The port of Royan
|Intercommunality||Communauté d'agglomération Royan Atlantique|
|o Mayor (2017-2020)||Patrick Marengo|
|19.30 km2 (7.45 sq mi)|
|o Density||950/km2 (2,500/sq mi)|
|Time zone||UTC+01:00 (CET)|
|o Summer (DST)||UTC+02:00 (CEST)|
|Elevation||0-35 m (0-115 ft) |
(avg. 20 m or 66 ft)
|1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km2 (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.|
Royan (French pronunciation: [?wa.j]; and locally [?we.j] in the Saintongeais dialect) is a commune and town in the south-west of France, in the department of Charente-Maritime in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. Its inhabitants are known as Royannais and Royannaises. Capital of the Côte de Beauté, Royan is one of the main French Atlantic coastal resort towns, and has five beaches, a marina for over 1,000 boats, and an active fishing port. As of 2013, the population of the greater urban area was 48,982. The town had 18,393 inhabitants in 2015.
Royan is located on the peninsula of Arvert, at the mouth of the Gironde estuary on its eastern shore. Royan was once of strategic importance, coveted in particular by the Visigoths and the Vikings. During the Reformation the city became a Protestant stronghold, and was besieged and destroyed by King Louis XIII of France (ruled 1610-43). During the Bourbon Restoration (1814-1830), and especially during the Second Empire (1852-1870), Royan was celebrated for its sea baths. It attracted many artists during the Roaring Twenties.
Allied bombing between September 1944 and April 1945 destroyed the town. Known then as the "martyred city", it was declared a "Laboratory of research on urbanism", and it is now a showcase of the Modernist architecture of the 1950s. It was classified as a Town of Art and History (Ville d'Art et d'Histoire) in 2010. Royan today is a tourist and cultural hub, with some 90,000 visitors each summer season.
Royan is a seaside resort town situated in the west of the department of Charente-Maritime, in the former province of Saintonge. It lies near the Atlantic coast on the eastern shore of the mouth of the Gironde, Europe's largest estuary. Along the coastline of the commune, limestone cliffs alternate with the five beaches known locally as conches.
The town of Royan is built on a calcareous rock plateau dating from the Cretaceous Period (c. 150 million years ago). It is bounded by the Pousseau marshes to the north and the Pontaillac marshes to the west. The estuary, the cliffs and the conches were shaped approximately 66 million years ago by the folding of limestone layers as the Alps and the Pyrenees formed.
Royan is approximately 65 kilometres (40 mi) from the administrative capital (prefecture) of the department, La Rochelle, by departmental road D 733 and national road (Route nationale, RN) 137. It is 98 km (61 mi) from Bordeaux by departmental road D 730 and the A10 freeway, and 507 km (315 mi) from Paris. Between Royan and the town of Saintes, the historic capital of Saintonge and an important centre of art and history, travel time on the RN 150 is just under half an hour.
The conurbation of Royan does not have its own airport. 30 km (19 mi) away, Rochefort-Saint-Agnant Airport offers flights to several European destinations, including the British Isles. La Rochelle - Île de Ré Airport is 70 km (43 mi) away. 100 km (62 mi) to the south, Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport provides international connections.
The climate is oceanic: rainfall is relatively moderate in autumn and in winter and the winters are mild. Sea breezes keep summers temperatures moderate. Two winds, the north-westerly noroît and the south-westerly suroît, blow in from the ocean and along the coast of the department. The very high average insolation of 2250 hours a year is comparable to the French Riviera.
Charente-Maritime was the department most affected by Cyclone Martin on December 27, 1999. Winds speeds of up to 198 kilometres per hour (123 mph) were recorded on the island of Oléron, and 194 kilometres per hour (121 mph) in Royan, with severe damage to local buildings, woodland, and harbour facilities.
|Climate data for Royan|
|Average high °C (°F)||8.5
|Daily mean °C (°F)||5.9
|Average low °C (°F)||3.4
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||82.5
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||84||111||174||212||239||272||305||277||218||167||107||85||2,250|
The site of Royan has been occupied since prehistoric times, as evidenced by archaeological finds of knapped flint. The Santones, a Celtic people, were early arrivals on the peninsula of Arvert. The Romans developed vineyards, oyster farming, and the saltern technique for salt production. The poet Tibullus celebrates the coast after the victory of his patron, the general Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, and the poet Ausonius built a villa here. The Visigoths arrived in Saintes in 418. In 419, defensive walls were built around Royan. Gregory of Tours mentions the usurpation of the church of Royan by the Arian Visigoths. In the summer of 844, the Vikings came up the Gironde, plundering everything in their path.
At the beginning of the 11th century, a precarious peace returned to the peninsula. Small fiefdoms and abbeys emerged. Between 1050 and 1075, the Prieuré de Saint-Vivien de Saintes built the Saint Pierre priory on the Saint-Pierre plateau, two kilometres from Royan and a small settlement grew there. In 1092, the Grande-Sauve Abbey built the Saint Nicolas priory nearby, on the Foncillon rock on the coast. A small castle in Royan protected the beach of Grande Conche, used as a harbour. Harbour activity was significant by the end of the 11th century, and many vessels used the Gironde estuary as a stopping point while waiting for favourable winds or currents. The Lord of Didonne took advantage of this to impose a tax on any boat mooring at the foot of the castle.
