Fort Chapus

Article and pictures by Michel Plancon, all rights reserved.

The Fort du Chapus, or Fort Louvois, lies just off the headland of Chapus about 3.5 km from Le Chateau d’Oleron, on the west shore of the Aunis district, controlling the eastern bank of the Oleron channel (a very difficult sailing pass linking the Maumusson strait and the Aix island roadstead facing the Charente river estuary and the access to Rochefort Naval Arsenal).

General view of Fort Chapus.

In 1666 Colbert, Louis XIV's'naval minister, decided to build a major naval shipyard and arsenal in Rochefort, leading to a complete overhaul of the coastal fortifications of the Aunis county.

Among these fortifications, it was decided to build a fort at the headland of the Chapus near the village of Bourcefranc. This fort had the task of preventing any naval circumvallation of the citadel of the Chateau d’Oleron by ensuring protection of the south against hostile British or Dutch frigates'or even ships of the line'which could have sneaked through the difficult Maumusson strait.

The first project was designed by François Ferry'based upon the instructions from Louvois'in 1690, bypassing on this occasion Vauban's'hierarchical position. It was a huge oval artillery tower roughly 52 by 78 meters, having the shape of a risban with two levels of embrasures, towering by 2 meters the highest tides sea levels.

The rear of the fort seen from the sea.

Two months after the death of Louvois, he was replaced by Le Pelletier de Souzy. Vauban, with support from Souzy, imposed on Ferry his own design, which was more realistic and cheaper.

The lower battery.

The new project was in line with forts already designed and erected in similar configurations such as the Camaret battery protecting the entrance to Brest and the Fort Lupin protecting the entrance to Rochefort on the south bank of the Charente river.

The Vauban's project (see map right from A.G.) which was executed by Ferry was a half circular horse shoe shape fort with two pier-heads with one low level battery and a tower-reduit at the gorge. The fort access to mainland was ensured by a causeway submersible at high tide.

Vauban's design for Fort Chapus.

The building was started in 1692 by using the ground-works of the first project from Ferry and the major works completed in 1694.

Left: the tower, right: the powder magazine.

The Fort du Chapus was restored a first time in 1875 to repair the damages caused by the ocean and second time to repair the April 1945 damages at the end of the second world war. It is now a classified beautiful historical monument in outstandingly good repair, comparatively intact to the execution of the Vauban design.

Visiting Fort Chapus

The Fort du Chapus can easily be visited at the modest fee of 2 Euros by using either the dike at low tide or the shuttle boat at high tide. Beside the fort visit, this one shelters in the tower-reduit some rooms dedicated to the fort design and the restoration phases and some rooms for a small museum of oyster-culture which is the main fishing activity in this area.

The tower and drawbridge.
The sentry post on the lower battery as seen from the tower.

The arsenal houses some temporary artistic exhibitions as well. The fishing harbour of Bourcefranc facing the Fort du Chapus can be reached in the same way as Oleron island, by car or motorbike by driving 45 km from the Saintes exit 35 of the motorway A10 on the road D728.

The fort visit includes the 12 meters high low level battery with the guard-house, the watch-tower, the arsenal (see right) and the powder-magazine. It is followed by the visit of the tower-reduit separated from the battery by a flooded ditch with draw-bridge ending up on its top level supporting a second panoramic battery with a very nice sightseeing of the surrounding landscape.

The arsenal.

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Article and pictures by Michel Plancon, all rights reserved.
Condition Access to fortifications Size of fortress Accessability of town Museum/Info Overall score
10 9 3 5 5 6.4
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