10 largest cities in France




Orleans is a French commune in north-central France, located about 120 kilometers south of Paris. Seat of the Orléans metropolitan council, the city is also the capital of the Loiret department and the Center-Val de Loire region, making it the closest metropolis to Paris.

Located on the banks of the Loire, where the river curves west towards its estuary, the city is nestled in the heart of the Loire Valley, a World Heritage Site. Orléans is located at the gateway to the Sologne natural region, the plains of Beauce and the forest of Orleans.

Former capital of the kingdom of France in the fifth century after its conquest by Clovis (who became king of the Salian francs) over Syagrius, a Gallo-Roman chief defeated at the battle of Soissons in 486. The figure of Joan of Arc is inseparable from history of the city, since it played a decisive role on May 8, 1429 by liberating the city from the English during the Hundred Years War. His omnipresent figure stands proudly on the Place du Martroi, in the Sainte-Croix cathedral, in front of the old Town Hall ... Every year, Orléans pays homage to him during the Johannine Feasts, registered since 2018 in the inventory of intangible cultural heritage in France.

The city owes its development since antiquity to trade from the river. Important river port, its position more or less halfway between the source of the Loire and its mouth and at the point of the river closest to the Seine, made it the effective seat of the "Community of merchants frequenting the Loire river ”. Capital during the Merovingian era, theater of the Hundred Years War and land of many royal coronations, the city has a great historical and patrimonial richness which allows it to integrate since 2009 the circle of the Cities of Art and History .

The University of Orleans, created in 1306 by Pope Clement V and refounded in 1966, has 19,002 students in 2019.

The city had 116,685 inhabitants in 2017; the metropolis of Orleans, made up of 22 municipalities, includes 286,257 inhabitants. The urban area of ​​Orleans, grouping together 90 municipalities, had 433,337 inhabitants in 2015. Its inhabitants are called the Orléanais.



Cenabum was founded during Antiquity. It was a Gallic stronghold, one of the main towns of the Carnutes tribe, whose annual meeting of the druids has remained famous. The metropolis of the Carnutes was then Chartres. A major trading port for the corporation of nautes of the Loire, Orléans was the site of a famous massacre of international merchants by an indigenous party. This event gave a pretext to Caesar, then in campaign for the conquest of Gaul: he exterminated the inhabitants and set fire to the city in 52 av. J.-C.

A new city was built on the ruins of Cenabum by the Roman emperor Aurelian who refounded it as the capital of a new civitas detached from the Carnutes. It was named urbs Aurelianorum or civitas Aurelianorum (in French: city of Aurelii or Orléanais), then in the ninth century, Aurelianum, and finally, Orleans by simplification and phonetic evolution. The city has always been a strategic crossing point for the Loire because it is located on the northernmost point of the river, therefore closer to Paris. However, bridges were rare and the Loire dangerous.

Accompanied by the Vandals, the Alans crossed the Loire in 408. One of their groups, led by Goar, agreed to join the Roman armed forces. Aetius installs it on the Loire and in Orléans. But these turbulent Alans are very badly perceived by the locals. One day, believing that they were not being paid quickly enough or sufficiently, they did not hesitate to kill senators from Orleans.

Still in Orleans, under King Sangiban, the Alans joined the forces of Aetius who opposed Attila who had invaded Gaul around 450. Attila besieged Orleans in 451, and was defeated there by the coalition of Aetius, of Mérovée and Théodoric. They take part in the battle of the Catalaunic fields. About a hundred towns in Orléanais remember the settling of this people: Allaines, Allainville, etc.

The battle of Orleans took place in 463 between the forces of the Roman Empire of the magister militum Ægidius, supported by Childeric I, and the troops of the Visigothic kingdom. Frédéric, the brother of the Visigothic king Euric, was killed there according to the chronicle of Hydace de Chaves.

Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, Orleans was one of the three richest cities in France with Rouen and Paris, again thanks to its proximity to the latter and its location on the Loire.

During the Merovingian era, Orléans was the capital of the kingdom of Orleans following the division into four of the kingdom of Clovis I. Clovis held there, in 511, an important council both religiously and politically.

Two centuries later, Orléans played a major role during the Carolingian Renaissance.

During the Capetian era, Orléans was the capital of a county and then of a duchy held in prerogative by the house of Valois-Orléans. It was in the cathedral of Orleans, stronghold of the Capetian family, that in 987, the double coronation of Hugh Capet and his son Robert le Pieux (born and baptized in Orleans) took place, the cornerstone of a power of eight centuries. For this reason, the county (then from the fourteenth century the duchy) of Orleans was traditionally given to the king's younger son.

Monasteries and their schools are multiplying.
In 1108, Louis VI le Gros was consecrated in the cathedral of Orleans by the archbishop of Sens. This is one of the rare Capetian coronations that did not take place in Reims. It prevents the creation of municipal institutions in 1138.

