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Manche (Geography & History)

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Created in 1790, the Manche department has withstood France's most remarkable historical events.
Its territory bears witness to times of war and periods of great prosperity alike.
A quintessential coastal department boasting some 355km of coastline


Incorporated within the Dukedom of Normandy in 933, Manche was occupied by Philip Augustus' troops and joined the Kingdom of France in 1204, with the exception of the Channel Islands which belonged to the Crown of England. Manche then withstood a succession of serious crises: the 100 Years' War, the War of the Ligue du Bien Public under Louis XI, the religious wars of 1559 and 1571, feudal brigandage in the Mortenais under the reign of Louis XII and the "va-nu-pieds" revolt in 1639 against taxation on salt.
The 18th Century was haunted by fears of an offensive English landing, which finally met with success in Cherbourg in 1758, leading to the introduction of privateering in Granville and the creation of a military port in Cherbourg in 1786.

The population was in favour of the first reforms brought on by the French Revolution; however rejected both violence resulting from the Convention and the Vendean troops who unsuccessfully besieged the town in 1793.
The 19th Century was marked by increased rural exodus, from which the department had already suffered since the 17th Century. The progressive diminution of cultivated land to make way for grazing, the decline of many small-scale rural industries, together with dwindling maritime activities were all responsible for this phenomenon.
Already weakened by World War I, the Manche department was to set the scene for further major historical events with the D-Day landings on the beach at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont (Utah Beach) during World War II. Sainte Mère-Église was the first town to be liberated by the allied forces on the night of the 5th to the 6th of June 1944. The violence of combat resulted in massive devastation, of which Saint-Lô, destroyed at 90%, was a sad example, and the department began active reconstruction work as early as 1946.


Manche covers a total surface area of 5,938km2 and owes its geographical originality to its peninsular character and its extraordinary contour covering some 355km of coastline. The department's different coasts offer varying landscapes: to the north, the rocky and undulating shoreline is swept by violent currents; the east coast resembles a small marine gulf with an abundance of alluvium; the west coast, with its linear shorelines covered with dunes is subject to important and rapid tides.
Manche's south western frontier borders the Ille-et-Vilaine department with Mayenne to the south, hence the department's strategic inter-regional position.
Manche is a coastal department for more than one reason. The sea has provided its name, the ocean governs its climate and, at any location throughout the department, the coast is only a stone's throw away, the most distant point being only fifty kilometres away.
The department is part of the Armorican Massif, and constitutes its eastern edge.
Manche is divided into three distinct districts:
- to the north the Cotentin peninsula, isolated by the sea and dislocations dating from the tertiary period, comprises a variety of ancient geological terrains (clay, granite, schist).
- in the centre, from Lessay to Carentan, spreads a large lowland area less than 50m above sea level (rich grazing land).
- to the south, a more dynamic topography spreads across the Normandy bocage hills.

  • Fort de la grande rade de Cherbourg
  • Parachutage à Sainte-Mère-Eglise