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Orléans

Orléans, city (1990 pop. 107,965), capital of Loiret dept., N central France, on the Loire River. A commercial and transportation center, it has food-processing, tobacco, machine-building, electrical, pharmaceutical, chemical, and textile industries. The old city is surrounded by sprawling modern suburbs. Orléans was first known as Genabum, a commercial city of the Carnutes, a Celtic tribe. The city revolted against Julius Caesar (52 B.C.), was burned, and was rebuilt and called Aurelianum. Unsuccessfully attacked by Attila the Hun (451), it was taken by Clovis I (498), after which it became (511) the capital of the Frankish kingdom of Orléans. The kingdom was united with Neustria in the 7th cent. Under the Capetians, the first kings of France, the city became (10th cent.), after Paris, the principal residence of the French kings. Orléans, with the surrounding province, the Orléanais, constituted part of the small nucleus of the royal domain, and it was several times given in appanage as a duchy to the eldest brother of the king of France and to his descendants (see Orléans, family). The siege of Orléans (1428–29) by the English threatened to bring all of France under England's rule, and its lifting by Joan of Arc (the "Maid of Orléans") turned the tide of the Hundred Years War (1337–1453). In the Wars of Religion (16th cent.) the city was briefly the headquarters of the Huguenots and was besieged in 1563 by Catholic forces. Orléans remained in Catholic hands until the Edict of Nantes (1598). During the 17th and 18th cent. the city was a prosperous industrial and commercial center, and its university (founded 14th cent.) was famous throughout Europe. The advent of railroads in the 19th cent. somewhat reduced the city's importance as a trade center dependent on the Loire River port. Orléans was severely damaged during the German invasion of France in 1940, and many irreplaceable historic buildings were destroyed. Several fine structures remain, including the Cathedral of Sainte-Croix, rebuilt (17th–19th cent.) after its destruction by the Huguenots in 1568; and the Renaissance town hall, where Francis II died in 1560. The feast of Joan of Arc is celebrated in Orléans with particular splendor each May.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: French Political Geography


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