LOIRE-INFERIEURE, a maritime department of western France, made up in 1790 of a portion of Brittany on the right and of the district of Retz on the left of the Loire, and bounded W. by the ocean, N. by Morbihan and Ille-et-Vilaine, E. by Maine-et-Loire and S. by Vendee. Pop. (1906) 666,748. Area 2694 sq. m. The surface is very flat, and the highest point, in the north on the borders of Ille-et-Vilaine, reaches only 377 ft. The line of hillocks skirting the right bank of the Loire, and known as the sillon de Brelagne, scarcely exceeds 250 ft.; below Savenay they recede from the river, and meadows give place to peat bogs. North of St Nazaire and Grande Briere, measuring 9 m. by 6, and rising hardly 10 ft. above the sea-level, still supplies old trees which can be used for joiners' work. A few scattered villages occur on the more elevated spots, but communication is effected chiefly by the canals which intersect it. The district south of the Loire lies equally low; its most salient feature is the lake of Grandlieu, covering 27 sq. m., and surrounded by low and marshy ground, but so shallow (6j ft. at most) that drainage would be comparatively easy. The Loire (q.v.) has a course of 70 m. within the department. On the left bank a canal stretches for 9 m. between Pellerin, where the dikes which protect the Loire valley from inundation terminate, and Paimbceuf, and vessels drawing 17 or 18 ft. can reach Nantes. The principal towns on the river within the department are Ancenis, Nantes and St Nazaire (one of the most important commercial ports of France) on the right, and Paimbreuf on the left. The chief affluents are, on the right the Erdre and on the left the Sevre, both debouching at Nantes. The Erdre in its lower course broadens in places into lakes which give it the appearance of a large river. Four miles below Nort it coalesces with the canal from Nantes to Brest. The Sevre is hemmed in by picturesque hills; at the point where it enters the department it flows past the beautiful town of Clisson with its imposing castle of the 13th century. Apart from the Loire, the only navigable channel of importance within the department is the Nantes and Brest canal, fed by the Isac, a tributary of the Vilaine, which separates Loire-Inferieure from Ille-et-Vilaine and Morbihan. The climate is humid, mild and equable. At Nantes the mean annual temperature is 54-7 Fahr., and there are one hundred and twenty-two rainy days, the annual rainfall being 25-6 in.
Horse and cattle raising prospers, being carried on chiefly in the west of the department and in the Loire valley. Good butter and cheese are produced. Poultry also is reared, and there is a good deal of bee-keeping. Wheat, oats, buckwheat and potatoes are produced in great abundance; leguminous plants are also largely cultivated, especially near Nantes. Wine, cider and forage crops are the chief remaining agricultural products. The woods are of oak in the interior and pine on the coast. The department has deposits of tin, lead and iron. N.W. of Ancenis coal is obtained from a bed which is a prolongation of that of Anjou. The salt marshes, about 6000 acres in all, occur for the most part between the mouth of the Vilaine and the Loire, and on the Bay of Bourgneuf, and saltrefining, of which Guerande is the centre, is an important industry. The granite of the sea-coast and of the Loire up to Nantes is quarried for large blocks. Steam-engines are built for the government at Indret, a few miles below Nantes; the forges of Basse-Indre are in good repute for the quality of their iron; and the production of the lead-smelting works at Coueron amounts to several millions of francs annually. There are also considerable foundries at Nantes, Chantenay, close to Nantes, and St Nazaire, and shipbuilding yards at Nantes and St Nazaire. Among other industries may be mentioned the preparation of pickles and preserved meats at Nantes, the curing of sardines at Le Croisic and in the neighbouring communes, the manufacture of sugar, brushes, tobacco, macaroni and similar foods, soap and chemicals at Nantes, and of paper, sugar and soap at Chantenay. Fishing is prosecuted along the entire coast, particularly at Le Croisic. Among the seaside resorts Le Croisic, Pornichet and Pornic, where there are megalithic monuments, may be mentioned. The department is traversed by the railways of the state, the Orleans company and the Western company. The department is divided into five arrondissements -Nantes, Ancenis, Chateaubriant, Paimbceuf and St Nazaire 45 cantons and 219 communes. It has its appeal court at Rennes, which is also the centre of the academic (educational division) to which it belongs.
The principal places are Nantes, the capital, St Nazaire and Chateaubriant, which receive separate treatment. On the west coast the town of Batz, and the neighbouring villages, situated on the peninsula of Batz, are inhabited by a small community possessed of a distinct costume and dialect, and claiming descent from a Saxon or Scandinavian stock. Its members are employed for the most part in the salt marshes N.E. of the town. Guerande has well-preserved ramparts and gates of the 15th century, a church dating from the 12th to the 16th centuries, and other old buildings. At St Philbert-de-Grandlieu there is a church, rebuilt in the 16th and 17th centuries, but preserving remains of a previous edifice belonging at least to the beginning of the 11th century.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)