On the right bank of the Seine River Estuary, facing the English Channel coast, is the seaport of Le Havre. It is one of France’s largest seaports, second only to
Marseille. It is located in the Département of Seine-Maritime, some 42 miles west of
Rouen, 134 miles west-northwest of
Paris, 25 miles north of
Évreux and 42 miles northwest of
Caen. It is at the intersection of Route National 15, D489 and D940, just west of Autoroute A29.
Le Havre was long a fishing village. In 1517,
François I, of France, had a port built here after the nearby harbor at
Honfleur, to the northeast, silted up. During the Religious Wars, in 1562, French Huguenots turned control of the town over to the English. The English were driven out of Le Havre in 1563.
In the 17th century, Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII’s chief minister, began the port’s modernization.
Napoléon I continued the modernization in the 19th century.
Le Havre’s points of interest include the 16th through 17th century Church of Notre-Dame de Bonsecours and the modern Church of Saint-Joseph to its east. The all glass and metal André Malraux Museum of Fine Arts is located to the south of the Église Saint-Joseph.
Over the course of the Great War [1914-1918], Le Havre was a supply and disembarkation base for the British and American expeditionary forces. The city was occupied by the Germans from 1940 to 1944 and suffered greatly from 170 Allied bombings.
After the war, both the city and the port were rebuilt and the port facilities were greatly expanded. A recent addition to the area is the Pont de Normandie bridge linking Le Havre with Honfleur. It is one of the world’s longest suspension bridges.
The harbor at Le Havre, with its extensive facilities, is well suited to transatlantic and transchannel shipping. It is an import port for cotton and tropical goods. The port handles much of France’s imported crude petroleum. There is regular train and car ferry service between the port and England and Ireland.
The city is a commercial and a manufacturing center. Its products include automobiles, chemicals, electrical goods, processed food, machinery, petrochemicals, rope, ships, sugar, textiles and processed timber.
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The inland seaport of Rouen is located 55 miles east of
Le Havre and 84 miles northwest of
Paris on the Seine River. Rouen is a seaport for Paris and is France’s fifth largest port. It is located at the crossroads of Autoroutes A15, A28, A13 and Route Nationals 31 and 14. Rouen is the capital of the Seine-Maritime Département and of the
Haute-Normandie [Upper Normandy] Region.
The site for Rouen, on the right bank of the Seine, was originally settled by the
Celts. The Romans named the town Rotomagus. In the 3rd century, Saint-Mellon, the area’s first bishop, Christanized the town. During the 5th century, the town became an archiepiscopal see. In 876 it was invaded by the Normans and became the center of the duchy of Normandy in 912. It became subject to the English crown following the 1066 Norman Conquest of England.
The French captured the town in 1204. Thereafter, until the start of the
Hundred Years’ War, in 1337, the town prospered. In 1419, the town was retaken by Henry V of England who held it until 1449. During this time, France’s patron saint,
Joan of Arc, was imprisoned here in 1430. The tower where she was kept prisoner still stands and bears her name. In May, 1431, the English
condemned her for heresy and burned her at the stake at the Place du Vieux-Marché.
In 1449, the French recaptured the town and, for the next century, it became one of France’s main cultural centers. In 1562, the town was taken by the Huguenots. In the late 16th century, Rouen suffered from the Wars of Religion, causing more than half of its population to emigrate following the revocation of the
Edict of Nantes in 1685. Subsequently, both the port and the city began a decline that didn’t end until the textile trade brought new prosperity in the 19th century.
Over the course of the
Franco-Prussian War, from 1870 to 1871, Rouen was occupied by the Germans. It was occupied by the Germans again during World War II, during which time the city was badly damaged.
The old city, on the Seine’s right bank, has been called the Ville-Musée [Museum Town] because of its large number of ancient buildings. It is a treasure trove of monuments to the past. It boasts some 700 timber-framed, medieval houses along the narrow pedestrian streets.
The restored and magnificent 12th through 15th century early Gothic to late Flamboyant Cathedral of Notre-Dame stands near the center of the city. It is one of France’s finest cathedrals. Its three portal façade, with its lacy stonework and array of statues, was often painted by the Impressionist Claude Monet. The structure is distinguished by both its spacious interior and its two asymmetrical towers. The Tour de Beurre [Butter Tower – it was financed by those willing to pay to eat butter during lent] holds a large carillon of 55 bells. The Tour Lanterne [Lantern Tower] rises to a height of almost 500 feet. Not far away is a huge clock, the Gros Horloge, set in a Renaissance gateway. The clock has but one hand and dates back to the 13th century. Adjacent is a 14th century belfry that offers a ‘bel vieu’ of the city.
The Archbishop’s Palace, with its 15th century façade, adjoins the cathedral. Behind the Palace is the 15th century mainly Flamboyant-Gothic Church of Saint-Maclou. It is a truly rich example of the Flamboyant Gothic style of architecture at its purest. Its decoration is Renaissance and it is noteworthy for the exquisite 16th century door panels.
Several streets to the north of Saint-Maclou is the 12th through 15th century Church of Saint-Ouen. It is the pinnacle of High Gothic style. The structure was originally a 7th century Benedictine abbey church. It is where Jeanne d’Arc was sentenced to death. The church has 14th century windows and a remarkable lofty and unadorned interior. The tower, where
Joan of Arc was kept prisoner [Tour de Jeanne d’Arc], is nearby.
The former seat of the Norman law courts, the late Gothic style Palais de Justice, is a noted civic building as is the 16th century Hôtel de Bourgtheroulde. The Hôtel de Bourgtheroulde is a showcase of Gothic design. It was built by William the Red and was enlarged during the Renaissance.
The Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics [Musée des Beaux-Arts] houses a fine collection of 17th and 18th century French and European paintings along with examples of the porcelain and faience for which Rouen was known in the 16th through 18th centuries. It is one of France’s most important provincial museums. Other museums in the city are devoted to the 17th century dramatic poet Pierre Corneille, who wrote Le Cid, and to the 19th century novelist Gustave Flaubert who authored Madame Bovary in 1857.
University of Rouen-Upper Normandy was established near the city to the north, at Saint-Aignan, in 1966.
Rouen had been best known, from the 16th through the 18th centuries, for its porcelain and faience. The city’s port has some 12 miles of docks that run along the Seine as far as La Bouille. The combination of Rouen’s ocean-going port and its proximity to Paris have combined to make it an expanding industrial zone. Today, its products include aircraft parts, automobiles, brandy, clothing, medicine, mechanical equipment, metals, paper, petrochemicals, processed food, ships, soap and textiles.