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Bourcefranc-le-Chapus (Municipality, Charente-Maritime, France)

Last modified: 2024-04-20 by olivier touzeau
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Flag of Bourcefranc-le-Chapus - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 7 March 2022

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Presentation of Bourcefranc-le-Chapus

Bourcefranc-le-Chapus (3,541 inhabitants in 2021; 1,240 ha) is a commune in the department of Charente-Maritime.

The entire history of Bourcefranc is closely linked to its large neighbour, Marennes. Bourcefranc was established as a free market town at the time of the great medieval clearings after the parish of Marennes was donated to the Abbaye-aux-Dames de Saintes in 1047. In the second half of the 11th century, the high and limestone lands of this part of the peninsula of Marennes, where passed the ancient Roman road leading to Chapus, were highlighted. An agricultural village was formed thanks to the privileges granted by the abbesses of Saintes. They needed labor to clear the parish of Marennes, which was completely covered in forest at the start of the 11th century.

In Gallo-Roman times, the cape of Chapus was home to a village of fishermen and probably salt workers. This cape was the culmination of the ancient Roman road along which, in medieval times, the abbey of Saintes owned numerous strongholds between Saintes and Marennes. Le Chapus is a Roman creation whose toponym reveals both its geographical role and its transit role. This site signifies the head, the height, the heading. In medieval times, it played the role of a landing stage for the island of Oléron, a fishing port and above all a salt port. It was later fortified to house a citadel at the end of the 17th century, Fort Louvois, when the military arsenal of Rochefort was established from 1666. At Le Chapus site, the restaurant Le Terminus - which recalls the old location of the Chapus station in 1888, now demolished - and the few houses that still remain at the cape were during the 17th century shacks built to house engineers, inspectors, contractors and workers, for the construction of Fort Louvois.

It was not until March 23, 1908 that Bourcefranc-Le Chapus became a municipality in its own right belonging until that date to the municipality of Marennes. It was created from the merger of several hamlets, the two main ones being Bourcefranc and Le Chapus. After the Second World War, Le Chapus was chosen for the location of a modern pier built in 1947 to provide ferry connections with the island of Oléron. When the Oléron bridge was built in 1966, the pier became obsolete and the ferry connections to the Île d'Oléron abandoned. This site subsequently became a gigantic collector for oyster farming, contributing to making Chapus one of the very first oyster ports in France. But it is also a port for travelers whose tourist cruises are provided in summer by speedboats on the Pertuis d'Antioche towards the island of Aix, Fort Boyard and La Rochelle.

Olivier Touzeau, 7 March 2022

Fort Chapuis, subsequently known as Fort Louvois, was built from 1690 onward on the Chapus rock located between Oléron island and the continent.
The fort is named for François Michel Le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois (1639-1691), State Secretary of War (1677-1691) of Louis XIV, who ordered Michel Bégon (1638-1710), Intendent of Rochefort, to erect a fortress aimed at protecting the sea area not covered by the canons of the Oléron citadel. Engineer François Ferry (1649-1701) proposed an oval-shape fort equipped with cannons on two storeys, a gate protected by two turrets and access to the continent provided by a causeway flooded at high tide. Ferry's last proposal was validated by Louvois in 19 June 1691; due to Louvois' unexpected death one month later, the project, bitterly criticized by Vauban (1633-1707), was stopped. The fort's foundations had already costed half of the estimated cost of the building due to the lack of stability of the underground.
Vauban convinced Louis XIV to resume the building of the fort according to his own project, deemed less expensive than Ferry's. He proposed a horse-shoe shaped fort with a single semi-circular battery and a central keep, to be erected on Ferry's foundations. Of 12 m in height, the battery is equipped with 16 cannons. The keep, of 24 m in height, it topped by an artillery platform, polygonal on the land side and rounded-off on the sea side. Its four floors can accommodate the officers' housing and a powderhouse. The staircase tower can be used as a landmark for navigation. The barracks are located in the center of the battery. The soldiers' rooms and the arsenal are in the first floor while food storage, a freshwater cistern and two messes are in the ground floor.
The first floor of the fort was completed in 1692, while most work was achieved two years later. The building site was supervised by Ferry.

In 1870, while the fort was served by 36 soldiers, the cannons were replaced by mortars. The foundation, damaged by tidal waters, were restored in 1875.
Disbanded in 1909, the fort was decommissioned in 1920. Registered as an historical monument in 1929, it was severely damaged in 1944 by German bombs shot from the Oléron citadel.
The municipality of Bourcefranc-le-Chapus acquired the fort in 1960. Twelve years later, it was transformed into a maritime and historical museum.
[Source: Centre de ressources pour la gestion du patrimoine fortifié]

Ivan Sache, 7 May 2022

Flag of Bourcefranc-le-Chapus

The flag of Bourcefranc-le-Chapus is white with logo, featuring the silhouette of Fort Louvois.(photo, photo).

Olivier Touzeau, 7 March 2022