1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charente-Inférieure

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CHARENTE-INFÉRIEURE, a maritime department of south-western France, comprehending the old provinces of Saintonge and Aunis, and a small portion of Poitou, and including the islands of Ré, Oléron, Aix and Madame. Area, 2791 sq.m. Pop. (1906) 453,793. It is bounded N. by Vendée, N.E. by Deux-Sèvres, E. by Charente, S.E. by Dordogne, S.W. by Gironde and the estuary of the Gironde, and W. by the Bay of Biscay. Plains and low hills occupy the interior; the coast is flat and marshy, as are the islands (Ré, Aix, Oléron) which lie opposite to it. The department takes its name from the river Charente, which traverses it during the last 61 m. of its course and drains the central region. Its chief tributaries are on the right the Boutonne, on the left the Seugne. The climate is temperate and, except along the coast, healthy. There are several sheltered bays on the coast, and several good harbours, the chief of which are La Rochelle, Rochefort and Tonnay-Charente, the two latter some distance up the Charente. Royan on the north shore of the Gironde is an important watering-place much frequented for its bathing.

The majority of the inhabitants of Charente-Inférieure live by agriculture. The chief products of the arable land are wheat, oats, maize, barley and the potato. Horse and cattle-raising is carried on and dairying is prosperous. A considerable quantity of wine, most of which is distilled into brandy, is produced. The department has a few peat-workings, and produces freestone, lime and cement; the salt-marshes of the coast are important sources of mineral wealth. Glass, pottery, bricks and earthenware are prominent industrial products. Ship-building, brandy-distilling, iron-founding and machine construction are also carried on. Oysters and mussels are bred in the neighbourhood of La Rochelle and Marennes, and there are numerous fishing ports along the coast.

The railways traversing the department belong to the Ouest-État system, except one section of the Paris-Bordeaux line belonging to the Orléans Company. The facilities of the department for internal communication are greatly increased by the number of navigable streams which water it. The Charente, the Sèvre Niortaise, the Boutonne, the Seudre and the Gironde furnish 142 m. of navigable waterway, to which must be added the 56 m. covered by the canals of the coast. There are 6 arrondissements (40 cantons, 481 communes), cognominal with the towns of La Rochelle, Rochefort, Marennes, Saintes, Jonzac and St Jean d’Angély—La Rochelle being the chief town of the department. The department forms the diocese of La Rochelle, and is attached to the 18th military region, and in educational matters to the académie of Poitiers. Its court of appeal is at Poitiers.

La Rochelle, St Jean d’Angély, Rochefort and Saintes (q.v.) are the principal towns. Surgères and Aulnay possess fine specimens of the numerous Romanesque churches. Pons has a graceful château of the 15th and 16th centuries, beside which there rises a fine keep of the 12th century.