Remains of maritime fortifications
The Saint Nicolas, Chain and Lantern Towers are the remains of La Rochelle. Facing the Atlantic Ocean, they are the guardians of the city and bear witness to the power of La Rochelle for centuries. They have been classified as Historic Monuments since 1879.
La Tour Saint-Nicolas La Rochelle
Legend has it that the Saint-Nicolas tower in La Rochelle was built by the fairy Melusine. As she flew over the city with the stones of a destroyed castle, her deck was torn apart. The stones fell on top of each other to form the Saint-Nicolas tower...
This tower, whose date of construction is not attested to by any historical document, constitutes, along with the Chaîne tower, a gateway to the Old Port of La Rochelle. For centuries, it served as a defensive lock on the city's seafront. A true "urban keep" and palatial residence facing the ocean, this military building symbolises the power and wealth of La Rochelle.
The tower, completed in 1376 and 38 metres high, is built on long oak piles driven into the mud and braced with stones. However, during its construction, the tower sank into the unstable ground and leaned towards the north-east. It was then reinforced and from the second floor onwards, it became plumb again. This slight imbalance can still be seen today.
The Tower of the Chain
"After the completion of the Tour Saint-Nicolas, the municipality built the Tour de la Chaîne from 1382 to 1390. Its name comes from the large iron chain that had to be operated with a winch to allow ships to enter and leave the Old Port. The Captain of the Tower supervised the movements of the ships and collected the rights and taxes of passage.
In 1472, the tower was visited by King Louis XI. Legend has it that he engraved an inscription on a window of the tower with the diamond he wore on his finger...
While it was used as a powder magazine during the Fronde (an uprising against the monarchy during the minority of Louis XIV), the Tower exploded and remained open for 300 years. Major restoration work took place in the 20th and 20th centuries with the reconstruction of a crenellated walkway, the creation of a new roof and the restoration of two floors inside.
The Lantern Tower At one end of the rampart, its gothic spire, which reaches a height of 70 m, might make you think of a church. In fact, it is a bitter and a lighthouse, the oldest on the entire Atlantic coast. Because two of the four sergeants involved in the Carbonari conspiracy against the Restoration power were incarcerated there in 1818, the people of La Rochelle, who have always been suspicious of the central power, often speak of the Tower of the Four Sergeants. It is true that in addition to supporting a lighthouse, it served as a prison. Hundreds of graffiti decorate its walls, reminders of the generations of inmates who have succeeded one another there. There are testimonies of English, Spanish and Dutch privateers, soldiers, priests who refused to sign up during the Revolution, as well as common law prisoners. In addition, there are the marks of the companions who built the tower.