1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ré, Île de

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RÉ, ÎLE DE, an island of western France, belonging to the department of Charente-Inférieure, from the nearest mainland point of which it is distant about 2 m. The island has an area of nearly 33 sq. m., with a breadth varying from 1 to 4½ m. and a length of 15 m. It is separated from the coast of Vendée on the N. by the Pertuis Breton, some 6 m. broad, and from the island of Oléron on the S. by the Pertuis D'Antioche, 7½ m. broad. The coast facing the Atlantic is rocky and inhospitable, but there are numerous harbours on the landward side, of which the busiest is La Flotte. Towards the north-west extremity of the island there is a deep indentation, the Fier d'Ars, which leaves an isthmus only 230 ft. wide, strengthened by a breakwater. The north coast is fringed by dunes and by the salt-marshes which are the chief source of livelihood for the inhabitants. Some of them are employed in fishing, oyster-cultivation and the collection of seaweed for manure; the island has corn-lands and vineyards, the latter covering about half its surface, and produces good figs and pears. Apart from its orchards it is now woodless, though once covered by forests. There are two cantons, St Martin (pop. in 1906, 8362) and Ars-en-Ré (pop. 4711) forming part of the arrondissement of La Rochelle. St Martin, the capital, which has a secure harbour and trade in wine, brandy, salt, &c., was fortified by Vauban in 1681 and used to be the depot for convicts on their way to New Caledonia. In 1627 it repulsed an English force after a siege of three months.