Fort Médoc

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

Together with Blaye and Fort Paté the fort of Médoc forms a barrier to seal off the Gironde estuary in order to prevent an attack on Bordeaux via the river. The three forts vary considerably in the way they were built, giving a nice overview of the military engineering techniques of the time. The extensive citadel'of Blaye is built on a high rocky platform above the river.

The ground it is built on is rocky and stable - the fort even has underground dwellings. Fort Paté is totally different; a small oval battery on an island in the middle of the river, just big enough to hold the soldiers who defend it. The island on which it was built did not consist of firm ground and sp the fort had to be built on a substantial grid of wooden piling.

With its stone buildings and earth walls Fort Médoc looks like a mixture of a Dutch earthwork fortification and a typical French stone fort. It was built in 1690. The earthen ramparts form a square with a bastion'on each corner. The gate is protected by a demi-lune, also made of earth.

The ditches'in front of the walls and the covered way'could be flooded using sluices that connected the ditch to the estuary. The main part of the fort is the battery looking out over the Gironde. This is the third link in the river barrier. The rest of the defence works were made in order to protect this battery from an attack from the landward side.

Inside the fort you find the foundations of the old barracks and bakery and the original chapel still stands. A well and a powder magazine'were built in the 19th century. The gatehouse which also holds the house of the commanding officer faces the battery.

Its size and height puts it in stark contrast with the rather low earth walls surrounding it. The fort has never played a military role of importance throughout its existence.

By 1789 the fort was occupied by only a handful of soldiers, most of whom were invalids, while the fort was designed for a garrison of 300 soldiers. As the range of cannon increased, the role of the three forts was taken over by a single battery build in Verdon, downstream closer to the sea.

The site lost its military role completely in 1916 and became the property of the community. For a few years now the "friends of Medoc fortress" society has been working on its restoration.

Visiting Fort Médoc

The contrast between the stone buildings and the earth walls makes the 17th century classical austerity of the buildings come out stronger than usually, especially in the gatehouse. To me the most interesting part of the fort lies in the fact that it is a part of a larger system of three very different forts working together. It is a pity Fort Paté cannot be visited, it would make the visit complete if you could go there too.

We visited the fort by going by car from Blaye via Bordeaux to Medoc. If you take the small roads you get to see a lot of the beautiful landscape surrounding the Gironde. From Médoc we took the ferry across the river to Blaye. You can get a nice look at the three forts doing that and really get to appreciate the contrast between the three.

The ferry goes regularly every day because it is the only way across for miles. The fort is open every day and can be visited for a small price. It has a small museum explaining about the fort and its history.

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

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