While traces of a human presence in Le Havre date back to pre-historic time, the city itself is relatively young. First founded by King Francis I in October 1517, Le Havre flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries thanks to its port. Although the Second World War brought great devastation – the worst bombardments coming in 1944 – it quickly responded with enthusiasm and vigour. The city centre was almost completely destroyed during the conflict, but architect Auguste Perret oversaw a total redesign between 1945 and 1964, and his efforts were rewarded in 2005 when Le Havre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Situated on the right bank of the Seine estuary in Normandy, 200km from Paris, Le Havre is France's second busiest port behind Marseille in terms of trade volume and the busiest for container traffic. Not surprisingly, those activities have lent the city a certain blue-collar, maritime identity, but it has also embraced the services sector and new industries in recent years.
Despite a bustling industrial estate, Le Havre is the least polluted commune in France according to one study, and has received several ecological awards, including a Blue Flag for its beach. Its plentiful green spaces include the Forest of Montgeon, Rouelles Park, the gardens of the Priory of Graville and the Hanging Gardens, while the highlight of its rich cultural portfolio is the Museum of Modern Art Andre Malraux, also known as the MuMa.
The sport has deep roots in Le Havre and continues to thrive in the city thanks in large part to Le Havre Athletic Club – the oldest surviving football and rugby club in France, having been founded in 1872. HAC may not possess a trophy cabinet to match their history, but their academy can pride itself on having produced a long list of internationals, including Lassana Diarra, Paul Pogba, Ibrahim Ba, Jean-Alain Boumsong, Vikash Dhorasoo and Steve Mandanda.