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La Rochelle

LA ROCHELLE, a seaport of western France, capital of the department of Charente-Inferieure, 90 m. S. by E. of Nantes on the railway to Bordeaux. Pop. (1906) town 24,524, commune 33,858. La Rochelle is situated on the Atlantic coast on an inlet opening off the great bay in which lie the islands of Re and Oleron. Its fortifications, constructed by Vauban, have a circuit of 33 m. with seven gates. Towards the sea are three towers, of which the oldest (1384) is that of St Nicholas. The apartment in the first storey was formerly used as a chapel. The Chain Tower, built towards the end of the 14th century, is so called from the chain which guarded the harbour at this point; the entrance to the tidal basin was at one time spanned by a great pointed arch between the two towers. The lantern tower (1445-1476), seven storeys high, is surmounted by a lofty spire and was once used as a lighthouse. Of the ancient gateways only one has been preserved in its entirety, that of the " Grosse Horloge," a huge square tower of the 14th or 15th century, the corner turrets of which have been surmounted with trophies since 1746. The cathedral of La Rochelle (St Louis or St Bartholomew) is a heavy Grecian building (1742-1762) with a dome above the transept, erected on the site of the old church of St Bartholomew, destroyed in the 16th century and now represented by a solitary tower dating from the 14th century. Externally the town-house is in the Gothic style of the latter years of the 15th century and has the appearance of a fortress, though its severity is much relieved by the beautiful carving of the two entrances, of the machicolations and of the two belfries. The buildings looking into the inner court are in the Renaissance style (16th and early 17th centuries) and contain several fine apartments. In the old episcopal palace (which was in turn the residence of Sully, the prince of Conde, Louis XIII., and Anne of Austria, and the scene of the marriage of Alphonso VI. of Portugal with a princess of Savoy) accommodation has been provided for a library, a collection of records and a museum of art and antiquities. Other buildings of note are an arsenal with an artillery museum, a large hospital, a special Protestant hospital, a military hospital and a lunatic asylum for the department. In the botanical gardens there are museums of natural history. Medieval and Renaissance houses give a peculiar character to certain districts: several have French, Latin or Greek inscriptions of a moral or religious turn and in general of Protestant origin. Of these old houses the most interesting is one built in the midddle of the 16th century and wrongly known as that of Henry II. The parade-ground, which forms the principal public square, occupies the site of the castle demolished in 1 590. Some of the streets have side-arcades ; the public wells are fed from a large reservoir in the Champ de Mars; and among the promenades are the Cours des Dames with the statue of Admiral Duperre, and outside the Charruyer Park on the west front of the ramparts, and the Mail, a beautiful piece of greensward. In this direction are the sea-bathing establishments.

La Rochelle is the seat of a bishopric and a prefect, and has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a chamber of commerce and a branch of the Bank of France; its educational establishments include an ecclesiastical seminary, a lycee and a training college for girls. Ship-building, saw-milling and the manufacture of briquettes and chemicals, sardine and tunnypreserving and petroleum-refining are among the industries. The rearing of oysters and mussels and the exploitation of salt marshes is carried on in the vicinity.

The inlet of La Rochelle is protected by a stone mole constructed by Richelieu and visible at low tide. The harbour, one of the safest on the coast, is entered by a channel 2730 yds. long, LA ROCHE-SUR-YON LARRA and comprises an outer harbour opening on the one hand into a floating basin, on the other into a tidal basin with another floating basin adjoining it. Behind the tidal basin is the Maubec reservoir, the waters of which, along with those of the Marans canal, help to scour the port and navigable channel. Some 200 sailing ships are engaged in the fisheries, and the fish market of La Rochelle is the most important on the west coast. The harbour is, however, inaccessible to the largest vessels, for the accommodation of which the port of La Pallice, inaugurated in 1891, was created. Lying about 3 m. W.S.W. of La Rochelle, this port opens into the bay opposite the eastern extremity of the island of Re. It was artificially excavated and affords safe anchorage in all weathers. The outer port, protected by two jetties, has an area of 29 acres and a depth of 165 ft. below lowest tide-level. At the extremity of the breakwater is a wharf where ships may discharge without entering the basin. A lock connects with the inner basin, which has an area of 27 acres, with 5900 ft. of quayage, a minimum depth of 28 ft., and depths of 295 ft. and 36 ft. at high, neap and spring tides. Connected with the basin are two graving docks. La Pallice has regular communication with South America by the vessels of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company and by those of other companies with London, America, West Africa, Egypt and the Far East. The port has petroleum refineries and chemical manure works.

