The county of the Charente Maritime is the second sunniest in France. It has almost 200 km of Atlantic coastline. The majority of the county is made up of rolling hills and valleys.
Les Champagnes stretch from the estuary of the Gironde towards the east, the lowlands of the Charente valleys and Matha country. The Saintongaise moors, wooded the interspersed with valleys, are towards the south of the county.
The economy of the county has always been based on exploiting natural resources: farming and produce from the sea. The Champagne vines are mostly given over to making cognac, which has been famous since the sixth century. Diverse farming (cereals, dairy farms) is important in Aunis, as the vines were destroyed in the 19th century by phylloxera. The salt marshes, ruined in the 19th century, were reconverted into oyster parks, the "claires" and to rearing mussels (one third of national production.). The south of the Saintonge is important for forestry. Gastronomy reflects the resources of the area, rich in local products and seafood. Industry is represented by quarrying, construction materials, chemical products, textiles and food industries.
The Charente Maritime county was formed in 1790 by the joining together of Aunis and the larger part of the Saintonge. A good deal of evidence shows that people have lived there since the paleolithic period and pre-history. The Roman occupation - which does not seem to have had a great influence here -found the Santons in charge (the capital was Santon, modern day Saintes) and for three centuries they wielded their power on the region. The Barbarian invasions, and later the Franc kingdom, brought trials and tribulations.
Joined to Aquitaine by the Romans, it became an earldom and dukedom in the 6th century under the first Franc kings. The region went through an era of prosperity, brilliant but brief, during the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, daughter of the last Duke, Guillaume. The Anglo/ French wars lasted for two centuries, and in spite of truces there was much pillaging and banditry inland, and pirates on the coast. When the crown was passed to Charles 7 the new king found the area ravaged and abandoned. Up until the revolution the two provinces steadily progressed, their economies mostly based on rural activities. However, this recovery went through sticky moments, with skirmishes with central government and especially problems during the religious wars, which lasted nearly seventy years. The Reform was greeted with enthusiasm by lords and ordinary people alike. On the other hand the Revolution brought about only a few hiccups on a local level. Saintes was chosen as a Préfecture until 1810, when Napoleon changed it to La Rochelle. This decision was much disputed until the 19th century, when there were the last quarrels between Aunis and Saintonge.
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