The Port of La Pallice is the industrial harbor of the city of La Rochelle, the capital of the Charente-Maritime department in the Poitou-Charentes region of western France. The city’s old harbor is too shallow for large vessels today, but it is one of the biggest harbors for yachts on the French Atlantic coast.
The Port of La Pallice is a deep-water harbor off the Bay of Biscay and the home of a large fishing fleet that moved from the old harbor during the 1980s. The Port of La Pallice is also the home of an abandoned World War II submarine bunker. The main cargoes of the Port of La Pallice are tropical wood and oil.
Before the Roman Empire discovered the La Rochelle area, it was home to the Santones Gaul tribe. In the 1st Century BC, Rome occupied the area and established salt and wines that they exported throughout their Empire.
Modern La Rochelle was founded in the 10th Century, and it was an important harbor by the 12th Century. In 1137, the Duke of Aquitaine made it a free port with the right to status as a commune. Eleanor of Aquitaine affirmed the charter in 1187 and appointed the city mayor, Guillaume de Montmirail. The charter granted the right to mint coins and operate some tax-free businesses, giving rise to the bourgeoisie (an entrepreneurial middle class).
From its beginnings, the city was an important port for trade and commerce with England, Spain, and the Netherlands. La Rochelle was France’s biggest Atlantic coast harbor until the 15th Century, with trade focused on salt, wine, and cheese.
The city assumed Protestant principles during the Renaissance, and it became a base for the Huguenots from 1568. The city enjoyed relative autonomy and wealth under Henry IV, but its conflict with the authority of Louis XIII in the 1620s ended in the Siege of La Rochelle and a 14-month blockade by Cardinal Richelieu and the loss of its city privileges. After that, the Huguenots were persecuted, and many of them immigrated to the New World, founding cities like New Rochelle in what is now New York. The siege of 1627 and related events created much of the basis for the classic Dumas novel, The Three Musketeers.
La Rochelle was well positioned to support Atlantic fishing and trade with the New World. During the 16th Century, its merchants and ship-owning class grew rich until the Wars of Religion. After the Wars, La Rochelle enjoyed busy trade with the New World, including participation in the slave trade.
In the 18th Century, the city lost much trade and prestige as France’s fortunes in the new world declined, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars raged, and France’s sea power shrank. In 1864, the world’s first mechanically-powered submarine took its first dive in the harbor of La Rochelle.
Germany constructed a submarine base at the Port of La Pallice during World War II, which was later the setting for the movie, Das Boot, and some scenes from the Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was a stronghold for Germany and the last city in France to be liberated at the end of the War.
The Port of La Pallice was opened in 1890 to provide a commercial port for larger vessels, and it has been enlarged many times over the years. Major imports at the Port of La Pallice include fuel oil, nitrates, wood products, and phosphates. Exports are food products and cereals. The Port of La Pallice is La Rochelle’s cruise ship port and fishing port.