10 largest cities in France


La Rochelle


La Rochelle is a city in the southwest of France, the historic capital of Aunis and prefecture of the Charente-Maritime department, in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region.

With 75,735 inhabitants in 2017, La Rochelle is the most populous municipality in the department, ahead of Saintes, Rochefort and Royan, and ranks fifth in the region in New Aquitaine after Bordeaux, the regional capital, Limoges, Poitiers and Pau.

Its inhabitants are called the Rochelaises and the Rochelais.

Located on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, off the Pertuis d'Antioche, and protected from storms by the “barrier” of the islands of Ré, Oléron and Aix, the city is above all a first-rate port complex , and this since the twelfth century. It is in fact an “Ocean Gate” by the presence of its three ports (fishing, trade and pleasure). A city with a strong commercial tradition, its port was active from its origins and experienced significant development during the classical period, then in the contemporary period thanks to the deep-water port of La Pallice which now ranks it sixth nationally.

A thousand-year-old city, endowed with a rich historical and urban heritage, the historic capital of Aunis has today become the most important coastal town between the Loire estuary and the Gironde estuary. Its urban activities are multiple and strongly differentiated. A city with still important port and industrial functions, it has a largely predominant administrative and tertiary sector, reinforced by its university and booming tourism.



La Rochelle is made up of neighborhoods, most of which are represented by a “neighborhood committee”, which makes it a very lively micro-local fabric. A neighborhood committee is an association of residents which plays a role vis-à-vis public institutions, and which enables the exchange of information between residents and municipal services. In this way, residents can participate in orienting development projects in their neighborhood according to their aspirations.

The first neighborhood committee was established in Tasdon in 1903, just after the 1901 law on freedom of association was enacted. Then La Pallice, Bongraine, downtown, Mireuil, Petit-Marseille, Villeneuve-les-Salines followed. The city of La Rochelle considers the neighborhood committees as privileged interlocutors, and provides them with logistical means (meeting room, etc.), but does not pay them any subsidy. The latter are apolitical and independent. On February 27, 2002, a law relating to local democracy, and supposed to strengthen participatory democracy by supplementing representative democracy, was passed56 and posed a problem of adaptation to the municipality. Indeed, this new law requires municipalities to create local consultative bodies, “neighborhood councils”. The downside is that strict application of the law would have resulted in a loss of independence and influence over what neighborhood committees already have. After consultation, a "charter for the strengthening of participatory democracy", reaffirming the decisive importance of neighborhood committees, was signed on September 26, 2002 between the parties.

Historical monuments
A walled city on the sea and on the land, La Rochelle has many defense monuments, the best known of which are the medieval towers of the Old Port. They guarded the entrance, especially by a chain stretched between two of them across the water, and it is they who made the city world famous. The Saint-Nicolas tower, that of the Chaîne and of the Lantern remain the only vestiges of the medieval wall of the fourteenth century razed by Richelieu in 1628 during the siege of the city. The same is true of La porte de la Grosse Horloge, which guarded the entrance to the merchant city from the old port and constitutes a vestige of the medieval ramparts. The Porte de la Grosse Horloge is also part of the city's historic port heritage. But La Rochelle has not only preserved buildings from the Middle Ages, the city was enriched in the following centuries with remarkable monuments including the famous Renaissance Town Hall and other buildings of the time. classical buildings built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries such as the building of the Chamber of Commerce - the former Hôtel de la Bourse.

Due to the exceptional richness of its historical, architectural and urban heritage, La Rochelle requested the classification of the Old Port and the towers on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The latter, managed by the Center des Monuments Nationaux, welcomed nearly 100,000 visitors in 2007. The city has many water structures including the basins of the old port which were built during the Napoleonic era and then completed during the Second Empire or the Marans canal in La Rochelle, also called the Rompsay canal.

Public parks and gardens
Charruyer Park
The park was established thanks to the bequest of Mademoiselle Adèle Charruyer, daughter of Etienne Charruyer, owner. It was built from May 6, 1887 on 40 hectares of marshy military land located at the foot of the western fortifications of the city, dating from the enclosure of 1685. Completed on December 31, 1890, it was originally called the Monceau Park Rochelais. The Charruyer park with the Allées du Mail is a classified site (all criteria) by decree of October 28, 1931. From 1945 a small zoological park developed which invites visitors to discover parrots and peacocks, dwarf goats and donkeys from Poitou. 2 kilometers long and 200 meters wide, it is crossed by two streams, the Fétilly and the Lafond, which flow into the ocean. It is an English park, with winding paths and shaded by tall trees.

Survival of the fortifications of the city, one can discover by traversing the park: the redoubt called Le Paté at the time when the Genie occupied the place (fortified work which overhangs the animal park very close to the Mail), the door of the deux-Moulins (refurbished in the 19th century) and its fort and the Porte Neuve (refurbished in the 19th century). Following the decommissioning of the city, the perimeter walls forming the eastern limit of the park were simply covered with earth and their upper parts today constitute the path of the ramparts.


