For 1000 years La Rochelle “the rebel city” has shown its uniqueness: democratic ahead of time, Protestant while the rest of France was Catholic, protected by kings while the country suffered from overtaxing…
All through the centuries La Rochelle has shown a unique identity
Xth century : the fisherman's village
Founded in the Xth century on a rocky platform deep in the marshes, the fishermen’s village became a very important port from the XIIth century. By 1137 it had become a free port thanks to Guillaume X, Duke of Aquitaine.
50 years later for the first time in France a mayor – Guillaume de Montmirail – was elected in La Rochelle.
XIIIth century : Trade
For the next two centuries, the mayor, aldermen and shipowners took advantage of the conflicts between France and England to increase their fortune and privileges. During the XIIIth century trade in salt and wine reached its height. Up until the XVth century La Rochelle became the most important port on the Atlantic coast.
XVIth century : the Reformation
The new independent town naturally adopted the Reformation’s ideas. As a stronghold of Protestantism La Rochelle became a free town and a threat to Richelieu’s policy of unification.
On September 10, 1627 cannon shots were exchanged with Royal troops.
The following month the Royal forces besieged the town. After 13 months of siege the mayor Jean Guiton - elected on April 30, 1628 - had to capitulate. The town was granted mercy on October 28 and lost its privileges. The town council was brought down.
XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries : the New World
Thanks to maritime trade the town regained prosperity. Between 1630 and 1635 La Rochelle developed regular links with New France (Canada) and the West Indies. In 1694 trade (in sugar from the West Indies, furs from Canada, triangular trade) flourished. Intellectual and artistic influence gained strength.
XIXth century : the maritime trade
During the French Revolution and the Empire wars La Rochelle lost its prominence. The town recovered with the creation of La Pallice harbour inaugurated in 1890 which boosted the maritime trade. During the Second World War a German submarine base was implanted there. Though an important strategic spot La Rochelle was hardly damaged by bombings. It was one of the last French city to be freed (May 8, 1945).
XXth & XXIst century : La Rochelle today
From the 50’s up to the present day La Rochelle’s population has increased to a great extent.
Four new districts have been created and great developments have emerged : a pleasure port possessing 4800 berths (the largest on the Atlantic coast), a fishing port and modern fish trade equipment; roads and railway networks (TGV), and a multidisciplinary university.