- France, Atlantic Coast, the lighthouse of Cordouan

start printing by using the commands of your web navigator  

The lighthouse of Cordouan

The lighthouse of Cordouan, attracts our attention night and day from the coast of Saint-Georges-de-Didonne to La Palmyre.

In the daytime, it is a slender silhouette which stands out on the horizon and during misty weather, it is just a hazy shadow.

At night, it is of course the light and its unchanging rhythm, three eclipses (2 and 1) every 12 seconds, that beams out at us.

However, do not be satisfied with this long-distance view, the lighthouse is approximately 7 km from the coast, please go and visit it. It will be one of the most beautiful days and one of the most beautiful memories of your stay on the Atlantic coast.

It is located at the entrance of the Gironde (geographic co-ordinates 45°35 ', 2 N - 1°10 ' 4 W) and what is less known, is that it is located in the department of the Gironde, being a part of the territory of the municipality of Le Verdon-sur-Mer.

Some statistics :

Height 68 metres

Light range, approximately 40 km

Tower, cone-shaped with specially hewn stones

311 steps to reach the lantern

Stone belt, circular bastion, 41 metres in diameter and 8,30 metres in height, which protects the building from the ocean

Stone jetty, 260 metres long to allow food and materials to be brought to the lighthouse, approachable at low tide.

The lighthouse of Cordouan was superbly restored some years ago and it is open to visitors during the summer.

Organised boat trips from Royan and from the La Pointe de Grave
Organised boat trips from Royan and from the La Pointe de Grave, allow you to sail up to the lighthouse and there are also excursions for visitors to land and visit the lighthouse. The crossing lasts approximately half an hour, and when you land on the Island of Cordouan you have to paddle barefoot for the last few metres. Landing is possible only when the tide is low enough to reach the sandbank that surrounds the rocky island on which the lighthouse is built.
The visits are dependent on co-efficients and on schedules of tides.
All this can seem a little complicated but these constraints should not make you give up. A visit to Cordouan is a worthwhile and unforgettable experience !
We recommend that you enquire about schedules with both companies based in the harbour of Royan. During the peak season, you can book your seat.

The Siren
Boat trips
Phone . 05 46 05 30 93

Royan Croisières
Phone . 05 46 06 42 36

From the Pointe de Grave, Le Verdon-sur-Mer
La Bohême II
Richard Grass
Phone . 05 56 09 62 93 or 06 09 73 30 84

The trip lasts approximately four hours, which leaves enough time to visit the lighthouse and to enjoy the endlessly stretching sandbank, the pervading peace and the incomparable light on the ocean.
Please, do not rush to the entrance of the lighthouse, instead, make your own way along the sandbank, take advantage of the pleasure of being in the sea and take time to look at the reflection of the lighthouse from all angles in the puddles left by the low tide.
Practical details, please, don't forget to take drinks and a picnic because there's nothing available there to eat or drink.

Visit to the Lighthouse of Cordouan

The King of Lighthouses, the Lighthouse of Kings

Leaving the jetty, the platform of the circular bastion is reached by going through a postern and up some steps.

On the first floor, one passes through a door which leads to the hallway from which the stairs rise up to the lantern.

At each floor, it is possible to listen to a recorded commentary which makes the visit more enjoyable.

Arriving at the room on the first floor, here is an extract from what the recorded commentary invites us to discover:

"In the four corners of this room, doors lead off to smaller rooms which were used by the guards until 1790.

To the right, on entering, you will notice a door surmounted by a beautiful feminine head, finely sculptured in the stone.

On both sides of the room, you can see two fountains in the form of lions heads and made of bronze.

All the rainwater which streams on to the lighthouse is returned into these fountains and then stored beneath your feet.

This fresh water is vital for the lighthouse keepers who stay day and night in the lighthouse all the year round.

Every lighthouse keeper spends on average, half of the year in the lighthouse and the other half off-duty.

The lighthouse keepers have to tend the light during the night and day and take care of such things as the generators which produce the electricity for the lighthouse.

They are alternately, painters, glaziers, carpenters, masons, electricians, mechanics, and every morning, they send the weather report to the service of the "Phares et Balises" based at Le Verdon-sur-Mer to inform sailors of the weather conditions.

Let's begin now climbing the 311 steps that lead to the top."

Do not be put off by the impressive number of steps. Unlike other lighthouses, where the stairs are endless, narrow and close against the wall, the stairs of Cordouan are of the ornamental style with landings on each floor allowing a break in the climb to the top, giving one time to discover the treasures of the building.

Take time to look out through each window to see the lunar landscape which spreads out below, as far as the eye can see.

1st Floor: the apartments of the King

2nd Floor: the Chapel

3rd Floor: the room of the Girondins

4th and 5th Floors: landings
Between 5th and 6th: The Watch Room

6th Floor: the lantern

The King’s appartment

The idea of the lighthouse serving as a royal place of residence had been taken into account by Louis de Foix when planning the building but in fact, no king ever stayed in the lighthouse of Cordouan.

The room, arched and paved with black and white marble, is decorated with the monogram LMT of Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse.

In the centre of the room, an opening reminds one curiously that this is a lighthouse.

