Throughout history, mankind has labored to overcome the challenges presented by the natural world. People are forever trying to build houses on unstable land, or to make entire villages at the bases of active volcanos. It’s almost like the bigger the challenge, the more we want to make it work.
In 17th century France, protecting the country from the mighty English naval fleets was paramount. However, this was difficult to do when only the English Channel separated the two lands, which is a mere 20 miles wide at the shortest gap.
One architect saw this as the perfect challenge, and he set off on a task that would take hundreds of years to accomplish. When it was done, it would be one of the finest examples of man’s ingenuity the world had ever seen…
If you were to look at the ocean between the Ile d’Aix and the Ile d’Oléron in France, you might just spot something that appears to be a very small, floating castle. However, if you look a little bit closer, you’ll see the truth…
This small “island” castle is actually an ancient structure called Fort Boyard. Originally designed to guard and protect Charente and the harbor of Rochefort in France during the 17th century, it’s quite the marvel.
When it was first built, the idea was that Fort Boyard would be a base for the French army under Louis XIV. They started the project in 1662, but it wasn’t long before the French figured out just how costly the construction of building something in middle of the ocean really was! Ultimately, they gave up on the project, but it didn’t stay abandoned forever…
The king’s architect, known simply as Vauban, famously said that building Fort Boyard would be close to impossible. “Your Majesty, it would be easier to seize the moon with your teeth than to attempt such an undertaking in such a place,” he declared emphatically.
However, the half-built fort still stayed on the minds of French military men as their battles with England continued. Finally, in 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte resumed the project, sure that Fort Boyard could be incredibly useful.
Unfortunately, construction stopped about eight years later in 1809 because of the ever-present difficulties in building an artificial island that could support the entire structure. Work on the fort did not start again until Louis Philippe became king of France in 1830.
The workers hired to build the fort lived in temporary housing on the Île d’Oléron. Funny enough, these temporary houses turned into permanent structures and eventually became established as the village and port of Boyardville. Later, this village would become home to France’s naval academy.
After centuries of construction, Fort Boyard was finally completed in 1858. The finished walls made an intimidating oval measuring 330 feet by 160 feet. The ground floor of the fort was made up of a sleeping quarters and food storage, while the upper levels were designed for storing guns and cannons.
While the fort might’ve look relatively small sitting out in the sea, it could actually comfortably accommodate up to 250 men. Nevertheless, when the conflicts between the French and English cooled, it looked like Fort Boyard was destined to decay.
However, it gained a second life in the 1990s when the French reality TV show Les Adventures used the fort as its set. Given that it was a Survivor-style show about completing challenges and physical endurance tests, this isolated historical fort was the perfect location. Now it remains a marvelous testament to human grit and creativity!
Isn’t this historic structure totally amazing? It’s crazy to think how long it took to build. Don’t you wonder what the original designers would think of the second life the fort is enjoying nowadays?
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