Cordouan Lighthouse

(by Jean-Marie Calbet, President of the “Association pour la sauvegarde du phare de Cordouan”, March 2009)


9th C Charlemagne asks his son Louis le Débonnaire to build a first tower on the island of Antros.
13th C Pope Gregory XI (1227 – 1241) has a new tower built.
1362 Construction of a new tower by the Black Prince.
1582 Henri III charges Louis de Foix to rebuild a lighthouse on the small island which from now on is known as Cordouan.
1584 The building contract is signed on 2nd March at Bordeaux in the presence of Michel de Montagne et de Mont.
1592 The tower struggles to reach the first floor. Louis de Foix makes use of his personal wealth.
1593 Henri IV decides to compensate Louis de Foix.
1594 A new contract signed on 18th June provides a fairly accurate estimation of the duration of the work.
1602 Louis de Foix dies before the work is completed.
1611 François Beuscher, his overseer, completes the work. It will take 57 years to construct the building of the age, which would comprise only three floors and a lantern.
1645 The tower shows signs of wear.
1659 Colbert decides to restore it. The work lasts from 1661 to 1664 and its final shape will be that of the present lower part of the tower.
1788 Since then the lighthouse has doubled in height. In fact, after navigators complain that they cannot see it, the engineer Joseph Teulère from Bordeaux, is entrusted with increasing the tower’s height. The work lasts from 1778 to 1790. Three rooms are added, a true marvel of architecture which makes use of the latest geometrical technology.
1790 Cordouan lighthouse acquires more or less its present shape.
1791 Installation of parabolic reflectors.
1823 Trials of the first Fresnel optics.
1862 The lighthouse is classified as a historic monument, at the same time as Notre Dame in Paris.
1907 Use of petrol gas which will be replaced by electricity in 1948.
1926 First concrete shell to reinforce the western half of the base.
1948 Electrification of the lighthouse by electric generators: 6,000 watt bulb, 110 volts , 3 phase.
1984 Trials of xenon arc lamp of 450 watts.
1987 Replacement by a 2,000 watt halogen bulb, mounted on a changer with a revolving screen.

The oldest lighthouse in France has always been at the forefront of progress.
A restoration campaign between 1982 and 1990 incurred a final cost of FF 12 million. 90 million would be needed for a complete restoration !

During a new programme of work in 2005 a breakwater was erected to reinforce the 1926 concrete shell, for a sum of €4.5 million. The “Association pour la sauvegarde du phare de Cordouan”, created in 1981 to persuade the administration not to abandon the structure, has been struggling ever since to ensure it’s preservation. It needs everyone’s support to ensure that this lighthouse, unique in the world, is kept alive.