Cherbourg, France


Cherbourg-Octeville is a former French commune in the Manche department. Resulting from the merger of the municipalities of Cherbourg and Octeville on March 1, 2000, it became the delegated municipality of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, a new municipality created on January 1, 2016 and resulting from the merger of Cherbourg-Octeville, Équeurdreville-Hainneville, La Ice cream parlors, Querqueville and Tourlaville.

Located at the northern end of the Cotentin, Cherbourg is protected by the second largest artificial harbor in the world1 after Ras Laffan (Qatar), of which it represents one third with an area of ​​around 1,500 hectares. Between the Hague and the Val de Saire, the city of Cherbourg has thus been a strategic place over the centuries, disputed by the English to the French. Cited as one of the "most important keys to the state" by Vauban, it has become, following colossal maritime development works, notably under the leadership of Napoleon I, a first-rate military port. A stopover for the prestigious transatlantic liners in the first half of the 20th century, Cherbourg was the primary target for American troops during the Normandy landings in 1944.

Maritime prefecture, and sub-prefecture of Manche, its 35,493 inhabitants (more than 85,000 with its suburbs) make it the first town in the department ahead of the Saint-Lô prefecture and the second in the former Lower Normandy region after Caen . Cross-Channel military, fishing, yachting and passenger port, but handicapped by its geographical isolation to be a large commercial port, Cherbourg-Octeville is also a working-class town, with an important naval construction site, surrounded by a rural hinterland.



Cherbourg carries an azure fess Argent charged with three mullets with six spokes Sable, accompanied by three bezants Or, two in chief, one in base. From the Empire, the coat of arms is accompanied by external ornaments: wall crown with five silver towers, crest crossed in fess of a bypassed caduceus of the same from which are suspended two festoons serving as lambrequins, one dextral of olive tree, the other in sinister of oak, Argent knotted and attached by bands Azure. They also include a Croix de Guerre 39-45 with natural palm, hanging from the tip of the shield and stitching on the crossing of strips.

The origin of the coat of arms is disputed.

According to Victor Le Sens, it is of religious origin: the silver fess loaded with stars represents the belt of the Virgin Mary, one of the two patronesses of the city and the number of stars, like that of the besants, evokes the Trinity, the other protector of the city. The gold bezants would be the expression of the redemption of captives, illustrating the participation of the Cherbourg notables in the Third Crusade. The coat of arms of Cherbourg dates from the end of the 12th century, at the time of the Crusades.

According to Mr. Le Poupet, who relies in particular on the works of Vulson de la Colombière and Ségoing, the content of the coat of arms evokes the maritime trade of the city, the besants - traditional furniture of the arms of ennobled financiers - represent wealth and fortune, while the star illustrates peace and prudence. Sand signifies Prudence and steadfastness in adversity, azure denotes activity and seas. Mr. Canel had explained before him that the besants and the stars respectively illustrate trade and the seaport.

The stars, absent from d'Hozier’s armorial in 1697, are said to have been added in the 18th century. Under the Empire, the coat of arms was completed by a quarter of the second-class towns which is dexter of azure at a gold N, surmounted by a radiant star of the same, debruising to the ninth of the shield.

Regarding the exterior ornaments, the wall crown symbolizes protection and happiness, the caduceus trade and activity, the olive tree peace, the oak tree strength, recalling the port's both military and commercial vocation. The money means that Cherbourg was a second class city under the Empire.

The coat of arms of Octeville is Vert with a silver mantel charged with two capital letters of Sable "O" to dexter, "V" to sinister, a chief Gules to a leopard Or armed and langued Azure. It was the logo of the municipality until the merger with Cherbourg, then was joined to the logo of Cherbourg.

From its creation in 2001 and until 2016, the municipality of Cherbourg-Octeville used a logo, called the “musical seagull”. Initially adopted by Cherbourg, it is composed of a seagull, symbolizing the maritime character of the agglomeration, on a musical stave, evoking the musicality of the port: "the cry of seagulls dancing between sky and sea, the sirens of ships and the melodious song of the waves ”. Since the incorporation of the municipality into Cherbourg-en-Cotentin in 2016, the logo takes that of the latter (the C of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin) followed by the name of the delegated municipality concerned.

