1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cherbourg

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CHERBOURG, a naval station, fortified town and seaport of north-western France, capital of an arrondissement in the department of Manche, on the English Channel, 232 m. W.N.W. of Paris on the Ouest-État railway. Pop. (1906) town, 35,710; commune, 43,827. Cherbourg is situated at the mouth of the Divette, on a small bay at the apex of the indentation formed by the northern shore of the peninsula of Cotentin. Apart from a fine hospital and the church of La Trinité dating from the 15th century, the town has no buildings of special interest. A rich collection of paintings is housed in the hôtel de ville. A statue of the painter J. F. Millet, born near Cherbourg, stands in the public garden, and there is an equestrian statue of Napoleon I. in the square named after him. Cherbourg is a fortified place of the first class, headquarters of one of the five naval arrondissements of France, and the seat of a sub-prefect. It has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a chamber of commerce, a lycée and a naval school. The chief industries of the town proper are fishing, saw-milling, tanning, leather-dressing, ship-building, iron and copper-founding, rope-making and the manufacture of agricultural implements. There are stone quarries in the environs, and the town has trade in farm produce.

Cherbourg derives its chief importance from its naval and commercial harbours, which are distant from each other about half a mile. The former consists of three main basins cut out of the rock, and has an area of 55 acres. The minimum depth of water is 30 ft. Connected with the harbour are dry docks, the yards where the largest ships in the French navy are constructed, magazines, rope walks, and the various workshops requisite for a naval arsenal of the first class. The works and town are carefully guarded on every side by redoubts and fortifications, and are commanded by batteries on the surrounding hills. There is a large naval hospital close to the harbour. The commercial harbour at the mouth of the Divette communicates with the sea by a channel 650 yds. long. It consists of two parts, an outer and tidal harbour 171/2; acres in extent, and an inner basin 15 acres in extent, with a depth on sill at ordinary spring tide of 25 ft. Outside these harbours is the triangular bay, which forms the roadstead of Cherbourg. The bay is admirably sheltered by the land on every side but the north. On that side it is sheltered by a huge breakwater, over 2 m. in length, with a width of 650 ft. at its base and 30 ft. at its summit, which is protected by forts, and leaves passages for vessels to the east and west. These passages are guarded by forts placed on islands intervening between the breakwater and the mainland, and themselves united to the land by breakwaters. The surface within these barriers amounts to about 3700 acres. Cherbourg is a port of call for the American, North German Lloyd and other important lines of transatlantic steamers. The chief exports are stone for road-making, butter, eggs and vegetables; the chief imports are coal, timber, superphosphates and wine from Algeria. Great Britain is the principal customer.

Cherbourg is supposed by some investigators to occupy the site of the Roman station of Coriallum, but nothing definite is known about its origin. The name was long regarded as a corruption of Caesaris Burgus (Caesar’s Borough). William the Conqueror, under whom it appears as Carusbur, provided it with a hospital and a church; and Henry II. of England on several occasions chose it as his residence. In 1295 it was pillaged by an English fleet from Yarmouth; and in the 14th century it frequently suffered during the wars against the English. Captured by the English in 1418 after a four months’ siege, it was recovered by Charles VII. of France in 1450. An attempt was made under Louis XIV. to construct a military port; but the fortifications were dismantled in 1688, and further damage was inflicted by the English in 1758. In 1686 Vauban planned harbour-works which were begun under Louis XVI. and continued by Napoleon I. It was left, however, to Louis Philippe, and particularly to Napoleon III., to complete them, and their successful realization was celebrated in 1858, in the presence of the queen of England, against whose dominions they had at one time been mainly directed. At the close of 1857, £8,000,000, of which the breakwater cost over £2,500,000, had been expended on the works; in 1889 a further sum of £680,000 was voted by the Chamber of Deputies for the improvement of the port.