In 1906 there entered the port of La Rochelle, including the dock of La Pallice, 441 vessels with a tonnage of 629,038, and cleared 468 vessels with a tonnage of 664,861 (of which 235 of 241,146 tons cleared with ballast). These figures do not include vessels entering from, or clearing for, other ports in France. The imports (value, 1,276,000 in 1900 as compared with 1,578,000 in 1907) include coal and patent fuel, superphosphates, natural phosphates, nitrate of soda, pyrites, building-timber, wines and alcohol, pitch, dried codfish, petroleum, jute, woodpulp. Exports (value, 1,294,000 in 1900; 1,979,000 in 1907) include wine and brandy, fancy goods, woven goods, garments, skins, coal and briquettes, furniture, potatoes.

La Rochelle existed at the close of the 10th century under the name of Rupella. It belonged to the barony of Chatelaillon, which was annexed by the duke of Aquitaine and succeeded Chatelaillon as chief town in Aunis. In 1199 it received a communal charter from Eleanor, duchess of Guienne, and it was in its harbour that John Lackland ^disembarked when he came to try to recover the domains seized by Philip Augustus. Captured by Louis VIII. in 1224, it was restored to the English in 1360 by the treaty of Bretigny, but it shook off the yoke of the foreigner when Du Guesclin recovered Saintonge. During the 14th, 15th and l6th centuries La Rochelle, then an almost independent commune, was one of the great maritime cities of France. From its harbour in 1402 Jean de B<5thencourt set out for the conquest of the Canaries, and its seamen were the first to turn to account the discovery of the new world. The salttax provoked a rebellion at Rochelle which Francis I. repressed in person; in 1568 the town secured exemption by the payment of a large sum. At the Reformation La Rochelle early became one of the chief centres of Calvinism, and during the religious wars it armed privateers which preyed on Catholic vessels in the Channel and on the high seas. In 1571 a synod of the Protestant churches of France was held within its walls under the presidency of Beza for the purpose of drawing up a confession of faith. After the massacre of St Bartholomew, La Rochelle held out for six and a half months against the Catholic army, which was ultimately obliged to raise the siege after losing more than 20,000 men. The peace of the 24th of June 1573, signed by the people of La Rochelle in the name of all the Protestant party, granted the Calvinists full liberty of worship in several places of safety. Under Henry IV. the town remained quiet, but under Louis XIII. it put itself again at the head of the Huguenot party. Its vessels blockaded the mouth of the Gironde and stopped the commerce of Bordeaux, and also seized the islands of R6 and OleYon and several vessels of the royal fleet. Richelieu then resolved to subdue the town once for all. In spite of the assistance rendered by the English troops under Buckingham and in spite of the fierce energy of their mayor Guiton, the people of La Rochelle were obliged to capitulate after a year's siege (October 1628). During this investment Richelieu raised the celebrated mole which cut off the town from the open sea. La Rochelle then became the principal port for the trade between France and the colony of Canada. But the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) deprived it of some thousands of its most industrious inhabitants, and the loss of Canada by France completed for the time the ruin of its commerce. Its privateers, however, maintained a vigorous struggle with the English during the republic and the empire.

See P. Suzanne, La Rochelle pittoresque (La Rochelle, 1903), and E. Couneau, La Rochelle disparue (La Rochelle, 1904).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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