The Cotentin, conquered by Quintus Titurius Sabinus in 56 BC, is divided between the pagus constantiensis ("county of Coutances") and the pagus coriovallensis ("county of Coriallo"), within the Second Lyonnaise. Coriallo shelters a small garrison and a castrum is built on the left bank of the Divette as part of the Litus saxonicum, after the Saxon raids at the beginning of the 4th century. The remains found would locate the village between Cherbourg and Tourlaville, on Les Mielles.

Middle Ages: a stronghold

The early Middle Ages (496-911)
In 497, the village was ceded with the whole of Armorica to Clovis. She was evangelized by Saint Ereptiole in 432, then by Saint Exuperat, Saint Léonicien, and finally Saint Scubilion, in 555. In 870, Saint Clair, disembarking from Kent, was ordained a priest in Cherbourg and established a hermitage in the surrounding forest.

After several pillages by the Vikings in the ninth century, Cherbourg was attached to the Duchy of Normandy with the Cotentin, in 933, by Guillaume Longue-Épée. Danish King Harald moved there in 946.

Ducal Normandy (911-1204)
Faced with English threats, Richard III of Normandy reinforced the fortifications of the castle at the same time as those of the other major strongholds of the Cotentin. In 1053, the city was one of the four main cities of the Duchy to receive a perpetual annuity from William the Conqueror for the maintenance of a hundred poor.

In the struggle for succession to the Anglo-Norman crown, besieged Cherbourg surrendered in 1139 after a two-month siege against the troops of Etienne de Blois before being taken over in 1142 by Geoffroy d'Anjou, whose wife, Mathilde l 'Emperesse, founded the Abbey of the Vœu three years later.

During the conquest of Normandy by Philippe Auguste, Cherbourg fell without a fight in 1204. The city was sacked in 1284 and 1293, the abbey and the Hôtel-Dieu looted and burned down, but the castle, where the population was entrenched, resists. Following these devastations, Philippe le Bel had the city fortified in 1300.

From Capetian Normandy to that of the Valois (1204-1515)
Due to its strategic position, both key to the kingdom with Calais for the French and bridgehead of the invasion for the English, the city was hotly contested during the Hundred Years War. With one of the strongest castles in the world according to Froissart, it changes hands six times following transactions or sieges, never by arms. The fortress resisted in 1346 the soldiers of Edward III.

On February 22, 1354, by the Treaty of Mantes, Cherbourg was ceded by Jean le Bon to Charles II of Navarre, known as the Bad, with most of the Cotentin37. The city will be Navarre from 1354 to 1378, and Charles II will stay in Cherbourg on several occasions. In the spring of 1378, the city was besieged by Charles V like the rest of the Norman possessions of the King of Navarre, but in vain. The 600-strong Navarre troops38 who had retreated from the county of Evreux and the Clos du Cotentin had entrenched themselves in Cherbourg, which was already difficult to capture, and defended it, supplied by sea, against French attacks. In June 1378, having lost a foothold in Normandy, Charles II of Navarre rented Cherbourg to Richard II of England for a period of three years. In the fall of 1378, Bertrand du Guesclin besieged him again with the help of numerous war machines, but gave up in December 1378. His brother, Olivier du Guesclin with 60 knights, during a night attempt was even captured.

The King of England then refused to return the city to the Navarre, despite the efforts of Charles II. In 1379, its captain John of Harleston. Guillaume des Bordes, captain of Charles V in the Cotentin, tries to seize it without success. The latter will be captured during a ride in summer 1379 in the Cherbourg countryside during which Lancelot de Lorris, knight, is killed.

Charles the Noble, son of the Bad, bought the city in 1399 from Richard II, and exchanged it, in 1404, from Charles VI of France against the Duchy of Nemours.

