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The Cordouan Lighthouse is not only the oldest lighthouse still in activity in Europe and the only lighthouse in the world located in open sea that can be visited but also a masterpiece of the 17th century architecture called also the "Versailles of the sea". It was selected in 2011 the third most admired monument in Aquitaine region after the Theatre of Bordeaux and the Beynac castle (source "Sud Ouest Le Mag").
The 67 meters (220 feet) high lighthouse, situated some 7 km from the land at the entrance of the Gironde estuary was lit for the first time on June 11th, 1611. It has been listed as a historic monument since 1862 (at the same time as the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris).
The lighthouse was built on the location of an even older "fire tower" erected around the middle of the 14th century for the protection of the estuary, when the region was a part of the Plantagenet kingdom. The nowadays lighthouse construction started in 1584 during the reign of Henri III of France and under the direction of architect Louis de Foix. After the death of Henri III the building continues with the funds allocated by Henri IV - who as a new catholic convert wishes to add to the construction a religious character thus making the lighthouse the only one in the world to have a chapel and what is more exquisitely decorated.
The construction of the lighthouse was finished only in 1611.
At the time the light was produced by the burning of a mixture of tar and wood. In 1664 this fuel is replaced with whale fat and later between 1727 and 1782 by coal. In 1786 Joseph Teulère - a Bordeaux architect - increased the height of the tower by 20 meters (65 feet). He also built the lighthouse guardians' rooms and fit the lighthouse with a turning light produced by the burning of a mixture of whale fat, olive oil and rape oil.
Nowadays the lighthouse has metal halide lamps and it can be seen from a distance of 40km (21 mi).
The lighthouse can be visited from Easter to the 1st of November only on low tides. The boarding points are Royan, Meschers on the right bank of Gironde estuary and Verdon-sur-Mer on the left bank.
Since 1997 the parish priest of Verdon-sur-Mer, the closest town, along with a group of followers comes one Sunday during the month of July and celebrates a mass at the Notre Dame de Cordouan chapel.
For information about all the lighthouses that can be visited on the South west French Atlantic coast click here.
The photos courtesy of Vincent Bonnefoy Photography
The lighthouse is 67 meters and when you go off the boat you step on water so please wear some boots or something... But is very nice and interesting. Worth the visit!