Heritage: from Breton lighthouses to Genoese towers

Published on April 06, 2011
  • © ATOUT FRANCE/Jean Malburet

    © ATOUT FRANCE/Jean Malburet



Heritage: from Breton lighthouses to Genoese towers 75000 Paris fr

Lighthouses are key references of maritime history

They have always made travellers dream and are the pride of coastal regions. They often recount a period of human history, as do the intriguing “Genoese” towers on Corsica’s shores.

On the edge of a rocky escarpment or at the end of a cape, always seated on an elevated point, the lighthouses mark the paths ships should take, as well as the coastal landscape of France. This heritage dates mainly from the mid-19th century, but some of the sites themselves have been in use for three hundred years. An example is Cape Fréhel, 15 km from Pléneuf-Val André (Brittany), whose 103-metre tall lighthouse was built in 1950 to replace a strategic “beacon” placed here under Vauban and Louis XIV in a magnificent natural setting of moorland and cliffs. Much more modest and discreet is the stone Ploumanach' lighthouse, which rises from the famous tumble of pink granite blocks around Perros-Guirec. It is very famous and photogenic.

Also in Brittany, 30 km from Bénodet, the lighthouse on Penmarch' point rises to 60 metres. It was built in 1897. The structure bears a rather curious name for this region, namely the “Eckmühl lighthouse" in homage to its keeper. It was actually financed by the heir of a French aristocrat, who held a title of Bavarian nobility.

The Cap Ferret lighthouse marks the entry to the Arcachon Bassin, standing 47 metres high in the midst of houses and pine trees. It is one of few towers on this sandy forested coast, with its only true rival being the huge Pylat dune. Similarly, the Espiguette lighthouse near Grau-du-Roi stands tall out of the sands and flats of the Camargue.

Corsica also has an astounding collection of old stone towers standing on their own, which draw in attention. More than sixty of them have survived from the 16th century - some well preserved, others in ruins, some round and some square. They seem to stand at the end of each cape and promontory, often immersed amidst wild nature. Referred to as “Genoese” towers because they were built during a time when the island lay under the control of the merchant republic of Genoa, they served as watchtowers for the local residents. Watchmen kept a lookout for Barbary pirates, so that everyone could take refuge in the mountains to avoid the pillaging. The towers were built along similar lines to the one at Capitello, near Ajaccio (fifteen metres high, with four floors, housing six watchmen), and dotted along the entire coastline. This chain of towers is a source of inspiration for seaside walkers and pleasure cruisers.

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