Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Moments in history

La Corderie Royale at Rochefort has a fascinating history. Located alongside the Charente River it was a navy arsenal created by Louis XIV to supply and build his warships to protect his empire, to conquer the new worlds and bring back exotic goodies. It manufactured rope for rigging ships military and merchant. The process was laborious and required precision.
The building is 374m long sitting atop an oak base as the terrain is a bit unstable. It's so long because the ropes needed to be made 200m long for rigging and anchors.

Other buildings on site included a forge, powder store, foundry, drydocks for boat repairs. Five hundred ships and boats were constructed here until it closed in 1927. Rope-making for the navy ground to ahalt around 1867 as new technologies rendered it obsolete.

The Corderie was mostly destroyed by a deliberate fire set by the departing Germans in 1944. A tragedy. Admiral Dupont worked to have funds established to rebuild it. Work commenced in 1988 and since 1986 it has housed a museum and maritime training centre.

We followed up this visit by exploring the replica of the frigate Hermione, the ship on which the Marquis de La Fayette embarked in 1780, to bring help and support to the American insurgents during the War of Independence in the American colony. He seems to have fancied himself as a French version of George Washington-hero for freedom.

He harried the British and became a lifelong friend of Washington. La Fayette commanded the troops at the Battle of Yorktown and spent his life (76 years)in and out of political roles, saw Louis XIV succumb to the guillotine, Napoleon come and go and a new style of french government put in place.

His boat, the original of which was built at the arsenal, is being lovingly recreated with only essential nods to modern technology. Unfortunately the lengthy tour of Hermione was entirely in French and so I didn’t learn a lot but I was surprised by the large size of the vessel and the lack of reasonable space for men to live and die in. The cannons, gunpowder and arms took up a a lot of room. We all had to wear hard hats because the ceilings were so low. All through the tour I heard 'bonk....bonk...bonk' as visitors hit their heads unexpectedly.

Since its beginning, the construction site is a true living show place, open to visitors. Once the Hermione is fully completed in 2012, it is planned to sail again on La Fayette's journey, from Rochefort to Boston, via the Franco-American historical stops along the eastern coast « The Lafayette trip ».
We looked around the Ile de Re which is an island off the shore of Rochefort. The weather was wet and raining but we could still appreciate the little village which is full of tourists in the hot months. After that it was time to drive to La Rochelle and check into our hotel, right opposite the port towers.
Jean Claude and I spent the evening with Alain and Annick Boussiron at their home not far from Rochefort. I was so very tired and it was really difficult to concentrate on what the native french speakers were saying at times so opportunities for me to participate were very limited. Dinner didn't start until 10pm but was beautifully presented. Alain is a french cousin (more on the family story in the next post). It was a really treasured moment to meet him. He is regularly in contact with relations I've never met in NZ and France and Annick seems to have an excellent knowledge of her husband's genealogy too. Lovely, friendly and welcoming people. Tomorrow we'd be spending a special day with them and with another of my french cousins.

Photos show La Corderie, the building site with the Hermione, a statue of La Fayette, Ile de Re, La Rochelle at night


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