The Cordouan Lighthouse has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 24 July 2021!
Standing on the beach at Euronat, you can see a large tower in the middle of the ocean. This is the Cordouan lighthouse. It is known as the king of lighthouses, but it is above all the lighthouse of kings, because the project to build it was decided by a king and its architect only built it with his monarch in mind.
Cordouan is the only lighthouse in France that is still manned (the keepers change every 15 days) and open to the public. Its tower can be seen from the entire coast of the Pointe du Médoc, including the Euronat beach.
Construction of the lighthouse began in 1584 at the request of Henry III and was completed in 1611 under Henry IV. It was designed by the architect Louis de Foix.
A real technical feat for its time, it was built on a rocky islet between the 2 navigation channels. These were the access routes for ships entering or leaving the Gironde estuary. Since its construction, the lighthouse has ensured safe navigation. The area was once so dangerous that the isle of Cordouan was used as a navigational beacon in ancient times. In the Middle Ages, the island of Cordouan was inhabited by monks who maintained a permanent fire.
Under the guidance of the architect, Cordouan was built not only as a lighthouse but also as a Renaissance monument dedicated to the King of France. Louis de Foix made the lighthouse of Cordouan the lighthouse of the kings by building a chapel called “Notre Dame de Cordouan” and the residence of the king. The lighthouse then had three levels: the king’s bedroom, the chapel and finally the lantern.
In 1786, an engineer, Joseph Teulère, was commissioned to carry out new work on the lighthouse: it had to be raised so that its light could be seen from as far away as possible. He added 30 metres to the lighthouse tower, divided into 3 floors, giving it its present shape. In 1790, Teulère installed a mechanism invented in 1780 at the top of the lighthouse. Cordouan was the first lighthouse in history to have alternating light: the 4th floor is the “counterweight room”, which was necessary for the mechanism of this new machine to rotate a cover around the lantern, giving the impression that the light was going out and coming on again.
Cordouan was listed in 1862. It is known as the king of lighthouses or the Versailles of the sea. However, it still requires a great deal of regular maintenance as nature does not spare this architectural masterpiece.
Since 2002, the lighthouse has been a successful candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status.
The lighthouse is protected by a circular structure. A huge wooden gate blocks access at high tide. Once you have climbed the stairs, an inner courtyard opens up to the keepers’ living quarters. A vestibule leads to the lighthouse tower.
The architectural details are numerous and each floor has its own surprises:
Everything about this lighthouse is extraordinary! And once you’ve climbed the 311 steps of the spiral staircase of this unheard-of, majestic tower, you’ll reach the end of your journey into the history of the lighthouse, by accessing the lantern, 67 metres high. It has a circular balcony from which you can see the coast of Charente, the “Pointe du Médoc” and perhaps, who knows, the beach at Euronat!
This visit is not to be missed (access by boat)! Tours of the lighthouse begin in April and end in late October, and last for the duration of a low tide (around 2 hours).
The view from the top of the tower is breathtaking, whatever the direction and whatever the weather. Departures from the Pointe de Grave, depending on the tides, booking essential, 20 minutes’ drive from Euronat.