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The Loire ( ) is the longest river in Francemarker. With a length of , it drains an area of , which represents more than a fifth of France's land area. It rises in the Cévennes in the département of Ardèchemarker at 1,350 m (4,430 ft) near Mont Gerbier de Joncmarker, and flows for over north through Neversmarker to Orléansmarker, then west through Toursmarker and Nantesmarker until it reaches the Bay of Biscaymarker at St Nazairemarker. Its main tributaries include the Mainemarker, Nièvremarker and the Erdremarker rivers on its right bank, and the Alliermarker, Chermarker, Indremarker, Viennemarker, and the Sèvre Nantaisemarker rivers on the left bank. The Loire gives its name to six départements: Loiremarker, Haute-Loiremarker, Loire-Atlantiquemarker, Indre-et-Loiremarker, Maine-et-Loiremarker, and Saône-et-Loiremarker. The central part of the Loire Valleymarker was added to the World Heritage Sites list of UNESCOmarker on December 2, 2000. The banks are characterised by vineyards and chateaux in the Loire Valley.


The name "Loire" comes from Latin Liger, which is itself a transcription of the native Gaulish (Celtic) name of the river. The Gaulish name comes from the Gaulish word liga, which means "silt, sediment, deposit, alluvium", a word that gave French lie, as in sur lie, which in turn gave English lees. Liga comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *legh-, meaning "to lie, lay", which gave many words in English, such as to lie, to lay, ledge, law, etc.

In French the adjective derived from the river is ligérien, as in le climat ligérien ("the climate of the Loire Valley"), a climate considered the most pleasant of northern France, with warmer winters and, more generally, fewer extremes in temperatures, rarely exceeding .

Origins of the river

Studies of the paleogeography of the region suggest that in the Pleistocene the paleo-Loire continued its northward flow and joined the Seinemarker, while the lower Loire found its source upstream of Orléansmarker in the region of Gienmarker, flowing westward along the present course. At a certain point during the long history of uplift in the Paris Basin, the lower, Atlantic Loire captured the "paleo-Loire" or Loire séquanaise ("Loire-Seine"), producing the present river. The former bed of the Loire séquanaise is occupied by the Loingmarker.


Originating in Ardèchemarker, in springs on Mont Gerbier de Joncmarker in the north-eastern part of the southern Cévennes highlands, the Loire flows roughly northward through Roannemarker and Neversmarker to Orléansmarker and thereafter westward through Toursmarker to the Atlanticmarker at Nantesmarker, where it forms an estuary. Changes in the river's water levels have sometimes resulted in serious flooding, notably in 1856, 1866 and 1911.

Unlike most other rivers in western Europe, there are very few dams or locks creating obstacles to its natural flow. The Villerest dam, built in 1985 a few kilometers south of Roannemarker, has played a key-role in preventing recent flooding. As a result, the Loire is a very popular river for boating excursions, flowing through a pastoral countryside, past limestone cliffs and historic castles.


For over 2,000 years, the Loire was one of the great highways of France, but the coming of the railway in the 19th century caused a collapse in the river's commercial navigation. Today the river is only regarded as navigable as far as Bouchemainemarker, where the Mainemarker joins it near Angersmarker, together with a short stretch much further upstream at Decizemarker, where a river level crossing from the Canal latéral à la Loire connects to the Canal du Nivernaismarker.

The Phoeniciansmarker and Greeks had used packhorses to transport goods from Lyon to the Loire to get from the Mediterranean basin to the Atlantic coast. The Romans used the Loire as far as Roannemarker, only around from the source, whilst the Vikings used longships to attack Toursmarker.

River traffic increased until the 19th century, with a toll system being used in medieval times. For centuries attempts were made to keep a navigable channel open by the use of wooden embankments and dredging. During the 17th century, Jean-Baptiste Colbert instituted stone retaining walls and quays from Roanne to Nantesmarker which helped make the river more reliable, but navigation was frequently stopped by flood and drought. In 1707 floods were said to have drowned 50,000 people, with the water rising more than in two hours in Orléansmarker. A typical passenger timetable from Orléans to Nantes took eight days, with the upstream journey against the flow taking fourteen.

Steam-driven passenger boats appeared soon after the beginning of the 19th century plying the river between Nantes and Orléans; by 1843, 70,000 passengers were being carried annually in the lower river. However with the introduction of the railway in the 1840s trade on the river steadily declined and proposals to build a fully navigable river up to Briaremarker came to nothing. The opening of the Canal latéral à la Loire in 1838 enabled navigation between Digoin and Briare to continue, but the river level crossing at Briare remained a problem until the construction of the Briare aqueductmarker in 1896.

The Canal de Roanne à Digoin was also opened in 1838 and was nearly closed in 1971 but still provides navigation further up the Loire valley to Digoin. However the Canal de Berrymarker, a narrow canal with locks only wide, which was opened in 1820s and connected the Canal latéral à la Loire at Marseilles-lès-Aubignymarker to the Cher Rivermarker at Noyers and back into the Loire near Tours, was closed in 1955.


The Loire's tributaries include the following rivers, in order going upstream:

Départements and towns

Several départements of France were named after the Loire. The Loire flows through the following départements and towns:

See also


External links

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