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Saint-Denis-d'Oléron (Municipality, Charente-Maritime, France)

Last modified: 2024-01-06 by olivier touzeau
Keywords: charente-maritime | saint-denis-d'oleron | oleron | lighthouse |
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Flag of Saint-Denis-d'Oléron - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 6 March 2022

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Presentation of Saint-Denis-d'Oléron

Saint-Denis-d'Oléron (1,315 inhabitants in 2021; 1,175 ha) is a commune in the department of Charente-Maritime, on the island of Oléron.

Housing is concentrated in Saint-Denis-Ville and in six surrounding villages: Chassiron, La Gautrie, La Morelière, La Michelière, La Bétaudière and Les Huttes.

St. Denis-d'Oléron is the northernmost town of the island and has on its territory the Chassiron lighthouse, overlooking the Passage of Antioch. It is one of the most powerful in the department and a leading tourist attraction, visited by more than 160,000 people each year.

The first tower of the Chassiron lighthouse, 33 meters high, was built by order of Colbert in 1685. It was the second light built on the French coast after that of Cordouan, built in 1355. At the time, Rochefort was a military
arsenal of the Royal Navy. The latter had a strategic position because it was protected on the land side by the Charente and on the sea side by the Charente straits and the maritime fortifications (fort Louvois, fort Enet,
fort de Fouras, …). Many shipwrecks have taken place on the rugged northern coast of the island. It then became essential to build a lighthouse to guide the sailors and to mark the entrance to the sluice. In order to differentiate it from its neighbours, which are the Baleines lighthouse on the Ile de Ré and the Cordouan lighthouse in the Gironde estuary, the Colbert tower was lit by two log fires.

The second Chassiron lighthouse was built in 1834 and put into service on December 1, 1836. The foundations are 18 meters in diameter and 3 meters deep under the rock. Indeed, the Colbert tower was no longer efficient enough to cope with the increasing maritime traffic. In addition, it was located too close to the cliff, which is receding very quickly due to erosion at this point on the coast. From 1836, the Chassiron lighthouse was equipped with the latest technologies of the time in terms of lighting. The first system consisted of a vegetal oil lamp with six wicks. From 1895, the lamp will work with oil gas. A gas plant was then built next to the lighthouse. On an experimental basis, from 1902 to 1905 the lamp will use acetylene gas. The technological upheaval then comes from a lighting system using a 2,400 watt electric bulb. Today the lighthouse lamp runs on a 250 watt metal halide bulb and allows its eight light beams to be visible up to 52 kilometers away on a clear day, thanks to its lantern located 43 meters above the ground. Before 1926, the Chassiron lighthouse was all white. From this date, three black bands were painted to better differentiate it from the Baleines lighthouse on the island of Ré. Since 1998, it is no longer guarded but controlled remotely. The spiral staircase has 224 steps.

In 1913, it was decided to build a tower intended to receive a luminouslight and an audible signal operating in foggy weather on Antioch reef, a very dangerous rock north of Oléron located on a road frequented by many boats mainly selling wine and salt. The construction began in 1917 and the beacon operated from 1925 ; from this date that shipwrecks were rarer there.

Olivier Touzeau, 6 March 2022

Flag of Saint-Denis-d'Oléron

The flag is made of the full logo, showing the lighthouse of Chassiron and the beacon of Antioch (photo, 2018).

Olivier Touzeau, 6 March 2022