Cordouan lighthouse is an active lighthouse located 7 km at sea, near the mouth of the Gironde estuary in France. At a height of 223 feet (68 m) it is the tenth tallest "traditional lighthouse" in the world.
The Tour de Cordouan, the 'Patriarch of Lighthouses', is by far the oldest lighthouse in France. It was designed by leading Paris architect Louis de Foix, and is something of a Renaissance masterpiece, an amalgam of royal palace, cathedral and fort. Started in 1584 and finished in 1611, it still stands today.
De Foix first built a round base 135 feet (41 m) in diameter and 8 feet (2.4 m) high to take the onslaught of the waves. Within it was a cavity 20 feet (6.1 m) square for storing water and other supplies. Above it were constructed four storeys of diminishing size. The ground floor consisted of a circular tower 50 feet (15 m) in diameter, with apartments for four keepers around its inner wall. In the centre was richly decorated entrance hall 22 feet (6.7 m) square and 20 feet (6.1 m) high. The second storey was the King's Apartment, consisting of a drawing room, anteroom and a number of closets. The third storey was a chapel with a domed roof notable for the beauty of its mosaic. Above this was secondary lantern, and above that the Lantern itself. This was 162 feet (49 m) above the sea and visible 5–6 miles away, the original light being provided by burning oak chips in a metal container.
Throughout the building, de Foix took as much trouble with the decor as with the durability of the building, and on every floor was a profusion of gilt, carved work, elegantly arched doorways and statuary.
Small beacon towers had existed on the islet since 880, but the first proper structure was implemented by Edward, the Black Prince, since Guienne was then 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. Passing ships paid two groats to pass - the first known instance of lighthouse dues. In addition to the tower, a small chapel was built on the islet. However, by the second half of the 16th century the tower had fallen into disrepair and the hazard to navigation threatened the Bordeaux wine trade. This led to the construction of the current Tour de Cordouan.
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways.
Lighthouses mark dangerous coastlines, hazardous shoals, reefs, safe entries to harbors, and can also assist in aerial navigation. Once widely used, the number of operational lighthouses has declined due to the expense of maintenance and replacement by modern electronic navigational systems.
The Gironde is a navigable estuary (often falsely referred to as a river), in southwest France and is formed from the meeting of the rivers Dordogne and Garonne just downstream of the centre of Bordeaux. Covering around 635 km2 (245 sq mi), it is the largest estuary in western Europe.
The Gironde is approximately 80 km (50 mi) long and 3–11 km (2–7 miles) wide and the French département Gironde is named after it. The Gironde is subject to very strong tidal currents and great care is needed when navigating the estuary by any size or type of boat.
The Gironde was the setting for Operation Frankton, a British special forces operation during the Second World War tasked with the objective of destroying shipping moored at the docks in Bordeaux.
Within the estuary between the Pointe de Grave at the seaward end and le bec d’Ambes are a series of small islands.
The Île de Patiras is 200 ha in size with a lighthouse to aid navigation in the estuary. Vines and maize are grown there.
The Île Sans-Pain and Île Bouchaud are now virtually joined due to progressive silting and are referred to as the Ile Nouvelle. They total about 265 ha and are owned by the Conservatoire du Littoral and managed by the Department of the Gironde.