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La Rochelle (Municipality, Charente-Maritime, France)

Last modified: 2024-01-06 by olivier touzeau
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Flag of La Rochelle - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 27 February 2022

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Presentation of La Rochelle

The municipality of La Rochelle (75,736 inhabitants in 2016; 2,643 ha) is located on the Atlantic Ocean, 150 km south of Nantes and 190 km north of Bordeaux.

La Rochelle was established in the 9th century on a rock (ruppela) emerging from the coastal marshes. Like the neighboring villages, La Rochelle depended of the powerful Barons of Châtelaillon. In the late 12th century, they challenged the power exerted by their suzerain, the Duke of Poitou, who seized the castle of Châtelaillon and transferred the seat of the domain to La Rochelle. The Mauléon lineage, fist lords of La Rochelle, offered the domain in 1199 to their suzerain, Eleanor of Aquitaine. La Rochelle was then an English possession following the marriage of Eleanor with Henry Plantagenet in 1154. In 1222, Henry III chartered the town and ordered the building of a new port, which was reiterated in 1224; probably scared by the English project, King of France Louis VIII besieged La Rochelle in 1224 and incorporated the town, whose privileges were increased, to the Kingdom of France.

In 1360, La Rochelle was reincorporated to England by the treaty of Brétigny. The chronicler Froissart recalls that the inhabitants of La Rochelle reluctantly offered the keys of the town to the king, upon pressure of the king of France and promise by the king of England to maintain the privileges. Twelve years later, the English were expelled from the castle of La Rochelle without fighting by former Mayor Chaudrier. Aware that the chief of the English garrison was illiterate, Chaudrier forged and "read" a royal letter ordering the garrison to rally out of the castle for a review; they could not oppose any resistance to the town's militia that ambushed them. A few years later, the castle was demolished and its stones used to erect the Chain's Tower, named for the big chain that was drawn at the entrance of the Old Port, then the port of commerce of the town.

La Rochelle adopted the Reformed (Protestant) religion in 1658. Not opposed to the monarchy, the inhabitants wanted to correct "the big abuses and corruptions" of the time. At the time, La Rochelle, counting 25,000 inhabitants, was a main port of commerce with England, the northern countries and Spain. The new religion was joined by François de Pons, Baron of Mirabeau and Guy Chabot, Baron of Jarnac and King's Lieutenant in La Rochelle. The neighboring towns of Marennes, Saintes and Pons also converted to Protestantism.
In 1570, the peace of Saint-Germain allocated five safety places to the Protestants, La Rochelle and Cognac included. The town was besieged in 1573 when the burghers refused to open the gate to the governor and the king's garrison.

After the assassination of Henry IV in 1610, the reformed assemblies were banned from the French territory, which did not prevent the Protestant leaders to meet in La Rochelle in 1620. As a retaliation, Louis XIII transferred the local jurisdiction from La Rochelle to Marans. Foreseeing a threat to its absolute, central power, the king decided to get rid of the Protestant strongholds, commanding himself the royal troops. In 1621, the town of Saint-Jean-d'Angély was seized, its walls demolished and all its privileges abolished. The shipowner Jean Guiton (1585-1654) was appointed admiral of the powerful fleet of La Rochelle. During the blockade of La Rochelle organized by the royal fleet in 1621, he blocked 25 vessels in the port of Brouage, but was defeated next year off Saint-Martin-de-Ré.
The failed landing of English troops commanded by the Duke of Buckingham in 1627 on the island of Ré, located off La Rochelle, triggered a revolt of the town of La Rochelle against the royal power.

Cardinal de Richelieu personally initiated on 10 September 1627 the Great Siege of La Rochelle; the defense of the town was organized by Jean Guiton, appointed Mayor in 1628. To prevent any support and resupplying from the sea to the besieged town, Richelieu ordered the building of a sea wall of 1,600 m in length on 20 m in height, blocking access to the old port.
The town surrendered on 26 October 1628, having lost three-quarters of its population from starvation. More than 2,000 Huguenots were ordered to leave the town. The "conversion cash" was used to pay those who accepted to convert to the Roman Catholic religion, not to mention forced conversions. This religious intolerance fostered massive immigration to New France, Holland and England. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685 caused even more loss to the town.

