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France’s longest-serving lighthouse is 408 years old and is a work of art

PortandTerminal.com, June 22, 2019

Nicknamed the “Versailles of the Sea”, the Cordouan Lighthouse in France is the country’s oldest operating lighthouse and arguably one of the most beautiful in the world. The structure is considered a Renaissance masterpiece, a mix of a royal palace, cathedral and fort. The tower stands 223 feet (68 m).

Construction

Engraving of a drawing of the original tower finished in 1611 (left) | The lighthouse as extended in 1790 (right)

Small beacon towers had existed on the islet where the Cordouan Lighthouse is located since 880, but the first proper structure was implemented by Edward, the Black Prince, while that region of France was still an English province. It was 48 feet (15 m) high, with a platform on top where a wood fire could be kept burning, and manned by a religious hermit.

The current lighthouse was built between 1584-1611, although the original structure was built in 1360. The lighthouse still stands and operates to this day.  It was not electrified until 1948. In 2006 it was automated.

The lighthouse is located at the entrance to the Gironde, standing on a sandbar in the mouth of the estuary.  The Gironde is a navigable estuary, in southwest France and is formed from the meeting of the rivers Dordogne and Garonne just downstream of the centre of Bordeaux.

Features

The first floor of the lighthouse contains the “king’s apartment”, and the second floor houses the chapel, which has a fine dome. The original lens is a First order Fresnel lens and was installed in 1823 and burned rapeseed oil.

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