Charente-Maritime is a department on the west coast of France named after the Charente River.
Previously a part of Saintonge, Charente-Inférieure was one of the 83 original departments created during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790. On September 4, 1941, it was renamed Charente-Maritime.
When first created, the commune of Saintes was assigned as the prefecture of the department (Saintes had previously been the prefecture of Saintonge). This changed in 1810 when Napoléon passed an imperial decree which moved the prefecture to La Rochelle.
During World War II, the department was invaded by the German army and became part of occupied France. To provide defence against a possible beach landing, the Organisation Todt constructed a number of sea defences in the area. Defences such as pillboxes are particularly noticeable on the beaches of the presqu'île d'Arvert and the island of Oléron.
At the end of the war there were only two pockets of German resistance: La Rochelle, in the north and Royan in the south. Despite being almost completely destroyed during an RAF bombing raid on January 5, 1945, the town of Royan wasn't liberated by the French resistance until April of the same year. La Rochelle was finally captured on May 9, 1945.
Charente-Maritime is part of the Poitou-Charentes administrative region. It is the second largest and the most populated department in the region with a land area of 6864 km² and 598 915 inhabitants as of 2006.
The important rivers are the Charente and its tributaries, the Boutonne and the Seugne, along with the Sèvre Niortaise, the Seudre, and the Garonne, in its downstream part, which is the estuary of the Gironde.
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