La Rochelle was besieged by Cardinal Richelieu in 1627 when it was a hotbed of Protestantism. The siege lasted over a year and over 20,000 citizens of the town died before surrendering. Here is a painting of Richelieu on the barrier built outside the fortified harbor which prevented the British from aiding La Rochelle during the siege.
La Rochelle has passed between England and France many times and was in a strategic position for trade. After the siege in 1628 all the fortifications were removed except the three towers at the entrance to the harbor. The Lanterne tower below was constructed in 1372 and became a lighthouse in 1468. It later became a prison and has the graffiti of numerous sailors carved into the walls.
The St. Nicholas tower construction started in 1345 and was completed in 1372. It was used mainly for defense and the chain across the inner harbor entrance was attached to it's base.
The Chaine tower had the winch system for the chain across the harbor and was an artillery tower. However, the top 14 meters were blown off in an explosion around 1650 and it is only 20 meters tall now.
The cathedral of St. Louis was designed by the king's architect and completed in 1742. It contains some marvelous paintings in it's side chapels and stain glass windows above the nave.
The organ is also impressive.
After dinner on Tuesday night, we stopped in a local shop to taste cognac. Cognac is produced in a region just to the northeast of La Rochelle. The grapes are grown exclusively for cognac and are deemed unacceptable for wine. We tasted 12 and 25 year old cognac and an aperitif called pineau. Pineau is produced in the same region and is made from the first press of grapes with an addition of cognac. It is like a very fine light port.
Wednesday we visited a local museum which had artwork depicting the seige in 1627-1628, a collection of high quality antique china from the region, and the Asian art collection of a French diplomat stationed in southeast Asia who was from La Rochelle. The collection of antique buddhas, wood carvings, and samurai armor was world class. We particularly liked this alabaster and gold Buddha that is about 3 ft. tall.
Thursday we went to the maritime museum and toured three ships, a port tug, a commercial trawler, and a meteorological research vessel.
There was a self guided tour and we saw every part of the ships, engine rooms, quarters, galleys, bridges, etc.
Next we continue our way north towards St. Malo. We will be inland once again and will pass through the Loire river valley. Hopefully the weather will be clearing at least for a few days.