In 1137, Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Louis VII of France. Royan became part of the Duchy of Aquitaine, under direct royal control. In 1152, the marriage was annulled and Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet, who became King Henry II of England in 1154. Royan passed into English control.
The English king strengthened the town's defences with robust bulwarks and a solid keep. The various taxes paid by ships in the 13th century were codified by the Lords of Royan in 1232 as the Custom of Royan (Coutume de Royan). On May 20, 1242, King Henry III of England, at war with King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis), landed at Royan with 300 knights. Although defeated at Taillebourg, under the Treaty of Paris (1259) the English retained control of the south of Saintonge, and with it the town of Royan. In 1355, during the Hundred Years' War, the Black Prince, heir to the throne of England, occupied Saintonge and further strengthened Royan's defences. Royan became a large town, administered by twelve magistrates (échevins) and twelve councillors. In 1451, at the end of the Hundred Years' War, the region had become definitively French but the town was in ruins.
In 1458, Marie de Valois (1444-1473), natural daughter of King Charles VII of France and his mistress Agnès Sorel, married Olivier de Coëtivy, Count of Taillebourg. She brought a dowry of 12,000 écus and the fiefdoms, or châtellenies, of Royan and Mornac. In 1501, by his marriage to Louise de Coëtivy, Charles de la Trémoille became Baron of Royan. Commerce developed in the town, but access was made difficult by the town's fortifications. From the beginning of the 16th century, a new quarter developed along the beachfront.
During the French Wars of Religion in the 16th century, many of the great captains of the time fought beneath the walls of the citadel, among them Henri de Navarre, who would become King Henry III of Navarre and then King Henry IV of France, and Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, later a prior of Saint-Pierre-de-Royan). In 1592, Henry IV made the town a marquisate, granted to Gilbert de la Trémoille. At the beginning of the 17th century, Jean Louis de Nogaret de La Valette, the first Duke of Épernon, considered Royan "one of better places of its size in France". After the signing of the Edict of Nantes in 1598, it became a Protestant stronghold.
The town was besieged a first time in 1622 by King Louis XIII of France, but resisted. A second siege in 1623 caused great hardship. Many inhabitants abandoned the city and were banned from returning. The garrison was forced to surrender. In 1631, Cardinal Richelieu ordered the levelling of the town; the citadel was dismantled, and the ditches were filled in. The city, which no longer had a church, was associated with the rural parish of Saint Pierre.
After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, a majority of the population emigrated, many people going to the Dutch Republic. Persecution continued under King Louis XV. A great storm in 1735 destroyed the harbour embankment, and navigation was not restored until the 19th century.
On December 22, 1789, the National Constituent Assembly set up in the early stages of the French Revolution voted for the administrative division of France into departments in place of the former provinces. The department of Charente-Inférieure was created on March 4, 1790 with the entry into force of this law. Each department was subdivided into districts, and each district into cantons. Royan became the administrative centre of its canton.
Royan elected a city council at that time, chaired by Daniel Renaud, a Protestant, and mayor Nicolas-Thérese Vallet of Salignac. On July 12, 1790, the National Constituent Assembly passed a law, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which subordinated the Catholic Church to the government. The priests of the parishes of Royan, Vaux and Saint-Sulpice refused to take an obligatory oath of allegiance to France under this law, so joining the group of "refractory priests" (prêtres réfractaires) condemned to deportation.
Throughout the country, church properties were seized. In Royan, the 1622 convent of the Récollets, set in grounds of 33 hectares (82 acres), was put up for sale. It was bought on February 25, 1791, and then demolished, by shipowner Jean Boisseau.
As elsewhere, economic crisis caused growing dissatisfaction in Royan. To counter this, patriotic clubs were formed. On July 14, 1790, on the occasion of the first Festival of the Federation (Fête de la Fédération celebrations the French Revolution, a ceremony was organized in the church of Saint Pierre for the swearing of the solemn oath to the coming first French Constitution, adopted in 1791.
At the end of November 1790, mayor Nicolas-Thérese Vallet of Salignac was removed from office and was replaced by François d' Aulnis de Puiraveaux. In 1791, Daniel Renaud was elected mayor of the commune. In May 1791, the pro-republican, anti-royalist Society of the Friends of the Constitution established a branch in Royan. In general terms, however, the Reign of Terror (la Terreur) after the creation of the First French Republic had little impact in the area, and few of the local nobles were affected.
