The Old Port
The port of La Rochelle has been standing here since the XIIIth century.
It was very likely fortified from the beginning. The towers date back to the XIVth and XVth centuries. They outlived the destruction of the ramparts after the Siege of 1628. On the left St Nicolas Tower, the tallest, opposite the Chain Tower and then further on from the latter, stands the Lighthouse Tower used both as a lighthouse and a defensive tower and linked to the Chain Tower by a defensive wall.
The arcade streets
The arch covered streets are the real charm of La Rochelle.
They testify to the town’s trading vocation: Shopkeepers used to display their merchandise under these porches giving shelter from sun and rain. They did however have to pay for a trading licence to the town.
From medieval houses to private town mansions
La Rochelle’s rich architectural heritage is to be found in the ancient town centre where houses dating from the XVth and XVIIIth centuries can be admired.
Half-timbered medieval houses topped with slates, sober and noble XVIIIth century town mansions from shipowners, fine sculpted stone façades from the XVIth and XVIIth centuries.
The Great Clock Tower
Ancient gate separating the port from the centre.
The massive base from the XIVth had two entries, for pedestrians and vehicles. It was reduced to one arcade in 1672. In 1746 its pepperbox turrets were replaced by a dome adorned with pilasters, colonnettes and cupids supporting globes ad flags.
House of Henri II
It was built for Hugues Pontard whose son François was to be mayor of La Rochelle in 1567.
The style of columns, pediments and caissons is purely antique. This kind of building was quite usual in the XVIth century since the “House of Henri II” … is not a real house ! The maze of galleries is just a superposition of narrow corridors and extensions of the turreted staircase of the right wing leading into an office in the left wing.
This façade without depth is only a monumental decor with a splendid architecture of which roofs and skylights simulate an extraordinary lodging overlooking the garden: this is an exceptional and unique work of art in the history of the French Renaissance, designed by an unknown master towards 1555.
The Stock Exchange
Home of the Chamber of Commerce from 1760 to 2002.
A typically XVIIIth century building made of two wings linked by a columned gallery. Within the courtyard you can admire an orientation chart as well as the stone carvings on the wall which depict various maritime objects (anchors, oars, sextants and bounty) relating to the maritime traffic at the root of La Rochelle’s wealth. The building, remarkable for its perfect proportions and simplicity of line, is one of the most perfect monuments in La Rochelle.
The Law Courts
Were rebuilt in the XVIIIth century, replacing the ancient Law Courts erected by Henri II and completed at the start of the French Revolution which left the following inscription on the façade : “Temple of Justice under the reign of Liberty and Equality, year II of the French Republic”.
The Corinthian façade is delicately adorned with powerful columns rising up to the entablature in one piece. Inside a corridor of bricks and stones and a few doors with pediments dating back to the first construction in 1604 can still be admired. The narrow street doesn’t permit a proper view of the building, but it fits in harmoniously with the surrounding setting thanks to its porches.
St Sauveur Church
Burnt down in 1418, the first building was replaced by a second in a flamboyant Gothic style of which only the bell tower with gate ruins remains.
From 1650 to 1669 the church was rebuilt, but burnt down again in 1705 except for the façade. The inside adorned with ogive and vaulted roofs is simple but worth a visit.
After the siege of 1628 and their victory the Catholics decided to make the ex-Protestant stronghold the head of a diocese. So a cathedral was needed.
Jacques Gabriel drew plans but he died before the first foundation stone was laid in 1742. His son and successor Jacques-Ange Gabriel carried out the construction from a distance assisted in 1773 by a commission of which Soufflot was part.
The lack of money stopped the construction several times. At last in 1784 the Bishop Crussol d’Uzès consecrated the cathedral. Inside adorning the dome you can admire paintings by William Bouguereau from the XIXth century and by contrast the ex-votos from the Chapelle des Marins painted between the XVIIth and XVIIIth century.
St Barthélémy Belfry
Located at the corner of rue Pernelle and rue Aufrédy. The clock tower is in a Gothic style from the XVth century. It was part of St Barthélémy church - destroyed in 1568 – where the mayoral election took place every year on Quasimodo’s day.
The train station
Built between 1910 and 1922 it is the last monumental train station erected by the French railway.
A project of such importance in a town of hardly 30.000 inhabitants was quite unusual. Its tower, taller than the towers on the port was also much written about. Today the train station is gradually being renovated : first the façade adorned with shells, fish and crabs, then the once majestic entrance hall.