Le Havre (French pronunciation: [lə ɑvʁ]) is a city in the Seine-Maritime department of the Haute-Normandie region in France. It is situated in north-western France, on the right bank of the mouth of the river Seine on the English Channel. Le Havre is the most populous commune in the Haute-Normandie region, although the total population of the greater Le Havre conurbation is smaller than that of Rouen. It is also the second largest subprefecture in France (after Reims). Its port is the second busiest in France (after that of Marseille). Since 1974 it has been the see of the diocese of Le Havre.
Le Havre was provisionally renamed Franciscopolis in the documents, after King Francis I, who developed the city in 1517. A chapel known as Notre-Dame-de-Grâce («Our Lady of Grace») existed at the site before the city was established, and the denomination lent its name to the port, to be called Le Hable de Grâce (already in 1489, «the harbor of Grace»). The shortened name Le Havre, as used in modern times, simply translates as «the port» or «the harbour».
Le Havre was once synonymous with urban gloom and greyness. The city’s inhabitants have done much to change this.
The name Le Havre simply means the harbour or the port (somewhat archaic English «haven»). Le Havre was founded as a new port by royal command, partly to replace the historic harbours of Harfleur and Honfleur which had become increasingly impractical due to silting-up. The city was founded in 1517, when it was named Franciscopolis after Francis I of France, and subsequently named Le Havre-de-Grâce («Harbour of Grace») after an existing chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce («our Lady of Grace»).
On 20 April 1564, it became the port of departure for the French expedition of René Goulaine de Laudonnière to the New World where he created the first French colony at Fort Caroline near present-day Jacksonville, Florida. Famed artist Jacques le Moyne de Morgues joined Laudonnière on this colonizing effort and created the first known artistic depictions by a European of Native Americans in the New World, specifically the Timucua tribes in the modern-day areas of northeast Florida and southeast Georgia.
In the 18th century, Le Havre began to grow, as trade from the West Indies was added to that of France and Europe. In 1759, the city was the staging point for a planned French invasion of Britain — thousands of troops, horses and ships being assembled there — only for many of the barges to be destroyed in the Raid on Le Havre and the invasion to be abandoned following the naval defeat at Quiberon.
The German-occupied city was devastated during the Battle of Normandy in World War II: 5,000 people were killed and 12,000 homes were totally destroyed, mainly by Allied air attacks. Despite this, Le Havre became the location of one of the biggest Replacement Depots, or «Repple Depples» in the European Theatre of Operations in WWII. Thousands of American replacement troops poured through the city before being deployed to combat operations. Le Havre was honoured with the Legion of Honor award on 18 July 1949. After the war, the centre was rebuilt in modernist style by Auguste Perret. UNESCO declared the city centre of Le Havre a World Heritage Site on 15 July 2005, in honoring the «innovative utilization of concrete’s potential.» The 133-hectare space that represents, according to UNESCO, «an exceptional example of architecture and town planning of the post-war era,» is one of the rare contemporary World Heritage Sites in Europe.