Work to pave the town's streets began in 1816, and was finally completed in 1826. In July 1819, mayor Raymond Labarthe signed the first order regulating sea bathing. This forbade nude bathing at beaches neighbouring houses, and reserved Foncillon beach for women. In 1820, it was forbidden "to wash pigs, horses and other cattle in the sea as we have baths". In 1836, a staircase was cut out of the rock to facilitate the landing of passengers from boats. By 1845, civil engineering works by the engineer Botton incorporated the Foncillon cliff into Royan's port. In 1847, the engineer Lessore built the town's first casino. The first street lights were installed in 1854, during a time of considerable development in the town under the Second Empire (1852-1870). Between 1850 and 1870, tourist numbers increased from 9,000 to 10,000, and the population from 3,329 to 4,500.
During World War II, two German forts defended the Gironde estuary: Gironde Mündung Nord (to the north, at Royan) and Gironde Mündung Süd (to the south, at La Pointe de Grave). These constituted one of the last pockets of Third Reich resistance along the Atlantic coast of France, well after the liberation of the rest of the country. A force of some 350 heavy bombers of the Royal Air Force (RAF) bombed Royan in two raids conducted in the early hours of January 5, 1945, destroying the town. This was done at the request of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), which had been told that the only people left in Royan were Germans and collaborators. Responsibility for this raid is generally attributed to General de Larminat of the Free French Forces.
The Allied operation against the German forces on the island of Oléron and at the mouth of the Gironde estuary began with a general naval bombardment on April 15, 1945, some 10 months after D-Day. For five days, the American naval task force assisted the French ground forces with naval bombardment and aerial reconnaissance in the assault on Royan and the Pointe de Grave area at the mouth of the Gironde. American B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator aircraft carried out aerial bombing missions, including extensive and pioneering use of napalm, finishing the destruction of January 5.
The first bombing raids killed over 1,000 civilians and only 23 German soldiers. When the Americans returned later and used napalm, they destroyed the entire town and killed another 1,700 civilians.
Blandford writes, "There was a Free French commander with the U.S. Seventh Army outside Royan, who was not informed until too late. The message was in French and the American signalman could not understand it. It took four hours to get it translated".
The town was rebuilt as part of an urban development programme in the 1950s, and is representative of the Modernist architecture of the period.
The men of Royan are known as Royannais, and its women as Royannaises.
Royan is twinned with:
Royan's 1877 neo-Gothic church, on what is now the Square Charles de Gaulle, was destroyed when Royan was bombed on January 5, 1945. After the war a new church was built, bigger, architecturally ambitious and spectacular, and drawing its aesthetic inspiration from the large Gothic cathedrals.
Notre-Dame de Royan, completed in 1958 and built entirely of reinforced concrete by architects Guillaume Gillet and Marc Hébrard and engineers Bernard Lafaille, René Sarger and Ou Tseng, is considered a masterpiece of contemporary architecture. The church took three years to build. The elliptical nave is 45 metres long by 22 metres wide (148 ft × 72 ft) and has a seating capacity for some 2000 people. It is flanked by an ambulatory, and a gallery three metres above the floor. The gallery is lit by rhombus-shaped stained glass representing the Stations of the Cross. The building's structure alternates prestressed V-shaped reinforced concrete elements made using the Lafaille process, named for its inventor, French engineer Bernard Lafaille, with huge windows, made by master glazier Henri Martin-Granel and covering a total area of 500 square metres (5,400 sq ft). The church was classified as a historical monument in 1988.
The Palais des congrès was built in 1957 by Bordeaux architect Claude Ferret. Its design is based on cubic geometry, relieved by the oblique lines of external staircases and by the subtle interweaving of convex inner walls. A glass wall opens a broad outlook onto the Gironde estuary, and the building was later extended with gardens under a transparent cube. It was classified as a historical monument in 2004.
Built in 1955 by architects Louis Simon and Andre Morisseau and engineer René Sarger, the Central Market is a round concrete shell with walls 8 centimetres (3 in) thick. It rests on thirteen peripheral support-points, and has no internal pillars. The structure is 52.40 metres (171.9 ft) in diameter, with a central height of 10.50 metres (34.4 ft). It served as the model for the market in Nanterre and for the Centre of New Industries and Technologies (CNIT) in the La Défense neighbourhood of Paris.
Royan's language university, CAREL (Centre Audiovisuel de Royan pour l'Étude des Langues), attracts language students, and foreign students from some 80 countries. Its facilities include twenty soundproof audiovisual rooms, four language laboratories, an auditorium, a library, a television studio and a self-service cafeteria. It prepares students to sit language examinations, including the Diplôme approfondi de langue française (DALF), the Diplôme d'études en langue française (DELF), the Test de connaissance du français (TCF), and the Test de français international (TFI).
Junior high schools (collèges) include the Collège Émile Zola, Collège Henry Dunant and Collège Sainte-Marie.
Senior high schools (lycées) include the Lycée de l'Atlantique and the Lycée de Cordouan.
The main stadium of the city is the Stade d'honneur, near the railway station. Royan has numerous other sports facilities, including two swimming pools, of which one, at Foncillon, is an outdoor seawater pool open in the summer months; several gymnasiums; a sports hall; several tennis courts; a Basque pelota wall; a rugby ground; and a golf course.
Born in the commune of Royan: