Located in a sea bay between Aix and Oléron Island (La Rochelle, France), Fort Boyard is a stone building conceived as an artificial island, originally built to protect the harbours of Aix Island (Île-d’Aix) and Rochefort. Due to the limited ballistic artillery range in the late 17th century, the site was seen as a gap in the line of defense which the fort should have filled.
Fort Boyard is oval-shaped, 68 metres (223 ft) long and 31 m (102 ft) wide. At the centre is a yard enclosed by walls 20 m high: on the ground floor the tickness of the walls is carved by stores and quarters, while the upper floors are occupied by casemates for guns and mortars. The first floor also houses the services, kitchens and canteens, the entrance to the guardroom, a police room and the latrines. Four sets of stairs connect the different floors. The façade on the interior yard is composed by three superposed floor of arcades, while on the exterior the fortified wall is only pierced by embrasures for the cannons. The architectural language of the building, with its oval shape and the arrangement of the exterior embrasures, seems inspired by the image of a 17th century vessel. For this peculiarity the fort is sometimes referred to as the “vaisseau de pierre” (stone vessel).
The construction of the project took a complicated course and somehow the building was finished when it wasn’t needed anymore.
In 1692 the French engineer Descombs planned to complete a line of defense along with Fort Enet et Fort de la Rade on Île-d’Aix with the construction of a new fort. The goal was to protect the arsenal of Rochefort from the Royal Navy incursions. This first scheme was soon abandoned due to its high costs. After a British raid on Île-d’Aix took place in 1757, plans for a fort on the Boyard bank were once again considered and then again abandoned. Under Napoleone Bonaparte, in 1800, the first section of the building finally started with the construction of a plateau to act as foundation on a submerged rocky and sandy bank. Suspended again in 1809, the construction resumed in 1837 under Louis-Philippe. The fort was completed, with incredible economic and technical efforts, in 1857, with a capacity for 74 cannons and 260 people. By the time the construction was achieved, the range of cannons had significantly improved, making the fort useless. An attempt to convert the function of Fort Boyard was made after 1871 when it was briefly used as a military prison, before being abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century.
Fort Boyard, left unmantained, slowly turned into a ruin, deteriorating through the action of the sea of hundreds of birds. In 1950 it was given a listed status and in 1961 it was sold to the Charente Maritime Regional Council. After 1988 the fort found a new life: restored by a tv production company, it became the set for a successful tv show called “Fort Boyard”.
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