It is the central well by which the lighthouse keepers once brought up the fuel necessary for the functioning of the lantern.

The chapel of Notre Dame

The chapel is the most impressive room, and the most unusual of the lighthouse.

It is surmounted by a vault with eight richly decorated bays.

Let's resume the text of the comments made on this floor:

"The chapel Notre Dame de Cordouan is the last room dating from the 17th Century. Stained glass windows were produced by the famous glassworker Lobin, in 1855.

He also restored the stained glass windows of Notre-Dame de Paris.

It is interesting to note that the lighthouse of Cordouan was classified a "Monument Historique" in 1862, at the same time as Notre-Dame de Paris.

All around the room, badges framed by clusters of grapes recall the regional coats of arms.

Those surmounted by the royal crown are dedicated to Henry III and Henry IV. The ceiling is coffered, directly cut into the stone and painted.

On March 2nd, 1584, in the presence of the Marshal de Matignon and of Michel de Montaigne, the order of the lighthouse of Cordouan was bestowed on Louis de Foix, engineer-architect whose bust surmounts the front door.

Louis de Foix dedicated all his fortune to the construction of the lighthouse and died in 1602 before seeing it completed.

His son succeeded him but ruined, he passed the task on to the works foreman Beuscher, who finally completed the work in 1611 ; in fact, 27 years after the signing of the contract.

Masses are still celebrated in the lighthouse on special occasions such as religious days or at baptisms or marriages. On leaving, take a look at the impressive fonts.

Next stage, the room of the "Girondins"

The room of the Girondins

"The room of the Girondins", the first room constructed by the raising of the tower under the direction in 1789 of the engineer Teulère.

This extra height of the tower, gained by keeping the three lower levels, doubled the height of the lighthouse and made it more visible to navigators.

To avoid weighing down the foundations, Teulère decided to build a fine stone wall strengthened by a stairway in the form of a vault at the periphery to enforce the rigidity of the tower.

 The conjunction of this stair-vault with the floors at the various upper levels, gives a remarkable appearance in the form of a heart, which can be seen by looking upwards.

In the centre of the vault-ceiling conjunction, a copper plaque commemorates these works.

It is possible to have an idea of the difficulty of the construction work when one realises that most of the stones make up the entire thickness of the tower and are assembled in such a precise fashion that it is impossible to slide the blade of a knife between the joints.

You will also be interested to see all the sculptured pieces of copper hardware which date from 1789.

For any further information, don't hesitate to ask the attendants."

The lantern

As a reward for the ascent, from the platform of the lantern there is a magnificent view over the estuary of the Gironde, the Pointe de Grave and Le Verdon-sur-Mer, the coast of Gironde, Soulac-sur-Mer, L'Amélie-les-Bains, the coast of Charente- Maritime, from Saint-Georges-de-Didonne to the forest of La Coubre.

A bit of history

The lighthouse of Cordouan is the most unique of all the lighthouses. Unique in its isolation, it is built on a rocky island which is revealed at low tide. Unique in its conception, because it was designed for the functions of lighthouse, royal place of residence and church.

Many people tried to characterise it by calling it the Dean of Lighthouses, the Oldest Lighthouse in Europe, Versailles of the Sea, the King of Lighthouses, the Lighthouse of Kings, …In 1862, it was one of the first two French monuments, together with Notre-Dame de Paris, to be classified "Monument Historique".

History tells us that the name of Cordouan, in the Middle Ages, would have been connected to Cordoba, further to the business connections between the Moors of Cordoba and Bordeaux. A first tower would have been built to guide the vessels. Then, the Black Prince ordered a lighthouse to be built. At that time, in 1362, the King of England, Edward III had grouped together all his possessions in the Southwest in the vast Principality of Aquitaine and had entrusted it to his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, called the Black Prince.

Two Centuries later, this 14th century tower was in poor condition and during the reign of Henry III, it was decided to build a new lighthouse.

In 1581, the project was entrusted to the engineer Louis de Foix and the works began in 1584. The project planned a tower with three floors.

In 1593, Henry IV who succeeded Henry III, approved a new project, a room on the ground floor, the appartment on the first floor, the chapel on the top floor.

Two hundred workers were on the construction site. The works were finished in 1611, twenty seven years after they were begun. The building was strengthened and restored during the reign of Louis XIV

In 1788 and 1789, the lighthouse was heightened by the engineer Teulère, which changed it to its present shape. The three upper floors were built in the style of Louis XVI whose sobriety contrasts with the richness of the first floors.

In 1823, the first lens device with a revolving system, developed by A.Fresnel, was first tried out at Cordouan. In the19th Century, the light worked with liquid petroleum gas. In 1950, the lighthouse was electrified thanks to the installation of two generators.

If you wish, you can contact
The Association for the Protection of the Lighthouse of Cordouan
Office of Tourism of Le Verdon-sur-Mer
Rue François Le Breton
33123 Le Verdon-sur-Mer
Phone 05 56 09 61 78

You can also visit
The Museum of the Lighthouse of Cordouan
Situated in the municipality of Le Verdon-sur-Mer, near the Pointe de Grave, the Lighthouse of Grave incorporated for some years the museum of the Lighthouse of Cordouan.


Return / top of the page