Franck-Delmas Park
The Franck-Delmas park, named after a member of the Delmas family shot for an act of resistance during the Second World War, is located at the top of the Allée du Mail. Formerly a private property park, Villa Fort-Louis, still at the center of the park, is a seven-hectare public garden with a rich botanical heritage. Rehabilitated following the Martin storm in 1999, it is also a place to experiment with the resistance of plants to climatic constraints. The Franck-Delmas park is a site registered by decree of May 30, 1979.

These two parks are linked by the Allées du Mail (also called the Allée du Mail or the Mail), a public promenade six hundred meters long and bordered by pine trees located on the seafront. In the 16th century, the Mail was a large meadow used for festivals and for grazing farm animals. Then in the following century, it was arranged to practice the game of mall which consisted, in one of its ways of practicing it, to put with a mallet with long flexible handle a wooden ball under a hoop of straw and that in it. fewer hits possible. This game finally gave its name to the place in question. It was at the beginning of the 19th century that the present appearance of the Allées du Mail was given.

The Allées du Mail consist of a long and wide central lawn with flower beds whose composition changes every year. On each side of this lawn, there is successively a pedestrian path, then a row of trees and bushes, then a lane intended for the circulation of vehicles. All along the street, on the right-hand side (going up the Mall), have been built seaside villas and residential houses, half hidden from the view of passers-by by gates painted in black. The Mail is one of the beautiful districts of La Rochelle. At the end of the Allées de Mail which communicates with the Franck Delmas park, a monument to the dead of the 1914-1918 war was inaugurated in 1922. The bronze statue due to the sculptor Joachim Costa is familiar to the people of La Rochelle under the name of " Poulu du Mail ”.

Town planning
Gabut district. A former fishing district that fell fallow, the "Gabut" gave way in 1989 to a set of small two-storey buildings resembling brightly painted wooden houses from northern Europe, mixing accommodation, offices and commerce, realized by the Rochelais architect Alain Douguet with the Danish investor Kurt Thorsen. Sometimes improperly called "the wooden city" (a district located further south), its facades are visible to the south of the Old Port, on the side of the Saint-Nicolas tower. The Scandinavian image of architecture was chosen as a reminder that La Rochelle had trade relations with the Hansa and Scandinavia. The Hansa also had a counter in La Rochelle. La Rochelle now maintains its Hanseatic past by joining the International Hanseatic League, which brings together 176 cities. La Rochelle, which is twinned with the city of Lübeck, capital of the Hansa, is the only French city to be part of it.

Renowned for the seawater swimming pools of its thalassotherapy centers from the 18th century, it was with the opening of the Concurrence beach that the city really became a seaside resort. At the beginning, the beach was summarily arranged and a wooden fence separated it in two, the right part being reserved for the military. It was not until the buyout of the casino by the municipality in 1901 and the downgrading of the fortifications, then the departure of the military so that a new, larger and better equipped beach was built in 1907. The significant success encountered forced the city to declare of public utility the construction of a new railway station. Concurrence beach was followed by Minimes beach in 1978, then Chef de Baie and Aytré beaches.

Lighthouse at the end of the world
At the tip of the Minimes is the lighthouse at the end of the world, a replica of the famous lighthouse at the end of the world erected on the Isle of the States off Cape Horn in 1884, and which inspired Jules Verne for his novel Le Phare du bout du world, published in 1905, shortly after his death. It was erected by André Bonner, an adventurer from La Rochelle who also rebuilt the original, and was inaugurated on January 1, 2000. It is a wooden lighthouse octagonal in shape and projecting the light produced by seven lamps running on oil rapeseed. The beam has a range of 26 km at an angle of 93 °.


The La Rochelle aquarium, initially located in the "wooden city" district, then transferred to the Port des Minimes after the 1986 fire, has been located in the heart of the city, in the Gabut district since 2001. It is one of the largest European aquariums. Some 10,000 animals from the four corners of the planet sharing the 3,000 m3 of seawater spread over 65 basins where the natural environments of species from all the oceans and seas of the world are recreated.

