Rochefort, Charente-Maritime

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Rochefort is a commune in western France, a seaport on the Atlantic Ocean. It is a sous-préfecture of the Charente-Maritime département. Population (1999): 25,797. The city's non-official name is Rochefort-sur-Mer but the last part of the name is normally omitted.

History

In December 1665 Rochefort was chosen by Jean-Baptiste Colbert as a place of "refuge, defense and supply" for the French navy. Its military harbour was fortified by Louis XIV's commissary of fortifications Vauban. Between 1666-1669 the king had the "Corderie Royale" (then the longest building in Europe) constructed to make cordage for French ships of war. The making of cordage ceased in 1867, and in 1926 the arsenal of Rochefort was closed. The building was burned by occupation forces in 1944 and left abandoned for twenty years. Today it has been restored for municipal and tourist purposes. Another infrastructure of early Rochefort from 1766 was its bagne, a high-security penal colony involving hard labour. Bagnes were then common fixtures in military harbours and naval bases, such as Toulon or France, because they provided free labour.

Off Rochefort, Napoleon Bonaparte was intercepted and surrendered to Captain F. L. Maitland aboard HMS Bellerophon, on July 17, 1815, ending the "Hundred Days".

Rochefort is a notable example of seventeenth-century "ville nouvelle" or new town, which means its design and building resulted from a political decree. The reason for building Rochefort was to a large extent that royal power could hardly depend on rebellious Protestant La Rochelle, which Cardinal Richelieu had had to besiege a few decades earlier. Well into the twentieth century, Rochefort remained primarily a garrison town. The tourist industry, which had long existed due to the town's spa, gained emphasis in the 1990s.

Miscellaneous

The town gained some fleeting fame with Jacques Demy's musical movie Les demoiselles de Rochefort (1967), starring Catherine Deneuve, her sister Françoise Dorléac and George Chakiris.

Rochefort was the birthplace of the author Pierre Loti whose house has been turned into a museum.

Philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty was also born in Rochefort.

External links

de:Rochefort fr:Rochefort (Charente-Maritime) no:Rochefort, Charente-Maritime

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