Rochefort, France - Encyclopedia

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ROCHEFORT, a town of western France, capital of an arrondissement in the department of Charente-Inferieure, 20 m.

S.S.E. of La Rochelle on the State railway from Nantes to Bordeaux. Pop. (1906) town, 31,433; commune, 36,694.36,694. It is situated on the right bank of the Charente, 9 m. from the Atlantic, and is built partly on the side of a rocky hill and partly on an old marshland. The town is laid out with great regularity, the streets being wide and straight and centring round the Place Colbert, in the middle of which is a monumental fountain of the 18th century. The public institutions of Rochefort comprise the sub-prefecture, tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a board of trade arbitration, a chamber of commerce, a lycee for boys, a college for girls and schools of drawing and architecture. The fortifications are slight. Below Rochefort the Charente is crossed by a pont transbordcur, the carrier of which is suspended at a height which admits of the tallest ships passing underneath at any time. There are both a naval and a commercial harbour. The former has the advantage of deep anchorage well protected by batteries at the mouth of the river, and the roadstead is perfectly safe. The windings of the channel, however, between Rochefort and the sea, and the bar at the entrance render navigation dangerous. Rochefort is capital of the fourth maritime arrondissement, which stretches from the bay of Bourgneuf to the coast of Spain. The naval harbour and arsenal, separated from the town by a line of fortifications with three gates, contain large covered building yards, repairing docks and extensive timber basins on both banks of the river. The arsenal has also a ropewalk dating from 1668, a school of navigation and pilotage, the offices of the maritime prefecture, the navy commissariat, a park of artillery and various boards of direction connected with the navy. Other government establishments at Rochefort are barracks for infantry, artillery and marines, and the naval hospital and school of medicine. In the grounds of this last institution is an artesian well, sunk in1862-1866to a depth of 2800 ft., and yielding water with a temperature of ioo° F. The commercial harbour, higher up the river than the naval harbour, has two small basins, a third basin with an area of 15 acres and a depth at neap-tide of 25 ft., at spring-tide of 291ft., and a dry dock 110 yds. long. Besides shipbuilding, which forms the staple industry, flourand saw-milling, * sailcloth, &c., are among the local manufactures. At the ports of Rochefort and Tonnay-Charente (4 m. higher up) there entered, in 1905, 265 vessels (166 British), with a tonnage of 192,537.

The lordship of Rochefort, held by powerful nobles as early as the 11th century, was united to the French Crown by Philip the Fair early in the 14th century; but it was alternately seized in the course of the Hundred Years' War by the English and the French, and in the Wars of Religion by the Catholics and Protestants. Colbert having in 1665 chosen Rochefort as the seat of a repairing port between Brest and the Gironde, the town rapidly increased in importance; by 1674 it had 20,000 inhabitants; and when the Dutch admiral Cornelius Tromp appeared at the mouth of the river with seventy-two vessels for the purpose of destroying the new arsenal, he found the approaches so well defended that he gave up his enterprise. It was at Rochefort that the naval school, afterwards transferred to Brest, was originally founded. The town continued to flourish in the later part of the 17th century. In 1690 and in 5703 the English made unsuccessful attempts to destroy it. Its fleet, under the command of Admiral la Gallissonniere, a native of the place, defeated Admiral Byng in 1755 and did good service in the wars of the republic. But the destruction of the French fleet by the English in 1809 in the roadstead of Ile d'Aix, the preference accorded to the harbours of Brest and Toulon and the unhealthiness of its climate seriously interfered with the prosperity of. the place. The convict establishment, founded at Rochefort in 1777, was suppressed in 1852.

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