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Le Verdon-sur-Mer (Municipality, Gironde, France)

Last modified: 2024-04-20 by olivier touzeau
Keywords: gironde | verdon-sur-mer (le) |
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Flag of Le Verdon-sur-Mer - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 4 May 2022

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Presentation of Le Verdon-sur-Mer

Le Verdon-sur-Mer (1,369 inhabitants in 2021; 1,709 ha) is a commune in the Gironde department. Le Verdon-sur-Mer has a special geographical location: triangular in shape, it is located where the Gironde estuary meets the Atlantic Ocean, at the northern end of the Médoc peninsula. The town faces the Charente coast and the town of Royan, 9.5 km away.

In the 11th century, the territory of the Verdon housed the priory of Saint-Nicolas de Grave, dependent on Cluny. It housed the monks in charge of maintaining the fire of Cordouan, off the mouth of the estuary. The priory was buried under the sands for an indefinite period.
Since the Middle Ages, Le Verdon has been known for its harbor sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds. Ships wishing to leave the Gironde estuary park there before setting sail. Ships wishing to refuel ashore landed a few sailors who, with the help of a small canoe, went up the Rambaud channel to the town. This channel was also used for shipping marsh salt.
In 1717-1723, a royal chapel was built to bring spiritual help to sailors. It bore the name of Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Secours and Saint-Louis. Its construction was financed by a levy on ships entering and leaving the estuary according to their tonnage (decree of the King's Council of 1712). A customs post was established in the 1740s to collect the gabelle (salt tax) but also to monitor ships at anchor in the harbour. The chapel was abandoned during the Revolution and served as accommodation for officers garrisoned in the forts of the Pointe de Grave. Returned to worship in the 1820s, it was destroyed to be replaced by the current church. The Verdon was erected as an autonomous parish in 1849, detaching itself from the parish of Soulac for the celebrations.

After a long process, the hamlets of Verdon, Logit, Royannais, Grandes Maisons, Huttes and Pointe de Grave in 1874 became an autonomous municipality called Le Verdon, breaking away from the parish of Soulac. The constructions were more and more numerous in the 19th century with the taking of autonomy of the municipality and the development of the oyster port. The maritime vocation of Verdon-sur-Mer was further strengthened with the inauguration, in 1933, of the port of call, the outer port of Bordeaux. The largest ocean liners of the 1930s docked at this port connected to land by a viaduct over 340 meters long. Its construction, between 1929 and 1933, attracted a large workforce, often immigrants. Le Verdon-sur-Mer experienced a period of unprecedented prosperity and its population has never been exceeded since this period. Destroyed in November 1944 by the Germans controlling the pocket of Royan and the Pointe de Grave, the stopover jetty was, for the time, a jewel of technology. It hosted a hundred transatlantic liners during its period of activity.
In the years 1966-1986, an oil port was in operation on the ruins of the old port of call. This industrialization affected oyster farming which was forced to stop in the 1970s (cadmium pollution). If the activity disappeared, the huts of the old oyster port have been partly rehabilitated for tourist purposes. Since the 1980s and the end of the industrialization of the Gironde estuary, Le Verdon-sur-Mer has been committed to tourist development, drawing on its heritage and its natural resources (beaches, forests, old salt marshes ).

In recent years, the tourist vocation of the town has been developing with the construction of tourist residences. Prawns have been raised in the old marshes for several years now and since 2014 the production of Médoc oysters, matured in the marshes, has been restarted.

Olivier Touzeau, 4 May 2022

Lafayette (1757-1834) boarded in Bordeaux on 22 March 1777 on the "Victoire"; the ship called at Pauillac on 24 March and left the French territory from Le Verdon on 26 March, heading to Pasajes (Spain), its last European port of call.
On 27 February and 1 March 1917, respectively, two American cargo ships, "Orleans" and "Rochester" arrived off Le Verdon to block the estuary of the Gironde and neutralize the German submarines based in Bordeaux.
On 13 June 1917, General Pershing (1860-1948), head of the American Expeditionary Force, landed in Boulogne-sur-Mer. He paid a visit to the tomb of Lafayette in Paris; during the ceremony, Colonel Charles Stanton (1858-1933) said "Lafayette, we are here", initiating the deployment of American soldiers on the French territory.