La Rochelle was a main port of boarding to New France. Jean-François de la Rocque, lord of Roberval, was commissioned in 1451 by Francis I to organize the settlements of New France, a territory which had been claimed in 1534 by Jacques Cartier on the king's behalf. Some 200 colonists left La Rochelle to New France; due to the hostility of the natives, the attempt failed and the colonists came back to La Rochelle one year later. Two local lords, Pierre Dugua de Mons, appointed Governor of New France by Henry IV, and Samuel de Champlain, founded Port-Royal in 1605 and the Quebec "habitation" on 3 July 1608.
In May 1606, the Jonas, commanded by Jean de Poutrincourt, Lieutenant-Governor of Acadia, left La Rochelle with 30 colonists. When arriving at Port-Royal, they found only two inhabitants, all the other having left with Champlain to Florida.
[Histoire de la Rochelle]

The connection between Quebec and La Rochelle was stressed by Félix Leclerc (1914-1988) in his legendary song - and manifesto for the independence of Quebec - "L'île d'Orléans" (video): "Mais nous les gens / Les descendants de La Rochelle / Présents tout le temps / Surtout l'hiver / Comme les arbres" (But we, people / The descendants of La Rochelle / Always here / Mostly in winter / Like trees).

Ivan Sache, 30 November 2011

Flag of La Rochelle

A new logo, based on the same blue triangle as before, but with a new font, was adopted in 2018. The horizontal version of this logo is in use on a white field on the municipal flag, hoisted on the city hall (photo, 2019).

Olivier Touzeau, 27 February 2022

Former flag of La Rochelle


Former flag of La Rochelle - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 27 February 2022

The flag of La Rochelle, as seen hoisted in 2001 on the fortifications of the old harbour is white the town's logo, made of a blue triangle on which the word "LA ROCHELLE" is written in alternating black and white letters.
The municipal logo has changed since then but the flag in actual, rare use is still using the old logo

Pascal Gross & Ivan Sache, 30 November 2011

See a picture of the flag taken in 2016.
Until 2018, the logo of La Rochelle had the name of the commune in the same font as on the flag, in white and all included in the base of a light blue triangle.

Olivier Touzeau, 27 February 2022

"Huguenot flag" of La Rochelle

[Flag]         [Flag]         [Flag]

"Huguenot flag" of La Rochelle, three versions - Images by Olivier Touzeau (left), 25 February 2017, and Ivan Sache (other), 30 November 2019, respectively

The traditional, "Huguenot flag" of La Rochelle (photo, photo, photo, photo) is made of horizontal blue and white stripes. The flag is presented on a plaque at the base of the Chain's Tower:

Flag of La Rochelle, said "Huguenot flag" (16th-17th centuries).
The flag may be related to the mythic foundation of the town, credited to fairy M&ecute;lusine. The fairy is the mythic ancestor of the Lusignan lineage, whose arms feature horizontal white and blue stripes.
The flag was hoisted during the Grand Siege. On 30 October 1682, Richelieu ordered to lower down the flag before the entrance of the royal troops in the seized town. The flag is shown on several paintings representing the Grand Siege. Its number of stripe varies between seven and nine.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 30 November 2019

Maritime Museum


Flag of the Maritime Museum of La Rochelle - Image by Ivan Sache, 30 November 2019

The Maritime Museum of La Rochelle (website) was established in 1986 by Patrick Schnepp to preserve the French, and mostly local, maritime heritage. The museum maintains afloat seven ships that have been registered as Historical Monuments:
- the weather ship France 1 (R "Romeo" ship, 47°N 17°W 1958-1985), purchased in 1988 by the town of La Rochelle, fully restored in 2004-2005, now the Museum's flagship.
- the trawler Angoumois (1969), purchased in 1993 by the Museum, restored in 2009-2012, partially destroyed by a blaze in 2012.
- the rescuing boat Capitaine de Frégate Leverger (1954) operated by the SNSM in Arcachon, offered to the Museum in 1993.
- the steam-dredging barge TD6 (1906), acquired by the Museum in 1990.
- Bernard Moitessier's legendary ketch Joshua (1962), acquired by the Museum in 1990.
- the trawler Manuel Joël (1954), offered in 1992 to the Museum by the shipowner Henri Teillet.
- the tugboat Saint-Gilles (1958), acquired in 1989 by the Museum.
- the major-boat (1954) attached to the war vessel Duperré, decommissioned in June 1992 and offered to the town of La Rochelle by the French Navy in 1994.
The Museum also maintains a collection of 41 emblematic dinghies (Caneton Brix, Sharpie, Star), a collection of scale models of all kinds of boats, and archives (photos, films, interviews) related to the maritime history of the 20th century.

