Chinese researchers and students in La Rochelle]
* [ Ile d'oleron] (near of La Rochelle)
* [ Photos of La Rochelle] Discovering La Rochelle with pictures...

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