Youngest in the clan
There are three French ports sailing in unison in the association Haropa. One of them, Le Havre, turned 500 recently – but it is nevertheless the youngest of the three.
If you visit Le Havre – France’s largest container port and Normandy’s most populous city – you might be surprised by its townscape, which remains strongly characterised by the 1950s. This is because the centre was practically razed to the ground in the course of the Second World War, and subsequently rebuilt so uniquely in concrete that it even made it onto the list of Unesco’s designated world heritage sites.
On 7 February 1517 King François I established a maritime port in Le Havre for his landlocked capital city of Paris, following this with the founding of the city itself on 8 October of that same year. Since these two momentous days plenty of water has flown down the river Seine from Paris past Rouen, the other two partners in Haropa, to Le Havre.
The port, established as a secure berth for the kingdom’s navy and merchant navy in an era of European explorers and conquerers, also developed in harmony with growing global trade and migration, be it temporary or permanent. The Southampton quay (pictured) nicely illustrates how the port’s basins and facilities were redesigned, expanded and deepened over the centuries, before the focus of the maritime economy’s activities drifted away from the city centre.
People fleeing from poverty or politics made Le Havre their gateway to a better future, with 46,000 passing through the port in 1900 for example, and in 1957, just before the container revolution, 162,000 people. Cruise and luxury liners account for many berthings in the port today – the Queen Mary II is due to call this year – with 400,000 passengers expected to use Le Havre in 2017.