The flag of the Maritime Museum (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo), hoisted on most boats moored in the museum's basins, is blue with a white ascending diagonal stripe charged with a red thunderbolt and cantonned by the white writing "MUSÉE / MARITIME" and "LA ROCHELLE".

Ivan Sache, 30 November 2019

Force Océan event


Flag of the Force Océan event - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 27 February 2022

Chosen by the French Ministry of the Sea to embody the maritime issue on a European scale, La Rochelle has concocted a whole program of events around this theme in 2022. Symposia and meetings, exhibitions and screenings, launch of new projects will be organized throughout the year.
The territorial branding Force Oc an is highlighted in this context, with a logo in use on white flags (photo).

Olivier Touzeau, 27 February 2022


Port Atlantique La Rochelle


Flag of Port Atlantique La Rochelle - Image by Ivan Sache, 30 November 2019

Port Atlantique La Rochelle (website) was granted the status of "grand port maritime" by Decree No. 1,036 (text), issued on 9 October 2008 by the French government and published on 10 October 2008 in the French official gazette, No. 237, p. 15,564, and last amended on 31 March 2017.
The status of "grand port maritime" was created in 2008 to replace the former status of "port autonome", as prescribed by Law No. 660 "On port reform" (text), promulgated on 4 July 2008 by the President of the Republic and published on 5 July 2008 in the French official gazette, No. 156, p. 10,817. Seven ports were granted this status in 2008: Marseilles, Le Havre, Dunkirk, Nantes-Saint-Nazaire, Rouen, La Rochelle, and Bordeaux. The same status was granted in 2013 to another four overseas ports: Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique, and Reunion.

Port Atlantique La Rochelle ranks 6th among the "grands ports maritimes"; in 2018, 9,639,632 ton freight were processed. The port ranks 1st for the import of forest products and paper pulp (10% of the total freight), and 2nd for the export of grain (40% of the total freight). Oil products represent another 30% of the total freight. The only deep-water port on the Atlantic coast, Port Atlantique La Rochelle can be accessed by the biggest cruise liners (more than 300 m in length). In 2018, 29 ships (30,000 passengers) put in at the port. The port is equipped with a shipyard suitable for the refit of super and mega yachts.

The establishment of the new port of La Rochelle, as opposed to the old port located in the historical downtown, dates back to the second half of the 19th century. In 1876, the engineer Anatole Bouquet de la Grye (1827-1909), after a thorough study of the floor of the bay of La Rochelle, proposed to establish the new port west of the town, in a place known as La Mare à la Besse. The law establishing the port was promulgated on 2 April 1880. The port of La Pallice was inaugurated on 19 August 1890 by Sadi Carnot, President of the Republic.
On 1 March 1916, the Vandier & Despret ammunition factory exploded, claiming 177 lives and injuring another 150 workers. From 1941 to 1943, the German Navy built in the port an underground base for the 90 submarines of the 3rd U-Boot flotilla.
The oil terminal was inaugurated in 1979, extending the deep-water pier built in 1939. The "port autonome" was inaugurated in 2006, ending the concession originally granted to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of La Rochelle.

The flag of Port Atlantique La Rochelle (photo) is white with the port's emblem.

Ivan Sache, 30 November 2019

Port de Plaisance de la Rochelle


Flag of Port de Plaisance de la Rochelle - Image by Ivan Sache, 30 November 2019

The La Rochelle Yacht Harbor is an industrial/commercial public establishment controlled by the municipality of La Rochelle, whose mayor appoints the 17 members of the board. The municipality retains ownership of infrastructure (docks, dikes, port structures) while the establishment owns superstructures (floating piers and berths).
The Harbor is composed of:
- the historical Vieux Port (Old Harbor), with three basins (Harbor: 4 piers, 120 moorings; Trawlers' Basin, dedicated to tall ships; and Yachts' Basin, 5 piers, 90 moorings;
- Port des Minimes, built in 1972 in the southern part of the bay, with 4 basins, 64 piers, and 4,500 moorings. This is the biggest marina on the Atlantic coast of Europe.