After the siege and the capture of Caen in August 1417 by the King of England, Henry V, the city resisted for several months before being taken in 1418 by the English. At the beginning of the year 1450, Thomas Kyriell, at the head of a relief army, while Normandy was about to be reconquered by the kingdom of France, landed in Cherbourg and seized Valognes before taking the direction of Caen. Cherbourg, the last English possession of the Duchy of Normandy after the Battle of Formigny, surrendered unconditionally on August 12, 1450. The siege began at the end of June 1450, with the help of a loan of 60,000 pounds from Jacques Coeur to King of France.


The Renaissance (1515-1610)
On April 28, 1532, Cherbourg received with great pomp the visit of François I and the Dauphin. At that time, Cherbourg is described to us by Gilles de Gouberville as a fortified city of 4,000 inhabitants, protected by drawbridges with three main gates, permanently guarded and closed from sunset until dawn. Within the ramparts, the castle, itself protected by wide ditches and equipped with a keep and twelve towers, occupied the south-eastern part of the city. Outside and to the south of the ramparts, the suburb, along the Divette, was frequented by sailors.

Cherbourg was not affected by the wind of the Reformation which divided Normandy, consolidated and strongly guarded by Matignon, whom Henri III thanked for his defense against Montgomery's troops, by appointing him lieutenant-general of Normandy and governor of Cherbourg in 1578, then marshal the following year. The bourgeoisie also remained loyal to Henri III and then Henri IV, when Normandy was mainly held by the Catholic League.

17th-19th century: birth of a military port
The time of absolutism (1610-1789)
To complete the two major ports of Brest on the Atlantic and Toulon on the Mediterranean, Louis XIV wanted to build a new port on the Channel coast, facing England, to accommodate passing ships. Vauban proposed in 1686 to strengthen the fortification of Cherbourg and close the harbor of Cherbourg with two dikes, but favored the Hougue for the establishment of a large military port. The fortifications and development of the castle began the following year but were stopped by the King in December 1688, influenced by Louvois and for fear of English attacks. In the absence of these fortifications, the people of Cherbourg helplessly witness the destruction of Admiral de Tourville's three ships at the end of the Battle of La Hougue.

The commercial port, at the current level of Place Divette, was dug between 1739 and 1742. The first developments of the port date from 1737 and are the work of Louis-Rolland Hüe de Caligny. On August 7, 1758, the English, under the orders of General Bligh and Admiral Howe, landed near Cherbourg, which they occupied and devastated for more than a week. With the development of a new commercial basin in 1769, Cherbourg - for a long time a small commercial port, a city without a university or cultural activity, regularly plundered, with weak relations with Paris - acquires an essential weight in the Cotentin which is reflected , on the eve of the French Revolution, by the creation of social networks by the bourgeoisie united in associations - such as the Royal Academic Society of Cherbourg in 1755 and the “Faithful Mason” lodge. The population went from 800 fires (4,000 inhabitants) in Cherbourg and 95 in Octeville, around 1715, to 7,300 Cherbourg in 1778.

Louis XVI decides to relaunch the project of a port on the Channel. After several hesitations, it was decided in 1779 to build a dike 4 kilometers long between Île Pelée and the tip of Querqueville, according to a method developed by Louis-Alexandre de Cessart, from a pier of 90 cones of wood of 20 × 20 meters, filled with stones bound to mortar, connected by iron chains. The first cone was submerged on June 6, 1784, the king's brother, the Count d'Artois attended the installation of the seventh cone, and the King assisted on June 22, 1786 at the launching of the ninth cone. But the technique did not withstand storms, and it was abandoned in 1788 in favor of the scuttling of old warships and a riprap with loose stones that La Bretonnière had praised. But the reduction in subsidies and revolutionary events slowed down the work, until their suspension in 1792.

