LOIRET, a department of central France, made up of the three districts of the ancient province of Orleanais Orleanais proper, Gatinais and Dunois together with portions of those of lle-de-France and Berry. It is bounded N. by Seine-et-Oise, N.E. by Seine-et-Marne, E. by Yonne, S. by Nievre and Cher, S.W. and W. by Loir-et-Cher and N.W. by Eure-et-Loir. Area, 2629 sq. m. Pop. (1906) 364,999. The name is borrowed from the Loiret, a stream which issues from the ground some miles to the south of Orleans, and after a course of about 7 m. falls into the Loire; its large volume gives rise to the belief that it is a subterranean branch of that river. The Loire traverses the south of the department by a broad valley which, though frequently devastated by disastrous floods, is famed for its rich tilled lands, its castles, its towns and its vine-clad slopes. To the north of the Loire are the Gatinais (capital Montargis) and the Beauce; the former district is so named from its gdtines or wildernesses, of which saffron is, along with honey, the most noteworthy product; the Beauce (q.v.), a monotonous tract of corn-fields without either tree or river, has been called the granary of France. Between the Beauce and the Loire is the extensive forest of Orleans, which is slowly disappearing before the advances of agriculture. South of the Loire is the Sologne, long barren and unhealthy from the impermeability of its subsoil, but now much improved in both respects by means of pine plantation and draining and manuring operations. The highest point (on the borders of Cher) is 900 ft. above sea-level, and the lowest (on the borders of Seine-et-Marne) is 220 ft. The watershed on the plateau of Orleans between the basins of the Seine and Loire, which divide Loiret almost equally between them, is almost imperceptible. The lateral canal of the Loire from Roanne stops at Briare; from the latter town a canal (canal de Briare) connects with the Seine by the Loing valley, which is joined by the Orleans canal below Montargis. The only important tributary of the Loire within the department is the Loiret; the Loing, a tributary of the Seine, has a course of 40 m. from south to north, and is accompanied first by the Briare canal and afterwards by that of the Loing. The Essonne, another important affluent of the Seine, leaving Loiret below Malesherbes, takes its rise on the plateau of Orleans, as also does its tributary the Juine. The department has the climate of the Sequanian region, the mean temperature being a little above that of Paris; the rainfall varies from 18-5 to 27-5 in., according to the district, that of the exposed Beauce being lower than that of the well-wooded Sologne. Hailstorms cause much destruction in the Loire valley and the neighbouring regions.
The department is essentially agricultural in character. A large number of sheep, cattle, horses and pies are reared; poultry, especially geese, and bees are plentiful. The yield of wheat and oats is in excess of the consumption; rye, barley, meslin, potatoes, beetroot, colza and forage plants are also cultivated. Wine in abundance, but of inferior quality, 'is grown on the hills of the Loire valley. Buckwheat supports bees by its flowers, and poultry by its seeds. Saffron is another source of profit. The woods consist of oak, elm, birch and pine; fruit trees thrive in the department, and Orleans is a great centre of nursery gardens. The industries are brick and tile making, and the manufacture of faience, for which Gien is one of the most important centres in France. The Briare manufacture of porcelain buttons and pearls employs many workmen. Flour-mills are very numerous. There are iron and copper foundries, which, with agricultural implement making, bell-founding and the manufacture of pins, nails and files, represent the chief metal-working industries. The production of hosiery, wool-spinning and various forms of wool manufacture are also engaged in. A large quantity of the wine grown is made into vinegar (vinaigre d'Orleans). The tanneries produce excellent leather; and papermaking, sugar-refining, wax-bleaching and the manufacture of caoutchouc complete the list of industries. The four arrondissements are those of Orleans, Gien, Montargis and Pithiviers, with 31 cantons and 349 communes. The department forms part of the academic (educational division) of Paris.
Besides Orleans, the capital, the more noteworthy places, Gien, Montargis, Beaugency, Pithiviers, Briare and St Benoitsur-Loire, are separately noticed. Outside these towns notable examples of architecture are found in the churches of Clery (iSth century), of Ferrieres (13th and 14th centuries) of Puiseaux (12th and 13th centuries) and Meung (12th century). At Germigny-des-Pres there is a church built originally at the beginning of the 9th century and rebuilt in the igth century, on the old plan and to some extent with the old materials. Yevre-le-Chatel has an interesting chateau of the 13th century, and Sully -sur- Loire the fine medieval chateau rebuilt at the beginning of the 17th century by Maximilien de Bethune, duke of Sully, the famous minister of Henry IV. There are remains of a Gallo-Roman town (perhaps the ancient Vellaunodunum) at Trigueres and of a Roman amphitheatre near Montbouy.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)