Originally covering 55 ha (3,600 moorings), Port des Minimes was flooded on 26 December 1999. Following this event, the port was revamped and increased, with the building of new dikes. The work, delayed by appeals tabled by ecologist associations and money shortage, started in 2011; the newly built dike partially collapsed in March 2012, March 2013 and December 2013. The increased port des Minimes and its new dikes were eventually inaugurated on 25 October 2014. Final cost was 54 million euros, half of it being contributed by the municipality of La Rochelle.
[Sud-Ouest, 24 October 2014]

Port des Minimes is the home of the Grand Pavois (website), an international nautical festival organized every year since 1973. In 2018, the event was attended by nearly 100,000 visitors, who could see 750 ships (vs. 64 ships seen by 3,700 visitors in 1973). The Honor Guest of the September 2019 edition was be the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh, succeeding the Sultanate of Oman (2017) and Madagascar (2018).

The Minimes borough and port is named for the Order of Minims. The three chaplains of the Royal troops during the Great Siege of La Rochelle (1627-1628) were commissioned by the Minim convent of Surgères; as a reward, they were offered by Louis XIII the plot where they had established a chapel and a cemetery; the convent, erected in 1634, was sold during the French Revolution. Approved by King Charles X, the building of a lazaret (quarantine station) and a dike was completed in 1831. The first regatta organized by the newly born Société des Régates Rochelaises were ran there in August 1860.
The borough was originally composed of two settlements, the Wooden Town, a shanty place located close to the basin built in 1848 and increased in 1862, inhabited by the "Red Skins", and the old fisher and oyster-breeders' village.
In the 1960s, the municipality of La Rochelle aimed at establishing in les Minimes the biggest and most modern marina in Europe. The project, mostly involving large roads and tall concrete buildings, a 135 m high pyramid included, was fortunately re-designed in 1971. Density was decreased by one half, the building's height was limited and the old village was preserved. In 1984, the building's density was even more reduced and the borough as it is now was designed. The University of La Rochelle, founded in 1990, and several other educational institutes and administrations, were relocated here, together with 1,500 housings, on the site of a failed project of leisure park.
[Il &ecute;tait une fois La Rochelle, Les Minimes]

The flag of La Rochelle Yacht Harbor (photo) is white with the harbor's logo.

Ivan Sache, 30 November 2019



Flag of Yélo - Image by Ivan Sache, 30 November 2019

Yélo is the public transport system managed by the Communauté d'agglomération de la Rochelle.
Yélo operate bus lines, self-service bicycles, self-service cars, a boat service to cross the Old Port, and "sea buses" connecting the Old Port to the Minimes marina. Registered users can use all services with a single pass.
The name Yélo is based on "yellow" and "vélo" (bicycles), recalling the yellow bikes offered in self-service for the first time in 1976, a primer in France (nearly 30 years before Paris).

The original 400 yellow bikes were among the most famous achievements of Michel Crépeau (1930-1999), the emblematic Mayor of La Rochelle (1971-1999).A pioneer in environmental and urbanistic issues, Crépeau stopped a project of dense building on the shore and developed instead parks and gardens. He inaugurated in 1975 the first pedestrian area in France. Representative for Charente-Maritime (1973-1981, 1986-1993, 1997-1999), Crépeau died from a heart attack during a public session of the National Assembly. He was a prominent minister during François Mitterrand's first tenure (1981-1983: Environment; 1983-1983: Commerce and Handcraft; 1984-1986, Commerce, Handcraft and Tourism; 1986, Justice). Minister of Justice for only 28 days, he commented "I have been the only Minister of Justice who did not make any mistake because I was not given enough time".
A noted humanist, Michel Crépeau is remembered by the work Le soleil noir (The black sun), a bronze disc of 4 m in diameter offered by the sculptor François Cante-Pacos and inaugurated on 29 March 2009 on the Old Port.
In 1984, he commissioned Jean-Louis Foulquier (1943-2013) to set up a French - later, international - music festival in La Rochelle, the world famous Francofolies, which welcomes 150,000 visitors every summer.

The boats operated by Yélo fly a yellow flag with the black writing "yélo" (photo, photo).

Ivan Sache, 30 November 2019