The nineteenth century
The first Consul Bonaparte wants to make Cherbourg one of the main military ports, aiming at the invasion of the United Kingdom. He charged Joseph Cachin with resuming work on the dike, digging the military outer port, and building the new arsenal. After a visit in 1811, Napoleon made Cherbourg a maritime prefecture, a capital of the Manche district and the seat of a court of first instance.

Work on the central dyke, interrupted again between 1813 and 1832, was completed in 1853, those on the west and east dykes in 1895. The Charles X basins (started in 1814 - 290 × 220 × 18 meters) and Napoleon III (started in 1836 - 420 × 200 × 18 meters) of the military port were respectively inaugurated on August 25, 1829 in the presence of the Dauphin, and on August 7, 1858 by the imperial couple. The work of the dyke ended with the construction of the small harbor (Homet dyke, 1899-1914, and Flemish dyke, 1921-1922).


The works of the port lead to a densification and a sprawl of Cherbourg which is modernized and equipped, while the entrepreneurs, shipowners and local traders enrich themselves. Rural village with habitat scattered in hamlets formed around large farms (La Crespinière, La Prévallerie, Grimesnil, La Gamacherie ...), linked to each other and to the Saint-Martin church by a network of paths, Octeville becomes the capital of canton in 1801 (decree of 23 Vendémiaire Year X) and also saw its population increase by the influx of workers who came to build the port of Cherbourg and work at the Arsenal. After the creation of the route des Pieux (current streets Salengro and Carnot), the town was built around a homogenized village street and then urbanized at the start of the 20th century.

On August 16, 1830, the dethroned King Charles X embarked for exile at the military port of Cherbourg on the Great Britain, giving way to the July Monarchy. After seeing the Luxor transporting the Obelisk of Luxor anchor in its harbor in August 1833, Cherbourg welcomed the return of Napoleon's ashes to France aboard the Belle Poule. On August 4, 1858, an equestrian statue of Napoleon, by the sculptor Armand Le Véel, was erected on the occasion of Napoleon III's visit for the inauguration of the railway line between Cherbourg and Paris.

On June 19, 1864, off Cherbourg, a famous episode of the Civil War took place: the Confederate warship, the CSS Alabama, was sunk by the Union ship USS Kearsarge after two hours of combat ( see the Naval Combat in Cherbourg), under the watchful eye of thousands of spectators, who came by train for the inauguration of the casino. Assistant in combat from a sailboat, Manet immortalized it in one of his works.

Beginning of the 20th century: port of emigration
The geographical and technical properties of the port of Cherbourg attracted from 1847 shipping companies linking European ports to the east coast of the United States. By the end of the 1860s, the liners of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and the Hamburg Amerika Linie anchored in the harbor before crossing the Atlantic. The Titanic made a stopover there in 1912 for its maiden voyage where it took on 274 passengers. In 1913, Cherbourg received 500 liners and 70,000 passengers.

During the First World War, traffic was completely suspended. Cherbourg became the point of arrival for British and then American equipment and troops, and for the departure of those on leave and the wounded. The military port experienced an increase in activity, the garrison stationed in Cherbourg was reinforced. The infrastructure of the port is developed to receive the coal and oil necessary for the conflict. Traffic doubled, reaching 600,000 tonnes in 1918.

Transatlantic transit resumed after the war with British, American and Dutch transatlantic companies. To better accommodate stopovers, the Chamber of Commerce is building a deep-water port, a new ferry terminal, and an area dedicated to the loading, unloading and storage of goods on the site of Les Mielles. Cherbourg became the first port of migration in Europe, and the Cunard Line, White Star Line and Red Star Line companies joined forces to build the Atlantic Hotel intended to receive emigrants before crossing. At the same time, the city center is being renovated, in particular under the architectural projects of René Levesque, Drancey and René Levavasseur. But the economic crisis of 1929 put an end to the transatlantic apogee.

Second World War
The Germans arrived on June 17, 1940 in the suburbs of Cherbourg. On the 19th, the city council declared the city open, and Erwin Rommel received the surrender of the place from the hands of the maritime prefect, Vice-Admiral Jules Le Bigot, who had previously destroyed the submarines under construction at the arsenal and the fort of the East.


