Port of Rouen Authority



The Port of Rouen district spreads out over the entire Seine estuary, from Honfleur on the left bank and Port Jérôme / Radicatel on the right bank up river to Rouen itself.
Historically, Rouen’s name predominates. However, the emergence of the Honfleur and Port Jérôme sites are worthy of note.

Rouen, a port since time immemorial

... From its origins to the end of the Middle Ages
Rouen experienced remarkable economic growth early in its history. Indeed, towards 50 B.C., the geographer Strabo stated that Rouen was a major seaport for exchange with England:
You can travel far up the Rhone and thus transport goods to various places, as the Saone and the Doubs, that are navigable rivers able to take great loads, discharge into the Rhone. From the Saone to the Seine, goods are conveyed over land. Then going down the latter river they are carried into the country of the Lexovii and the Caletes, and from there, by Ocean, in less than one day to Brittany.”

This text taken from the “Geography” of the Greek author Strabo¹ already bears witness to the logistical role the Seine, and thus the Port of Rouen, both a sea and river port, played 2,000 years ago. The Seine that in the view of Strabo and his contemporaries was “one of the finest routes for trade formed by nature”, made a strong logistical axis for the Roman Empire.

Navire1Rotomagus, the high point of the tide’s flow inland, at the meeting point of a North – South axis crossing the Seine by a ford, provided the location for warehouses and the point of river/sea transhipment for exchanges between the Empire and its Brittany province (now Great Britain).

Marble from Italy, wines from Provence and olive oil from Spain were taken on board at Rouen. Ships returned laden with tin, lead, pottery, etc. destined southwards by the Seine.
From the end of the Middle Ages to the start of the 20th century

As from the end of the Middle Ages, the Port of Rouen also began to develop direct maritime exchanges with Italy, with the main cargo being alum (a product used to fixe dyes, which was especially important in cities with a strong textile industry).

From the 15th to the 18th century, ship-owners and navigators teamed up in the ports of Rouen and Honfleur to take part in the great Ocean-going saga and establish trade with the whole world. Rouen (with 40,000 inhabitants), Navire3now ranking second French city after Paris, developed the textile industry and traded with the West Indies, Canada and the Netherlands, also dominating the Senegal trading company
From the early 20th century to the present day

During the First World War, traffic increased considerably. This was sustained especially by the development of coal imports from Britain, going from 5 Mt in 1913 to 9 Mt in 1916. The Port of Rouen then leapt forward to become the biggest French port, which rank it occupied until the 1930s.

The Second World War was to be dramatic for the Port of Rouen: trade was brought to nothing for three consecutive years (from 1941 to 1943) and almost all the harbor installations were destroyed.

The reconstruction that took place afterwards then made Rouen a practically brand new port, extremely well suited to handle the trade destined for it. Nevertheless, spatially, the port installations tended to move down river. Development of the left bank was conducted in close cooperation with industry. Exchanges that already existed before the War (especially with the British Isles, the Scandinavian countries and North Africa) quickly got back to the previous level before going beyond it. During that truly special period of reconstruction, the people of Rouen showed their true mettle, driven by an astonishing commercial acumen that saw them take on regular routes with completely new geographical sectors like the West Coast of Africa and the Indian Ocean as well as South America and the United States. Even though it is no longer the leading French port, the Port of Rouen continues to develop constantly

Major progress was made thanks to the building of a new channel that was opened in 1960. Traffic went from 10 Mt in 1963 to 13 Mt in 1970 and for the first time crossed the threshold of 20 Mt in 1979Navire5.The structure of traffic has changed profoundly: in 1968, under pressure from grain, flour, sugar, oil products and regular North-South lines, exports began to constitute a majority for the first time. This has remained the pattern since 1981.
The city was regularly named in treaties and other official documents. We could mention, for example, a charter of Dagobert dating back to 629 A.D. mentioning the Port of Rouen and attesting to the purchase of wine, honey and flour by merchants from Northern Europe.

Clearly, Rouen has always been a major city economically, in particular thanks to its port.

In 779, Charlemagne abolished the tax on vessels taking freight to Rouen. Rouen then went through a period of prosperity: on a visit to Rouen in 840 A.D., Charles the Bald counted 28 vessels in the port! A sign of this economic take-off is evinced in the picture of a ship on coins minted in Rouen. But this era came to an end when the Vikings sailed up the Seine as far as Rouen and burnt the city to the ground (841 – 842 A.D.).

Navire2Then, after further invasions, the river again turned into a source of wealth. Rollo (911) and the Plantagenets set up warehouses in Rouen for freight coming from the Baltic and the Mediterranean; the Seine again provided an essential link with England.

Henceforth, the Port and its city were to see their destinies open up: from the reign of William the Conqueror onwards, Rouen became for three centuries, the capital of the Dukes of Normandy and had its own special harbour in London, Dunegate, to which the wines of Burgundy and the Ile de France were delivered.

