Port of Rouen
Review and History

The Port of Rouen lies on the banks of the River Seine in northwestern France about 112 kilometers northwest of Paris. The historical capital of Normandy, it was one of Europe’s biggest and richest cities during the Middle Ages. Joan of Arc was burned here in 1431. On the right bank of the River Seine, the Port of Rouen’s old city contains many ancient buildings, so many that some call it the ville-musee (museum town).

Port of Rouen buildings on the left bank of the river were almost destroyed during World War II, but they have been rebuilt. Even though it is 120 kilometers inland, it has long received ocean-going vessels, and it was an outport for Paris. In recent years, the port at Le Havre has largely replaced the Port of Rouen, and industries now dominate the local economy. Major industries in the Port of Rouen include clothing manufacturing and paper mills, and the city also holds chemical works and manufacturers of aircraft parts, automobiles, and mechanical equipment. In 2007, the city of Rouen was home to about 109 thousand people, but the urban area contained more than 541 thousand.

Port History

The Velocassi tribe of Gauls founded the Port of Rouen, calling it Ratumacos. The Romans called it Rotomagus when they conquered the area in the 1st Century AD and made it the second city of the district of Gallia Lugdunensis. Roman Emperor Diocletian reorganized the district in the late 3rd Century, making Rouen the main city of Gallia Lugdunensis II and bringing the Roman town to its peak of development. Foundations of the Roman amphitheatre and public baths remain today.

The Normans conquered the Port of Rouen in 841, bringing it under the English crown and making it the capital of the Duchy of Normandy in 912. The city was allowed self-government when it was chartered in 1150. At that time, it was home to a Rabbinical School (yeshiva), and Jews made up a fifth of the town’s population. Discovered in the 1970s, the remains of the yeshiva are being restored.

In 1204, Normandy and the Port of Rouen were annexed into the Kingdom of France by King Philippe II who destroyed the Norman castle that stood on the site of the ancient Gallo-Roman amphitheater and replaced it with Chateau Bouvreuil. From that time, a textile industry grew based on English wool. River traffic was already important to the town’s prosperity, as it held a monopoly that stretched to Paris, importing tin and wool and exporting wheat and wine.

Conflict broke out in the Port of Rouen in the 13th Century when the mayor was assassinated in 1291 and the homes of the wealthy were looted. King Philip IV imposed order, restricting the city charter and its river monopoly. He allowed the town to buy back its rights in 1294. Philip IV expelled the Jewish population of almost six thousand in 1306. Another rebellion broke out in 1389, leading to the withdrawal of the city’s rights.

The Port of Rouen and Normandy were again annexed by England in 1419 during the Hundred Years’ War, but the town of Rouen resisted Henry V’s rule. In 1431, Joan of Arc met her fiery end in Rouen. France’s King Charles VII retook the Port of Rouen in 1449.

In 1789, American Robert Fulton tested the first submarine, the Nautilus, in the Port of Rouen. In 1821, steamers began to shuttle passengers on the River Seine. In 1855, the Statue of Liberty embarked from Rouen on its journey to New York. The first trans-Atlantic cooled transport left the Port of Rouen in 1876. In 1899, France’s first transporter bridge opened in Rouen.

In 1918, the Port of Rouen became France’s first port when it moved over ten million tons of cargo. The Port of Rouen was seriously damaged on by Allied bombs D-Day during World War II. A new channel was installed in 1960, and the port received autonomy in 1966. In 1969, upstream traffic by ocean-going vessels was restricted by the new William the Conqueror Bridge.

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