Four years later, Cherbourg, the region’s only deep-water port, was the primary target for US troops disembarking at Utah Beach. The battle of Cherbourg must give the allies logistical support for the human and material supply of the troops. US troops surround the city on June 21. After furious street fighting and bitter resistance from Fort du Roule, General Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben, Admiral Walter Hennecke and 37,000 soldiers surrendered to General Joseph Lawton Collins on June 26. After a month of demining and repairs by American and French engineers, the port, completely razed by the Germans and the bombardments, welcomed the first Liberty ships and became, until the victory of 1945, the largest port in the world, with double the traffic in New York. It was also the point of arrival for gasoline which crosses the Channel via the PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) submarine pipeline, and the point of departure for the Red Ball Express, a truck transport route to Chartres .

Cherbourg was returned to France by the Americans on October 14, 1945. She was named to the Order of the Army on June 2, 1948 and received the Croix de Guerre with palm.

1945-1990: reconstruction and growth
The destruction is mainly concentrated around the military port in Cherbourg, but 60% affected Octeville. Thanks to the emergency reconstruction of the port, economic activity is picking up quickly. Cherbourg, headed by former SFIO minister René Schmitt, is building numerous social housing units. The rise of the Thirty Glorious Years led to the modernization of the economy and the feminization of employment. Under the leadership of General de Gaulle, Cherbourg became from 1964 the center for the construction of nuclear submarines for launching missiles, the first of which, Le Redoutable, was launched in 1967. The CMNs of Félix Amiot, specialized in military armaments, became famous at Christmas 1969 thanks to the episode of the stars of Cherbourg.

Established in 1970, the urban community of Cherbourg brings together around Cherbourg, Octeville, La Glacerie, Tourlaville, Querqueville and Équeurdreville-Hainneville.

From the end of the 1960s, the nuclear industry emerged through the construction sites of the La Hague reprocessing plant and the Flamanville nuclear power plant, which were added to the DCN submarines. The union of unions, left-wing activists and environmentalists around the fear of the “nuclearization” of Nord-Cotentin, crystallized in January 1979 when the Pacific Fisher landed the first irradiated nuclear waste from Japan. On the eve of the 1980s, the Cherbourg conurbation was hit by several violent social conflicts, in particular when the Babcock factories were closed.

Merger and creation of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin
This dependence of several centuries on the major decisions of the public authorities and on the nuclear industry caused a deep economic crisis in the 1990s. The Arsenal drastically reduced its workforce, the Northern Flotilla (FLONOR) moved to Brest in 1992, the marine hospital closed. UIE, Burty, CMN, Socoval and Alcatel accumulate social plans or closures. Under the aegis of the Urban Community, the agglomeration is developing its university offer with the IUT of Cherbourg-Manche, the Engineering School of Cherbourg and a branch of the University of Caen which complements INTECHMER and the School of Fine Arts.

The 2000s began with the creation of a new municipality. Cherbourg-Octeville was created on March 1, 2000 by the meeting of Cherbourg and Octeville following the local referendum on the “Grand Cherbourg”. The city is reconnecting with its tourist and maritime identity, through the Cité de la Mer and the opening to the public of Le Redoutable, hosting cruise stopovers and nautical events, the urban renewal operation "Entre terre et sea ​​”emphasizing the commercial and tourist attractiveness of the city and the basin district, as well as the emergence of an economic specialization in yachting, while the traditional activities of the port (passenger traffic, freight, fishing) are in crisis.

On January 1, 2016, Cherbourg-Octeville joined with four other municipalities the municipality of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin created under the legal regime of new municipalities established by Law No. 2010-1563 of December 16, 2010 on the reform of local authorities. The communes of Cherbourg-Octeville, Équeurdreville-Hainneville, La Glacerie, Querqueville and Tourlaville become delegated communes and Cherbourg-Octeville is the capital of the new commune.