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Maritime History of Charente

Charente-Maritime, the coastal region of Charente, features a long legacy of naval significance. With a strategic position on the Atlantic coast, its heritage stretches back nearly five centuries, with the ports of Rochefort and La Rochelle taking on great prominence over the years.

Hermione, French Royal Navy

Early French navy

Established in 1624, the Marine Nationale represents one of the world’s oldest naval fleets, and proved integral to the successful colonisation of worldwide destinations and France’s growth as an empire throughout history. It was Jean-Baptiste Colbert, then Minister of Finances, who selected Rochefort to be the base for the navy, a role it would play until the dockyard closed in 1926.

Such was its prime position on the French coast, Rochefort would be a source of intrigue to outside invaders, with the British famously launching its Raid on Rochefort during the Seven Years’ War in September 1757. Though the raid began with the successful seizure of the Ile d’Aix, the attempt was ultimately a failure, with the English returning home after the French navy held firm.

St Nicolas Tower, La Rochelle

La Rochelle

Like Rochefort, the town of La Rochelle has experienced maritime history of great significance since it was first founded as a small fishing village in the tenth century. The 14th century Battle of La Rochelle – which again pitted the French against the English – saw the repelling of invading fleets in the waters off the La Rochelle coast, with the support of the Spanish proving invaluable.

Most interestingly, however, was the naval experience of La Rochelle during the Second World War. Used extensively by the occupying Germans, La Rochelle suffered little in the way of damage throughout the war, yet due to its role in German operations, it would be the last city in France to be liberated from the clutch of the Nazis.

The strategic position of Charente has made it a sought-after naval base for centuries. As such, visitors to the region have the opportunity to uncover a host of fascinating sites, with La Rochelle’s Old Harbour featuring its iconic towers, and the sea defences easily accessible on boats trips.