Photo of La Rochelle history
 

To best appreciate your visit to La Rochelle it helps if you are familiar with a brief history of the town, because many of the monuments you will see are tied up with the fascinating past events here.

The region was first occupied 2000 years ago by the Romans, who established salt production - still an active local industry. There is little evidence of this early occupation however.

The town as we see it today came into being as a small fishing village in the 10th century. By the 12th century it had become an important port town on the west coast of France.

Importantly it also had a town charter enabling it some degree of independence and self-governance - for example certain tax exemptions and its own coinage.

Battle of La Rochelle

In June 1372, during the Hundred Years War between the English and the French, a substantial sea battle took place off La Rochelle, with the combined Spanish and French forces defeating an English fleet and removing the long-standing English pre-eminence in the seas off the french coast.

La Rochelle continued to prosper into the 15th century, a busy bustling port with active trade routes to England, Spain and Africa, based in part on the trades in salt and wine.

Entering the 16th century, La Rochelle became an important centre for protestants in France. This inevitably led to conflicts during the Wars of Religion that racked France at that time, and a siege of the city started in 1572 that only ended a year later with the end of the wars, at which time La Rochelle was made just on of three cities in France where protestantism could be practiced.

The active protestantism in the town contributed to its next stage of troubles, in 1627, when La Rochelle found itself in conflict with King Louis XIII. Under the command of Cadinal Richelieu, the city was again sieged. The siege lasted 14 months, after which the conquered city lost many of its privileges.

Siege of La Rochelle

The siege of La Rochelle, from 1627-1628, was the most terrible event in the town's history. Louis XIII and Cardinal Richilieu wanted to suppress protestants in France, and La Rochelle was the centre of this activity. Despite attempts at aid from the English, the siege held and the city was starved into submission - of a population of 28,000 before the siege of La Rochelle, only 5,000 were alive when it finished.

After the siege the city refound its earlier prosperity due to international trade - this time also including the 'new-territory' of Canada as an active trading partner.

La Rochelle also acted as a major departure point for emigrants to the new world (there is an interesting exhibition in the Chain Tower of La Rochelle).

With the end of the 18th century the importance of La Rochelle was waning, and much of the 'skyline' of city was as you can still see today.

Second World War

During the Second World War La Rochelle was an important naval base for the occupying German navy. At the end of the war it was the last city in France to be liberated - again only after an extended siege that lasted from September 1944 to May 1945. Remarkably little wartime damage occurred in La Rochelle.

The town prides itself on its rebellious history - the motto you will see often as you travel around is 'La Rochelle - belle et rebelle'.