2016 sees the 350th Anniversary Arsenal of Rochefort, Louis XIV’s naval dockyard. In 1666 the king had the idea of creating his military naval base inland rather than on the coast – a little upstream on the Charente River and protected by the islands of Aix and Madame. The Ponant Arsenal was built which extended the reach of the town down to the estuary which was also protected by Fort Boyard, come 1866, as constructed by Napoleon.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of the Arsenal is the incredible Corderie Royale, where ropes were once made in abundance and great length. It’s an incredible sight to see them still being made, the old machines looking as good as new and operated by knowledgeable and characterful staff.
Beware, if like me you’re always the first to volunteer, you might get roped in to help out. The staff really make the whole visit come alive with their displays of rope making and knot tying with help from the audience. There are thousands of different knots, no one can say for sure though some claim “there are as many knots as stars in the sky”, but it’s fascinating to watch the knots being created and to have a go yourself at this fun museum!
The Versailles of the Sea, as Rochefort is known, is today home to L’Hermione – a replica of the frigate that took French General LaFayette across the ocean to join the American War of Independence in 1780.
Now a living museum, visitors may experience L’Hermione throughout the year, apart from 4th June – 19th July when she will become a Marine Ambassador for the region at the Brest 2016 nautical show.
During her absence however, a replica of an eighteenth century Russian frigate under the naval command of Tsar Peter the Great, the Shtandart, will be on view in Rochefort between 4th June – 8th July 2016. There will also be a new ‘Accromâts’ high ropes experience which has been created, around maritime masts, opening in July.
2016 is also the Centenary of the French Fleet Air Arm. On the 21st & 22nd May 2016 a brand new Super Standard will arrive in Rochefort to recognise this landmark anniversary. There will be a special conference and exhibition of the stamps used for the warplane post as well as an opening up of the Naval Air Arm Museum in the Charente, so almost 4,000 square metres of space will be available to the public. Amongst other things, 33 aircraft will be on display from the Dewoitine 520 to the Super Frelon and Crusader.