La Rochelle

France

La Rochelle is a city on the central west coast of France and a seaport on the Bay of Biscay, a part of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the capital of the Charente-Maritime department. With 75,735 inhabitants in 2017, La Rochelle is the most populated commune in the department and ranks fifth in the New Aquitaine region after Bordeaux, the regional capital, Limoges, Poitiers and Pau. Its inhabitants are called “les Rochelaises” and “les Rochelais”.

CountryFrance
RegionNouvelle-Aquitaine
DepartmentCharente-Maritime
Government
 Mayor (2020–2026)Jean-François Fountaine
Area128.43 km2 (10.98 sq mi)
Population (2017-01-01)75,735
 Density2,700/km2 (6,900/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+01:00 (CET)
 Summer (DST)UTC+02:00 (CEST)

Situated on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean the city is connected to the Île de Ré by a 2.9-kilometre (1.8-mile) bridge completed on 19 May 1988. Its harbour opens into a protected strait, the Pertuis d’Antioche since the Middle-Ages.

To this day city still possesses a rich historical, including its Saint-Nicholas tower, and urban heritage. The capital of Aunis has become the most important coastal city between the Loire and Gironde estuaries. Its urban activities are multiple and strongly differentiated. A city with port and industrial functions that are still important, it has a predominantly administrative and tertiary sector that is reinforced by its university and a rapidly developing tourism industry. 

History

Antiquity

The area of La Rochelle was occupied in antiquity by the Gallic tribe of the Santones, who gave their name to the nearby region of Saintonge and the city of Saintes.

The Romans subsequently occupied the area, where they developed salt production along the coast as well as wine production, which was then re-exported throughout the Empire.

Foundation

The name was first recorded in 961 as Rupella, from a Latin diminutive meaning ‘little rock’, and was later known as Rocella and Roscella before the name took on its current form. The establishment of La Rochelle as a harbour was a consequence of the victory of Duke Guillaume X of Aquitaine over Isambert de Châtelaillon in 1130 and the subsequent destruction of his harbour of Châtelaillon.

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, factors which would favour the development of the entrepreneurial middle-class (bourgeoisie).

Plantagenet rule (1154–1224)

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 Alexandre Auffredi sent a fleet of seven ships to Africa seeking wealth. He went bankrupt awaiting the return of his ships; they returned seven years later bearing riches.

Knights Templar

La Rochelle was the Templars’ largest base on the Atlantic Ocean, and where they stationed their main fleet. A popular thread of conspiracy theory originating with Holy Blood, Holy Grail has it that the Templars used a fleet of 18 ships which had brought Jacques de Molay from Cyprus to La Rochelle to escape arrest in France. The fleet allegedly left laden with knights and treasures just before the issue of the warrant for the arrest of the Order in October 1307.

Geography

Geology

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. Many of these layers are visible in the white cliffs that border the sea, which contain many small marine fossils.

Layers of thick white rock, formed during period of relatively warm seas, alternate with highly fragile layers containing sand and remains of mud, formed during colder periods, and with layers containing various corals, that were formed during warmer, tropical times. The limestone thus formed is traditionally used as the main building material throughout the region.

The area of La Pointe du Chay about 5 km (3 mi) from La Rochelle is a cliff area visited for leisurely geological surveys.

Today

La Rochelle possesses a commercial deep water harbour, named La Pallice. The large submarine pens built during World War II still stand there, although they are not in use. La Pallice is equipped with oil unloading equipment, and mainly handles tropical wood. It is also the location of the fishing fleet.

La Rochelle has a very big aquarium, and a small botanical garden (the Jardin des plantes de 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. The French Socialist Party has held its annual summer convention (Université d’été) in La Rochelle since 1983.

La Rochelle is the setting for the best-selling series of French language textbooks in the UK, titled Tricolore. The central character, Martine Dhome, lives with her family at the fictional address of 12, rue de la République.

Tourism

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. Three medieval towers are a prominent tourist attraction at the entrance to the harbor: The Chain Tower, The Lantern Tower and Saint Nicolas Tower. From the harbour, boating trips can be taken to the Île d’Aix and Fort Boyard (home to the TV show of the same name).

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, crisscrossed with tiny canals and a resort for inland boating. Inland is the country of Cognac and Pineau.

Transport

La Rochelle and its region are served by the international La Rochelle – Île de Ré Airport. The train station Gare de La Rochelle offers connections to Bordeaux, Nantes, Poitiers, Paris and several regional destinations.

OFP La Rochelle is a freight railway serving the port.

La Rochelle launched one of the first successful bicycle sharing systems in 1974.

Education

The city has more than 10,000 students each year. The University of La Rochelle was established in 1993. Together with the Excelia Group (La Rochelle Business School), they are the largest institutions of higher education of La Rochelle (7,000 and 3,500 students respectively).

Landmarks

The Tour de la Lanterne in La Rochelle, fully under scaffolding.

  • Orbigny-Bernon Museum
  • Muséum d’histoire naturelle de La Rochelle
  • Saint-Louis Cathedral

Sport

Stade Rochelais are a professional rugby union team in the Top 14 league. They play their home matches at Stade Marcel-Deflandre.

Since 1991 the city has annually hosted the Marathon de La Rochelle, the second most popular marathon of France and an international-level race which featured 10,000 participants in 2010.

Contact

Town Hall
email
mairie@ville-larochelle.fr
address
3 Place de l'Hotel de Ville 17000 LA ROCHELLE
phone
05 46 51 51 51