La Rochelle Bunker Museum, open to the public since 2013, this museum located in an authentic 280 m2 bunker, traces the history of La Rochelle and its surroundings during the Second World War.
La Rochelle Museum of Fine Arts, founded in 1844 by the Society of Friends of the Arts, the Fine Arts Museum was installed in 1845 on the second floor of the old bishopric, in the city center. It includes among others canvases from Rochelais painters, such as Théodore Chassériau, Eugène Fromentin, and William Bouguereau.
Orbigny-Bernon Museum, installed since 1921 in the neo-renaissance hotel built by Alcide Dessalines d'Orbigny, mayor of the city, and bequeathed to the town by his wife. There is a rich collection of porcelain and earthenware, the Apothecary from the Aufredy hospital, dishes by Bernard Palissy, and souvenirs from the "Great Siege". The museum has been closed since September 2012.
Museum of Natural History, which was installed in 1831 in the government building, which Napoleon had given it for this purpose in 1808. Its most remarkable piece is a giraffe, a gift from the Viceroy of Egypt to Charles X.
New World Museum, which presents numerous pieces retracing the history of the conquest of the New World and the slave trade since the sixteenth century and from La Rochelle.
Maritime museum, museum afloat and on land. The “afloat” section boasts a heritage fleet of 8 vessels including 6 listed vessels, located in the trawler basin of the Old Port. It opens two vessels to visitors: the meteorological frigate France 1 and the stern trawler l'Angoumois. Since April 2015 the museum has been supplemented by a “land” part installed behind the Espace Encan in small pavilions covered with “chips” made of colored fabrics.
Rochelais Protestant History Museum, which presents a collection of objects from the Protestant history of the town and the region, including some works by Jean Calvin.
Musée des automates, the first of its kind in France, presents a vast and prestigious collection of automata and animated scenes from all over Europe and from all eras.
Museum of reduced models.



A Gallo-Roman occupation (in the archaeological sense of the term) is attested by the remains of important salt marshes and villas, then the Alans from the East, finally a fishing village in the middle of swamps, culminating in the tenth to the foundation of the future capital of Aunis. The Vauclair fortified castle was built at the beginning of the 12th century by the lords of Mauléon and Rochefort. Guillaume X, Duke of Aquitaine, became Lord of La Rochelle by feat of arms in 1130; he had it surrounded by a first surrounding wall and granted it a free port charter. The opening of the English market following the second wedding of Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, the presence of the Templars and the Knights of Saint-Jean-de-Jerusalem, quickly made this small town the largest port on the Atlantic. The city passed successively from the domain of the King of France, Louis VII, to the King of England, Henri II Plantagenêt. In 1224 Louis VIII besieged and attached La Rochelle to the royal domain. In 1360, by the Treaty of Brétigny, the city fell into the kingdom of England. In 1371 the Rochelais kick the English out of the royal castle, but only opened the doors to Du Guesclin after confirmation by Charles V of the privileges of their city - thus ensuring remarkable freedom vis-à-vis the royal power. Mayor, aldermen and their successors also gain a hereditary and perpetual right of nobility. From then on the city will remain French. The fourteenth century brought great prosperity, dominated by the trade in wines and eaux-de-vie from Aunis and Saintonge.

In the sixteenth century the doctrine of Calvin invests La Rochelle, which becomes one of the main centers of Protestantism. Memorable sieges ensued: that of 1573 by the brother of King Charles IX, resulted in a compromise; that of 1628, led by Richelieu in person and during which the mayor Jean Guiton immortalizes the heroic resistance of the city, brings about the construction of a 1,500-meter dyke to isolate the city from the sea and therefore from its allies the English , and ends with his surrender to Louis XIII. However, the dynamic of prosperity continued just as strong until the loss of Canada and Louisiana, two major export destinations from La Rochelle, during the Treaty of Paris of 1763.

In the sixteenth century the doctrine of Calvin invests La Rochelle, which becomes one of the main centers of Protestantism. Memorable sieges ensued: that of 1573 by the brother of King Charles IX, resulted in a compromise; that of 1628, led by Richelieu in person and during which the mayor Jean Guiton immortalizes the heroic resistance of the city, brings about the construction of a 1,500-meter dyke to isolate the city from the sea and therefore from its allies the English , and ends with his surrender to Louis XIII. However, the dynamic of prosperity continued just as strong until the loss of Canada and Louisiana, two major export destinations from La Rochelle, during the Treaty of Paris of 1763.

The city is also experiencing significant slave trade. From the end of the sixteenth century, records dating from 1594-1595 inform us of the departure of the ship Esperance, from La Rochelle to Brazil. It will therefore be one of the main slave ports in France. At the head of French trading expeditions in the sixteenth and seventeenth, the port will be overtaken by Nantes, then Bordeaux during the eighteenth century. According to historian Jean-Michel Deveau, author of La Traite Rochelaise, "nearly four hundred and twenty-seven slave ships left La Rochelle in the 18th century. They loaded around 130,000 captives in Africa, destined for the colonies of America and mainly of Santo Domingo ”. On April 26, 1792, the Saint-Jacques was the last slave ship to leave the port of La Rochelle in the 18th century.

Currently, the creation of the port of La Pallice with its submarine base and its deep-water port of call, the base of many shipping lines, and the development of sea fishing, have given new impetus to the city. The port of La Pallice received the status of a major seaport in 2008.