Fouras

Article and pictures by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.

The Fouras peninsula has been a site of strategic importance for centuries. Standing on the top platform of the donjon it is easy to see why; from here you can see the Madame island with the entrance to the Charente and in the other directions the Ile d'Oléron and the Ile d'Aix.

At least since the 11th century, Fouras has had a castle, which the local lords used to levy taxes on the ships entering the Charente estuary. Over the following centuries the castle passed in and out of French hands, finally becoming French again in the 1620s and serving as a base for Richelieu's'attack on La Rochelle.

When admiral Tromp threatened Rochefort in 1674 the defence of the entrance to the arsenal (the river Charente) became urgent. Fouras was one of the focal points of this defence and was reinforced. Tromp sailed along the French coasts, bombarding Belle Ile and taking Noirmoutier.

When he finally reached the Rochefort region he sailed on to his real destination; southward to escort a merchant fleet. This threat once again showed the importance of protecting the way to Rochefort, in which Fouras was to play a prominent role. In 1689 François Ferry'made plans to reinforce the castle. The current form of the fort dates from that period.

Ferry made a large scale plan, which strengthened the existing fort and also provided the fort with an outer walled courtyard (the current parking area) with barracks and towers on its corners. There was a low-lying seafront battery along the sea shore (see left).

The two existing towers on the east front, the gate side, with their curtain wall were preserved just like the deep ditches'towards the land. On the north-west side a new tower was built, serving as a powder magazine.

In order to make the donjon strong enough to carry 9 cannon on its upper platform the walls had to be reinforced. This was acheived by vaulting the tower, but in order to carry the vaults the walls had to be thickened on the inside. In doing so the old openings in the walls of the donjon were closed up.

Most of them can still be seen on the outside of the tower. Because of erosion caused by the sea, part of the cliff underneath the fort collapsed, taking part of the fort with it. This meant that the seafront battery had to function as a retaining wall as well, which made the construction much more expensive.

After finishing this part of the fort Ferry had no more funds and the work stopped. In the 18th century the courtyard and a tower on the north side were built but they were demolished in the 1950s. The western battery of the fort was casemated'in the 19th century.

Visiting Fouras

A the beginning of the 20th century the fort was declassified from military use and later it became a national monument. The re-use of the existing building makes it an unusual fort. The donjon was a good height for a signal station but a little too high to make an effective battery.

It is twice as high as the towers of Camaret and Tatihou (platform 40m above the water level). A bastioned'trace around the donjon would have been more effective than the round towers it now has. The only thing reminiscent of the 17th century is the low semi circular battery with its échauguette.

On the other hand the contrast between the buildings in both style and scale makes it the beautiful fort it is; on the one hand a medieval castle on the other hand a 17th century costal fort with its different layers of firepower. You can wander around the fort for free but to enter the donjon and the underground crypt (guided visit only one hour a day) you have to pay a small fee.

Aiguille Redoubt

For the fortification enthusiast: A bit further towards the point of the peninsula you will find the redoubt of Aiguille; a small battery that would prevent an enemy landing on the peninsula or the island of Aix from accessing the mainland. The land surrounding the battery used to flood completely at high tide in those days so it controlled the access completely. It is property of the community now but inaccessible for safety reasons - you can only visit the outside.

The Redoute de l'Aiguille, as it is known in French, was first built in 1673 as an earthwork battery to protect the end of the peninsular. In 1700 it was rebuilt in stone to make it a more permanent fortification. At the end of the peninsula stands the 19th century fort Enet. You can walk to it at low tide.

Article and pictures by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.

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