These two memorable events were to be commemorated by a monument erected on Le Verdon, at the very end of Pointe de Grave. The sculptor Albert Bartholomé (1848-1926), a personal friend of Raymond Poincaré (1860-1934), President of the French Republic (1913-1920) and winner of the First World War, was appointed to manage the project that soon proved to be philharmonic. The monument's cornerstone was set up during a ceremony held on 6 September 1919, attended by Poincaré and the American ambassador in France, Hugh Wallace (1864-1931). Bartholomé commissioned the architect André Ventre (1874-1951), Chief Architect of Historical Monuments in northeastern France, who designed in 1920 the commemorative monument of the Bayonets' Trench in Verdun. The monument was conceived as a "light column" of 100 m in height, made of reinforced concrete, mirroring the neighboring lighthouse of Cordouan.
For the decoration of the monument, Bartholomé hired the young sculptor Henri Navarre (1885-1973), who proposed several bas-reliefs. The world-famous sculptor Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) designed "La France", a 10 m-high allegory of victorious France. Deemed much too expensive and difficult to implement in the harsh, windy environment of Pointe de Grave, the project was postponed and dramatically downsized; Bourdelle's statue and most Navarre's bas-reliefs were suppressed. The lighthouse expected to crown the monument was also suppressed.
The actual building of the monument started in 1926 but was stopped one year later because of the lack of funds and conflict between Ventre and Navarre for the succession of the late Bartholomé as project manager. It eventually resumed so that inauguration was finally scheduled to 21 October 1934; the event had, unfortunately, to be cancelled because of the death of Raymond Poincaré, who was interred in the Paris Panthéon the same day. The monument, which was inaugurated on 4 September 1938, a few months after the Anschluss and a few days before the Nuremberg Congress.
Considered as a provocative symbol of French-American friendship and a potential landmark for air raids, the monument was dynamited on 30 May 1942 by the Germans. After the war, the project of rebuilding the monument was abandoned; on 1 June 1947, a commemorative stele was inaugurated on the site, which included at the base the bronze shield dedicated to the American Legions cast by Navarre for the original monument. Also preserved during the destruction of the monument, the bust of Lafayette is kept in the Town Hall of Le Verdon.

Bourdelle adapted "La France" for the war memorial of his birth town, Montauban, whose building was, unfortunately, postponed by the lack of funds; the monument was eventually inaugurated in 1932, three years after the sculptor's death. [Source: Claire Steimer. 2014. "À la gloire des Américains", le monument commémoratif du Verdon-sur-Mer". In Situ 25 | 2014]

The fort of the Point of Grave, aka fort de la Chambrette, was built in the 1875s to watch the southern shore of the mouth of Gironde, offering crossfire with the forts built on the northern shore. Three previous fortresses, successively built from 1750 and 1810, fell down into the water due to coast retreat. The last fort was never involved in any significance war event, except during the last days of the pocket of Le Verdon in April 1945. The fort was decommissioned after the Second World War. [Source: Municipal website]

Ivan Sache, 7 May 2022

Coat of arms of Le Verdon-sur-Mer

The arms of the commune are blazoned:
Azure a lighthouse Argent set on a sea likewise, the chief Gules a wall Argent masoned Sable issuing from the partition, a quarter Gules with a bend Or and a bordure vairy.
The motto, Terram meam mare attulit, means: my land comes from the sea.

Olivier Touzeau, 4 May 2022

The arms feature the Cordouan lighthouse, the arms of Marquis de Lafayette, and a wall representing the fort of the Point of Grave. The Cordouan lighthouse originates in a beacon erected on Cordouan islet in the 14th century by the Black Prince to secure navigation at the very dangerous mouth of Gironde. An hermit was commissioned to light a fire every night on the top of the Black Prince's tower.
Subsequently ruined, the beacon was replaced by a true lighthouse designed by architect Louis de Foix upon order of king Henry III. The Wars of Religion, money shortage and technical difficulties postponed the building of the lighthouse, which was achieved in 1611, 27 years after its initiation, under the reign of Henry IV and after Louis de Foix's death.
A symbol of the royal power, the lighthouse, a cylindrical, three-storeyed tower of 37 m in height, was richly decorated and included a chapel.
In the 1780s, the lighthouse's upper part was so damaged that seamen complained about the inefficiency of signaling. Architect Joseph Teulère, winner of a call organized by the State Secretariat of the Navy in 1786, increased the height of the tower by 20 m, while keeping the architecture and decoration of the original building.
In 1823, engineer Augustin Fresnel (1788-1827) tested in Cordouan a prototype of scale lens that would soon equip most of lighthouses worldwide. Still in use and remote-controlled from Le Verdon, the Cordouan lighthouse has a range of 40 km.[sources: lighthouse official website and Ministry of Culture].

Ivan Sache, 7 May 2022

Flag of Le Verdon-sur-Mer

The flag is white with the coat of arms: photo (2021), photo (2021).

Olivier Touzeau, 4 May 2022

Flag of Port-Médoc

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Flag of Port-Médoc: left, former, right, current since 2013 - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 4 May 2022

In 2004, Port Médoc, a marina with 800 rings, was opened. It is accessible at all tides. Since its opening, it has received the Blue Flag. Port Médoc is managed by Port Médoc SA, a subsidiary of the Port Adhoc group since the end of 2013. At the end of 2015, the port, which had reached saturation, launched extension works in order to go from 800 to 950 berths.

Port-Médoc has its own flag. The former flag was blue with former logo (photo). The current flag is white with blue border and logo (photo, 2021).

Olivier Touzeau, 4 May 2022