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La Rochelle's history begins in the 10th century, when the city was founded. Located in the middle of France's west coast along the Atlantic ocean, La Rochelle has always been known as a port town. Early on, it exported wine and salt. The city grew immensely and was the largest port along the Atlantic coastline until the 15th century. La Rochelle was unique in that it was governed by local municipal magistrates instead of feudal lords, and resisted authority from outside rulers, most notably King Louis XIII.
This rebellious nature worked against the city when it was laid siege by Cardinal Armand Jean Richelieu in 1627. The city was blockaded for 14 months and the inhabitants were driven to starvation and finally forced to cede authority to the King.
By the 18th century, after a period of being out of favor with the ruling powers, the city was again a booming port town. A trade route with the Americas was established, and the city dealt in sugar, furs and slaves. The end of French colonial rule towards the beginning of the 18th century diminished La Rochelle's importance.
During World War II the city was home to a German naval base, and the city was the last French city to be freed at the end of that war. Today, the ocean still plays a major role in the city's character, as fishing, yachting, tourism and ocean research are all major industries for La Rochelle.