During the Hundred Years War, the English occupied Rouen (1418 – 1419) up until 1449. It was during this time that Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake (1431).
Navire4In the 18th century, the Port of Rouen encountered problems accommodating vessels whose draughts had increased. This provided the background for the law of 1846 being voted in that was decisive for the Port of Rouen: thanks to interventions from Lamartine, Arago and Victor Hugo, works were undertaken in the channel and estuary of the Seine that gave Rouen the capacity to berth big ocean-going vessels.

This increase in capacity brought with it as a direct result an increase in trade and thus the burgeoning wealth of the city.

Application of autonomy status (1966) assigned to the Port of Rouen a role to be one of the major French ports called on to play a truly national role.

After the Second World War, the European countries faced severe food shortages. To overcome this dependence, a Common Agricultural Policy was implemented in 1962. This administrative policy played on market mechanisms. Agricultural production was encouraged and support was provided to export and this too gave the Port of Rouen the opportunity to make a great leap forward.

Navire6Henceforth, Rouen took the leading rank among European ports for grain exportation. More than four decades later and despite huge changes within the European Community, Rouen still occupies this leading position.

The last decade (1990-2000) brought about thoroughgoing change. Firstly, reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (1992), Navire7 with the grain crises that this led to at the Port of Rouen from 1994 to 1996, put an end to a long and happy period of growth in grain exports. Secondly, the national handling reform of 1992, made essential by the technical changes in handling and the removal of borders within the European Union, and its effective implementation locally, restored Rouen’s reliability and competitiveness. The port’s strong points were once more able to fully play their role, attracting industries and operators, with massive investments being made and logistics developing. The Port of Rouen has taken on an entirely new appearance. Some of the features on this internet site seek to provide an account of this.
It happened at Rouen

1789L’Américain R. Fulton conçoit, fait réaliser et expérimente à Rouen, le Nautilus, le premier sous-marin.
1821Des bateaux à vapeur font la navette sur la Seine : il en coûte 10 F en 1ère classe pour faire, en 9 heures, le trajet Rouen / Le Havre.
1855La Statue de la Liberté est embarquée à Rouen à destination de New-York sur la frégate l’Isère.
1876Le Frigorifique de C. Tellier assure au départ de Rouen le premier transport réfrigéré transatlantique jamais réalisé.
1899Le premier pont transbordeur français – à 50 m du sol – est construit à Rouen.
1918Avec plus de 10 Mt, Rouen est le premier port de France.
1960Aménagement d’un nouveau chenal.
1966Application du statut d’autonomie au port de Rouen.
1969Le Pont Guillaume le Conquérant marque désormais la limite amont que ne peuvent franchir les navires de mer.
1989Les Voiles de la Liberté, première manifestation accueillant les grands voiliers au cœur même de la Ville.

Guillaume le Conquérant crée le port au milieu du XIème siècle. Longtemps convoité et dominé par les anglais, il redevient français en 1444 et prend son essor du fait de l’ensablement d’Harfleur. C’est de ce port qu’appareillent de grands navigateurs en direction du Brésil, de Madère, de Terre-Neuve, du Canada ; d’autres découvreurs fondent Québec et créent des comptoirs à Java, Sumatra. Quelques corsaires écument également sur les mers.

Des monuments (la Lieutenance, l’église Sainte Catherine, ainsi que le quartier du vieux port) llustrent les moments forts vécus par Honfleur et témoignent de son riche passé. Aujourd’hui, le port intérieur est réservé aux navires de pêche, aux voiliers et aux yachts des plaisanciers. L’activité maritime s’effectue aux quais en Seine situés à l’aval du majestueux Pont de Normandie.


La naissance d’un site portuaire à cet endroit, à 2 heures aujourd’hui de la pleine mer, remonte au second Empire.

Le 28 mai 1861, l’Empereur Napoléon III débarquait du bateau «L’éclair» sur le territoire de Notre-Dame-de-Gravenchon, au lieu dit «les prairies du Mesnil». Il venait visiter les grands travaux entrepris depuis 1848 sur la Seine en vue de réduire les bancs de sable de la divagation de la Seine et d’améliorer la navigation, très pénalisée par les faibles profondeurs disponibles. Il donna au port à construire à cet endroit le nom de Jérôme, son oncle, ex-roi de Westphalie, frère de Napoléon Ier, décédé l’année précédente. La borne de bronze qui commémore cet événement a été restaurée et déplacée en 2002 pour être davantage mise en valeur, à l’occasion du 40ème anniversaire de la création du Syndicat Mixte Industriel de Port-Jérôme.

(¹) Strabon, circa 58 BC - circa 25 AD

Références bibliographiques
- Dictionnaire d’histoire maritime, sous la direction de Michel Vergé-Franceschi, Editions Robert Laffont, 2002, collection Bouquins.

- Rouen, Port de mer, Jérôme Decoux, Inventaire général de Haute-Normandie, édité par Connaissance du Patrimoine de Haute-Normandie, 1999, collection Images du Patrimoine.


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