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Chassiron lighthouse: the oldest working lighthouse

Discover the Chassiron lighthouse

The Chassiron lighthouse is located on the northern tip of the Ile d’Oléron, and is the oldest lighthouse in France still in operation. This lighthouse allows sailors to enter the waters of the Pertuis d’Antioche, renowned for its many shipwrecks. It is located in the commune of Saint-Denis d’Oléron, which has been responsible for its management since 1999. Since October 2012, it has been listed as a historic monument.


The first tower of the Chassiron lighthouse, 33 metres high, was built by order of Colbert in 1685. At the time, Rochefort was a military arsenal for the Royal Navy. The latter had a strategic position, being protected on the land side by the Charente and on the sea side by the Charente channels and maritime fortifications (Fort Louvois, Fort Enet, Fort de Fouras …). Numerous shipwrecks have occurred on the jagged north coast of the Ile d’Oléron. It became essential to build a lighthouse to guide sailors and mark the entrance to the channel.

To distinguish it from its neighbors, the Whale Lighthouse on the Ile de Ré and the Cordouan Lighthouse in the Gironde estuary, the Colbert Tower was lit by two wooden fires.

The 46 m-high Chassiron lighthouse, as we know it today, was built in 1834 and commissioned in 1836. The Colbert Tower was no longer efficient enough to cope with the increasing maritime traffic, and was also too close to the cliff, which is receding rapidly due to erosion at this point on the coast.

In 1836, the Chassiron lighthouse was equipped with the latest lighting technology. The first system consisted of a 6-wick vegetable oil lamp. From 1895 onwards, the lamp would run on oil gas. On an experimental basis, from 1902 to 1905, the lamp used acetylene gas. The next technological breakthrough came with a 2400-watt light bulb lighting system. Today, the lighthouse lamp uses a 250-watt metal halide bulb, allowing its eight beams of light to be seen up to 52 kilometers away on a clear day, thanks to its lantern located 43 meters above ground level.

Before 1926, the Chassiron lighthouse was all white. From this date, three black stripes were painted to differentiate it from the Baleines lighthouse. Since 1998, he has no longer been under house arrest. It is maintained by the lighthouses and beacons office and supervised by a State Public Works inspector.

From this lighthouse, which boasts a 224-step spiral staircase, you can admire the towns of La Rochelle, the Ile de Ré and the northern part of the Ile d’Oléron.

Since April 2007, the Chassiron site has been completely refurbished. The garden has been redesigned in the shape of a compass rose, with four basins, a contemporary garden with grasses and other ornamental plants, and a traditional garden with 21 varieties of roses, a vegetable garden and vines. It has been awarded the “remarkable garden” label.

A museum has also been set up on the second floor of the lighthouse, with six rooms dedicated to traditional fishing, agriculture, market gardening and viticulture.

And more information on Le Phare de Chassiron