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Loire RiverBritannica Elementary Article

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The longest river in France, the Loire River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The river covers a distance of 634 miles (1,020 kilometers). The Loire Valley is known for its châteaus, French for “castles.” Many tourists visit the area to see the castles sitting on the riverbanks. This valley is also sometimes called the “garden of France” because of its vineyards and orchards.

 

Physical features

The Loire River begins some 4,500 feet (1,370 meters) above sea level at the foot of the Cévennes, a mountain range in southern France. Here the river is fed by melting snow from mountain peaks. The river drains an area of about 45,000 square miles (117,000 square kilometers). Its major tributary is the Allier River.

At its beginning, the Loire River flows north towards the center of the Paris Basin. On its way, the river flows through the highlands of the Massif Central, running down narrow valleys with steep walls. Below the mountains, the river swings in a great curve past the city of Orléans and flows westward. Then it flows through the fertile lowlands of the Paris Basin and the coastal plain. It finally empties into the sea near Nantes.

The Loire Basin has a mild but wet climate. There is heavy rain, no consistent dry season, and winter snowfall in the highlands. The river is usually at its highest in late winter. There is, however, no real cycle. Except in July and August, floods can occur in any month.

 

Plants and animals

The Loire River and its tributaries are relatively shallow, giving rise to wetlands that are home to hundreds of species of birds and other animals. Trout and Atlantic salmon are among the many fish that live in the waters of the Loire.

 

Economy and history

The Loire Valley is a main agricultural region of France. Much of the valley is planted with vegetables and fruit, especially grapes. The valley's higher ground produces rye and wheat. The valley also supports dairy farming and grazing in the area where the river curves to the west at Orléans.

The Loire River's floodplain was once marshy. Now, however, it is protected from flooding by man-made ridges. These ridges, known as levees, were built as early as the 12th century AD.

During the period of growing river traffic in the 17th and 18th centuries, canal links were built. These links connected the Loire River with the Seine River system of water routes that allowed products to be carried to Paris. In the 18th century, the Loire Valley was a great highway for the movement of goods, and the cities on its banks were busy ports. However, the use of the canals is limited today as they are too narrow for modern boats.

 

Environmental issues

In the early 21st century, the Loire was the last free-flowing river in Europe. That is, there were no dams or locks interrupting its natural flow, except very far upstream. This makes possible a variety of semi-humid environments all along the river. It also helps the many types of animals and plants that live in and along the river, some of which are very rare. The central part of the Loire River valley has been listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This means that the region is considered to be an important part of the heritage of the people of the world and therefore should be protected and preserved.