In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section French Port Cities

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historiographical Surveys
  • Case Studies
  • French Atlantic Naval Bases

Atlantic History French Port Cities
Silvia Marzagalli
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0110


From the 15th to the 19th centuries, the French participated to the emergence of an Atlantic world, while the French state built its first colonial empire. French port cities were the hubs organizing connections and exchanges between their hinterland, Europe, and this larger Atlantic world. The increase in trade and shipping produced a hierarchy among French ports and led to the emergence of a few more, which greatly benefited from the expansion and the increasing transatlantic interconnections: merchants and shipowners in Bordeaux, Nantes, Marseille, and Rouen–Le Havre dominated the colonial trade, whereas ports that used to play an important role in the 16th and early 17th centuries, such as La Rochelle or Bayonne, declined.

General Overviews

Urban history is a well-developed field of research in France that has produced some masterpieces (Lepetit 1988) and different general overviews (Meyer and Poussou 1995, Chartier, et al. 1998, Saupin 2002). In the 1970s and 1980s Editor Privat published a series of volumes on all major French cities, including all ports that played a role in the Atlantic world (see Bordeaux, Nantes, La Rochelle, Bayonne, and Rouen and Le Havre).

  • Chartier, Roger, Guy Chaussinand-Nogaret, Hugues Neveux, and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. Histoire de la France urbaine. Vol. 3, La ville des temps modernes: De la Renaissance aux Révolutions. Paris: Seuil, 1998.

    There have been different editions with slightly different titles of this book, first published in 1980, in the five-volume series of the history of French cities from ancient times to the present coordinated by G. Duby and lately by E. Le Roy Ladurie. Written by the most authoritative urban historians of the 1970s.

  • Lepetit, Bernard. Les villes dans la France moderne (1740–1840). Paris: A. Michel, 1988.

    A classical, innovative approach to French cities in an age of major transformations.

  • Meyer, Jean, and Jean-Pierre Poussou. Études sur les villes françaises: Milieu du XVIIe siècle à la veille de la Révolution française. Paris: SEDES, 1995.

    Second edition of a 1983 book that was conceived as a manual for the highly competitive national recruitment procedure for teaching in secondary school.

  • Saupin, Guy. Les villes en France à l’époque moderne (XVIe–XVIIIe siècles). Paris: Belin, 2002.

    A useful, comprehensive overview of the urban history of France and its different aspects. The book is published in a collection for undergraduate students.

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