Ile des Hebihens

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

The Ile des Hebihens is situated in a bay, about 200m north of the Pointe du Chevet , the most extreme end of the isthmus on which the village St Jacut is located. The bay in which the island is situated is completely dry at low tide, when the ground becomes firm enough to walk on.

Being situated close to St Malo, the bay was a potential landing site for an enemy invasion. At high tide they could take the island and then wait for low tide to march to the mainland and on to St Malo. Several attacks were made on the Brittany coast by the English navy in the 1690s, which resulted in a review of the coastal defences. In 1693, the English navy bombarded the Fort la Latte and the batteries on the Ile des Hebihens before moving on to attack Saint Malo.

Vauban, being aware of the strategic significance of the island, decided that its fortifications must be strengthened. In 1695 Siméon Garangeau, the Director of fortifications at Saint-Malo, designed a tower under Vauban's orders. Similar to the tower at Tatihou, it takes the form of two cone shaped towers placed together, the smaller one containing the staircase, the larger one containing the necessary living space, powder magazine, etc. The tower is about 12m high and built of local granite.

The entrance was protected by a loopholed'wall and cannon were mounted on the roof. Above the entrance there is a small balcony with machicoulis from which the defenders could fire at an enemy who was attempting to break the door down.

The tower was finished in 1697. At the same time the batteries on the island and surrounding coast were reinforced and some new ones were added.

To finance the construction of the tower Vauban makes an interesting and unusual deal with a local nobleman named Pontbriand. Pontbriand paid for the tower and as compensation he obtained rights to part of the profits of the local fishing fleet for a certain amount of time. His name was always associated with the tower and his son’s military career was helped by the deal.

Visiting Ile des Hebihens

At low tide you can walk to the Ile des Hebihens from the Pointe du Chevet. On arriving on the island, which is private property, you’ll reach the tower by taking the central (and only) road of the island. Walks like these not only give you the opportunity to see the work of Vauban but also to enjoy the beautiful coastal landscape of Brittany; rocks, cliffs, sandy beaches, abundant vegetation, etc.

From here you can see Fort la Latte and looking across the bay from the other side you can really see how much ground becomes dry at low tide. For me this type of tower has a highly aesthetical quality, this together with the beautiful landscape makes it a must see. The only downside is you can’t visit the inside of the tower.

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

Back to the "Fortresses" page