Friday, 28 October 2011

The three towers of La Rochelle-'The Lanterne Tower'

The second tower we visited at La Rochelle harbour  (not in the Loire Valley) was the 'Lanterne Tower' which was probably my favourite of the three. To get there you stroll along 'Sur les Murs' the cobbled street that connects it to the 'Tour de la Chaine'.You can walk along the raised path on the left with views over the car park -which would have been under water (well it wouldn't have been a carpark then) before it was silted up over the centuries.

As an aside, I love the fact that here in France 'health & safety' consists of 'please don't do that as its unsafe and not very sensible' or 'we have not put a handrail here because we know you are not silly enough to walk off the edge ,or allow your children to do so'.

As the name suggests this tower, which has been here in some form or other since the12th century, was used as a lookout tower before being converted in the 15th to be used as a lighthouse. The 55 metre high tower with its fire constantly burning was visible well out to sea and offered incoming ships a good navigational marker. The tower became a naval prison in the 16th century and later in the 19th century a military one.
The conditions as a prison could not have been good, with limited basic facilities and very cramped conditions. Life here, for however long, must have been pretty horrible. Many of the prisoners marked their stay by simply scratching their name and dates or some did more intricate carvings which can still be seen today.

The fact that the port changed hands between the English and the French on a number of occasions, meant that the prisoners were multinational albeit probably at different times.
 There is evidence of French,English,Dutch,Spanish,Irish and even one poor Scot from near Montrose

 Oh freedom why hast thou forsaken me?
Your climb takes you  right to the top of the tower and out on to the roof terrace via a door in the latern where you have more wonderful views of the city and out to sea, then into the Gothic  spire itself  where you have to admire these early artisan's craftsmanship! 

 View along rue 'Sur les Murs' to the other two towers.
 View out to sea -you can understand why they put it here!
 Just for fun,how it might have looked before the silt took hold.

Inside the lantern,which sits offset on the terrace, is pretty with its coloured glass.

As you descend the narrow spiral stairs down to the 'Signpost room' with it chain link inspired floor, you cannot help but wonder at the  stories these walls tell and even more of the ones untold.


  1. We love La Rochelle and the surrounding area. We made the exact comment about the walkway safety. It is very noticeable how common sense still lives on here in France..

  2. Yes,Pauline reminded me of this as I clambered up on to the ramparts for a better shot!