In 1306, the University of Orleans, the fourth in France after Paris, Toulouse and Montpellier, was founded by Pope Clément V. Attracting intellectuals from all over Europe, it specialized in law. It contributes to the prestige of the city.

The title of Duke of Orleans was created in 1306 by the King of France. The Dukes of Orleans, whose duchy was founded in the fourteenth century, hardly ever came to their city. Orleans was then the capital of this royal province. As the king's brothers or cousins, they were part of his court and had little opportunity to leave it. Officially their castle was that of Blois. The Duchy of Orleans was the largest of all. He started in Arpajon, continued in Chartres, Vendôme, Blois, Vierzon, Montargis. The Duke's son bore the title of Duke of Chartres. The inheritances of great families and marriages allowed the dukes to accumulate colossal wealth.


Orleans is also the city of Joan of Arc. During the Hundred Years War, this young woman played a very important role in Orléans. In 1428, the English besieged the city. On the south bank, a châtelet called "des Tourelles" protected access to the bridge. The lifting of the siege of the city in 1429 by Joan of Arc marks the beginning of the reconquest of the territories occupied by the English. The city which had been under siege in vain for months by the English was liberated on May 8, 1429, with the help of the great generals of the kingdom, Dunois and Florent d'Illiers. The inhabitants therefore vowed to him an admiration and a loyalty which still last today (Johannine festivals of Orleans). They named her "the virgin of Orleans" and offered her a bourgeois house in the city. The inhabitants also contributed to the ransom to deliver her when she was taken prisoner, in vain, because Charles VII, the Dauphin who became king thanks to her, kept the money for himself. The city also financed a commemorative monument established on the Loire bridge at the end of the 15th century. The monument, destroyed in 1562 by the Huguenots, then rebuilt, was again destroyed in 1792.

Once the Hundred Years War was over, the city regained its prosperity. The strategic location of its bridge enabled it to collect rights of way. The city attracted traders from all over.

Modern era
King Louis XI greatly contributed to the prosperity of the city. It boosted the agriculture of Orléanais. The exceptional lands of Beauce favor cultivation. He revived the cultivation of saffron in Pithiviers. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the city was one of the most beautiful in France. Churches and mansions are multiplying there.

The family of Valois-Orléans will accede to the throne of France by Louis XII then François Ier. Later during the Renaissance, the city benefited from the passages of the rich lords going to the Loire Valley, which had become very fashionable, starting with the king himself, Chambord, Amboise, Blois, Chenonceau being royal domains.

The wars of religion greatly disturb this prosperity. The city is home to many Protestants, first Germanic students, then converted Orléanais. Jean Calvin is received and lodged at the University of Orleans. He met Lutherans and wrote part of his reformist theses there. In thanks for this protection, the king of England Henry VIII, inspired by the thoughts of the reformer for the Anglican religion, offers a scholarship to the university.

From December 13, 1560 to January 31, 1561, the States General were held there. It was at this time that King François II, the eldest son of Catherine de Medici and Henri II, died on December 5, 1560 in the Hôtel Groslot d'Orléans, with his wife, Marie Stuart, at his side.

During the first religious war, Condé made Orleans the capital of the Protestant uprising. From January to April 1563, the city undergoes a harsh siege from the Catholic armies of the Duke of Guise, it is taken back and its ramparts are dismantled.

The cathedral was rebuilt several times. The last version saw its first stone laid by Henri IV, and the work spread over a century, thus offering a mixture of late Renaissance and Louis XIV style. It is one of the last cathedrals built in France.

With the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), it lost its last Protestants.

The monarchical order generates a new prosperity based on the river trade which reached its peak in the 18th century. It is then that the city takes the form that we still know. The local fortune was based at this time above all on the trade in wines and spirits produced locally, also the manufacture of vinegar, the treatment and trade of colonial sugars (the city then had 11 sugar refineries), and the work of fabrics. Other trades, 70 in number, also play an important role; there are for example 10 laundries for wax (the honey of Gâtinais is already known at the time). With two market days per week (Wednesdays and Saturdays), around 1,500 muids of wheat are sold there each week - 1 muid of Orléans is 600 pounds, and 1 pound weighing on average 450 g gives more than 400 tons of grain changing hands every week.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known by the pseudonym Molière, also came to study law in Orleans, but he participated in the carnival, which was prohibited by the non-secular rules of the university and was therefore expelled from the establishment.

In 1790, the province of Orléanais was dismantled and the department of Loiret was created, with Orléans as the capital.

Nineteenth century
In 1852 the company of the railway from Paris to Orléans was created, which notably had the Orsay station built in Paris. The arrival of the railway and the loss of the sugar colonies, for a time, upset the economy of the city.