Preparing For the Worst

The Lighthouse of Cordouan

The Cordouan Lighthouse
Four hundred years ago, an extraordinary monument – the Cordouan lighthouse – was built at the near the mouth of France’s Gironde Estuary. Designed to guide ships at sea, but also to glorify king Henri III and his successor Henri IV, it was greeted as the eight wonder of the world. Even today, four centuries later, France’s first lighthouse continues to amaze visitors crossing between Royan and Verdon-sur-Mer.
The beauty and unique nature of this architectural and technical marvel are now the subject of a Internet site, created by France’s Ministry of Culture and Communication.
Under the guidance of Vincent Guigueno, responsible for lighthouse heritage at the Ministry of Ecology, a number of specialists collaborated on the site’s multimedia content. Every aspect of the Cordouan lighthouse’s long history is illustrated with 3D animations, panoramic photos, maps, drawings and videos. More than 300 multimedia features have been brought together for the first time, thanks to invaluable contributions from government archives, libraries, museums and private individuals. Filmed interviews bring the history and everyday life of this unusual lighthouse to life.
Thanks to the generous support of Dassault Systèmes and a real-time interactive experience, visitors to the website can visualise the island and the monument as they were in 1611, or when the new tower was built in 1790 – at night, during the day, at high and low tide, and in stormy or sunny weather. For more than two centuries, the lighthouse was a veritable testing-ground for innovative maritime technologies; digital technology has been used to re-create the various lighting systems that were employed.
In 1862, the Cordouan site became a classified historic monument. Today, nearly 80 lighthouses –classified and listed following a large-scale preservation campaign in 2010–2012 – are presented on the site, along with an interactive map.
Another map of the distribution and density of shipwrecks – the work of the Ministry’s subaquatic and underwater archaeological research department – shows the danger that ships faced when navigating the entrance to the estuary.
The Cordouan website, which is available in French and English, was designed in cooperation with the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. It is part of on-going efforts by the Ministry of Culture’s Secretariat-General to disseminate scientific content and research results, and can be found in the Ministry’s “National Celebrations” multimedia collection”.

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