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The Lighthouses of the Atlantic Coast

Do not miss an opportunity to visit a lighthouse, it is worth the effort of climbing the steps which lead to the top and to be rewarded with magnificent panoramic views.

Do not miss an opportunity to visit a lighthouse, it is worth the effort of climbing the steps which lead to the top and to be rewarded with magnificent panoramic views.

The visit to a lighthouse, it is not only an outward look over the sea but also a look back on the history of the navigation and on the people who made progress happen.

The necessity, for the man who navigated, to recognise the coast, day and night, led to the construction of lighthouses and to the building of landmarks along the coast. History tells us that lighthouses have been built since ancient times.

The most famous ancient lighthouse is the one which was built by the Greeks on the island of Pharos, near Alexandria, in the third century before Christ. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. It is the origin of the word "phare".

Much closer to us, the 17th Century was a very active period in our region for the construction of lighthouses with the completion of the lighthouse of Cordouan in 1610 and the building under Louis XIV of the lighthouse of Chassiron on the island of Oléron and the lighthouse "Phare des Baleines" (Lighthouse of Whales) on the island of Ré.

The 19th Century brought important technical innovations as regards the emission of light. Augustin Fresnel invented the lens which bears his name and the optical system which allowed a considerable increase of the light power. It was experimented for the first time at the lighthouse of Cordouan in 1823. Fresnel's inventions have been perfected and are always used.

The lighting system is obviously an essential part of the lighthouse. The mode of lighting of the lighthouses in the past used fires made from wood or coal, oil lamps and petroleum before switching to electricity in the 20th Century.

Further to their electrification, the lighthouses have been automated. The lighthouse keepers have often been replaced by automatic systems.

The lighthouse of Cordouan was only electrified in 1951. There are still lighthouse keepers at Cordouan.

Today, the department of Charente-Maritime and the entry of the estuary of Gironde offer a large variety of lighthouses, both in geographic situation and by the type of construction. The main ones are open to visit. Easy access and car parks have been developed to welcome the numerous visitors during the summer period. The lighthouses are very popular with tourists. This is totally justified. It is the simplest way to see the coast "from above ".

Besides, the ascent to the top, counting the steps is a good physical and intellectual exercise. And finally, the reward is the magnificent panoramic views.

As regards the landmarks, the best example is that of the steeple, painted in white and black, of the church of Ars-en-Ré.

The lighthouse Phare des Baleines at the West end of the island of Ré

The legend says that its name comes from whales which ran aground on the surrounding coast. Its construction began in 1849 and it was put into service in 1854. It is 57 metres high and 250 steps enable one to reach the top.

The lighthouse of Chassiron at the north end of the island of Oléron

The construction of the current lighthouse began in 1834 and it was put into service in 1836. It is a cylindrical tower, very austere, 46 metres high. The black stripes were painted in 1926 to distinguish it from the lighthouse of the Phare des Baleines.

The lighthouse of the island of Aix ( Photo at the head of page)

The lighthouse of the Island of Aix is original because it is made of two cylindrical towers started in 1889 and 1906. The height of the towers is 25 metres. It is not open to visitors.

The lighthouse of La Coubre

It is located in the north of the estuary of Gironde, on the Pointe de La Coubre.
The current lighthouse was built in 1905. It is a tower, 64 metres high, widened at the bottom. It is white and red and it distinguishes itself by a small projection in the construction halfway up, at the level of the change of colour. This part is equipped with a secondary light.

The lighthouse of Terre-Nègre

The current lighthouse, in the municipality of Saint-Palais-sur-Mer, between the town and the Pointe de la Grande Côte, was put into service in 1838. It is a cylindrical tower 26 metres high, above a house. It is not open to visitors

The lighthouse of Saint-Georges-de-Didonne

The lighthouse of Saint-Georges-de-Didonne, built on the cliff of Vallieres has not been in service since 1969. It is open to visitors during the summer.

The lighthouse of Cordouan

Located at the entry of the Gironde, the lighthouse of Cordouan is the most original lighthouse.
Original because of its isolation, it is built in the sea, on a rocky island which is uncovered at low tide.
Original in its concept, because it was conceived for the functions of lighthouse, royal residence and church.

There were many descriptions used to characterise it, the Dean of Lighthouses, the Oldest in Europe, Versailles of the Sea, the King of Lighthouses, Lighthouse of Kings, …

In 1862, it was one of the first two French monuments, with Notre-Dame de Paris, to be classified as an "Historical Monument".


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