Brouage, fortified citadel in the heart of the marshes

Hiers-Brouage
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Charente Maritime is full of fortified villages that have withstood enemy assaults as well as those of the time, to reach us almost intact. Like a stone star that emerges in the middle of the marshes between Rochefort and the peninsula of Marennes, the citadel of Brouage is a remarkable example of preserved military architecture whose old stones exert an irresistible power of attraction. Brouage amazes and fascinates. It's hard to imagine that this town was once a thriving commercial port. However, this was the case before the ocean receded... Head for this charming village, classified among the "Most Beautiful Villages of France"!

Brouage

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Brouage, the city of salt

To get to Brouage, the small winding road crosses a kaleidoscope of flat landscapes that stretch as far as the eye can see: rivers, ancient salt marshes, vast swamps and wet meadows where herds of cattle graze and equines.

Brouage

The presence of salt works around Brouage dates back to the Middle Ages, when Brouage was the European capital of “white gold”: salt. This natural wealth was once a precious commodity: the only way to preserve foods such as meats, fish and cheeses. Renowned for its quality, Brouage salt was coveted across Europe, especially by cod fishermen who set sail for great expeditions to Newfoundland. Rich and prosperous, the city became the most important seaport in Europe, welcoming more than 200 boats per day from all over France, but also from the Netherlands, England and Scandinavia.

On the quays of Jacopolis sur Brouage, the original name of the city founded in 1555, "we heard all the languages of Europe" report the archives. The amount of salt that passed through its port quickly attracted the attention of men in power.

16th century War Port and Fortified Place

Brouage

Brouage

During the Wars of Religion, Brouage became the scene of conflicts between Catholics and Protestants who fought over the citadel until 1578, year in which King Henry III proclaimed the city as a royal city. Jacobolis became Brouage. Surrounded by 2km of ramparts, it was transformed into a stronghold in 1627 under the orders of Cardinal Richelieu, its governor. Deemed to be impregnable, the city sheltered 4,000 civilian inhabitants defended by 500 to 2,000 soldiers in garrison.

A fortified star, abandoned by the ocean

During the reign of Louis XIV, the fortifications were reinforced by the military architect the Marquis de Vauban. However, with the creation of the Royal Arsenal of Rochefort from 1666, the port collapsed irreparably, the Brouageais left the city en masse. It is the decline of Brouage.

Ironically, this submersible part of the coast is silting up, and the ocean gradually recedes, tide after tide. The city fell asleep for several centuries. Sad is the fate of the largest port on the Atlantic coast which has become a useless fort in the middle of nowhere. The citadel is now 3 km from the ocean!


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A rich heritage to be discovered on foot

Brouage

The tourist office offers captivating guided tours (individual or group) to dive into the history of Brouage over the centuries.

Brouage

What architectural diversity for such a small town! The citadel proudly bears the marks of its past splendor. Heritage lovers enjoy walking its ramparts, strolling its alleys bathed in light, passing through its doors, visiting its many buildings steeped in history...

The ramparts of Brouage lend themselves readily to strolling by the rampart walk perched 8 meters high. Dotted with bastions, turrets and curtain walls, these fortifications offer a unique view of the village, the marshes, the Ile d'Oléron and the Ile d'Aix. The remains of the heritage are revealed, decorated with information plaques: the forges, the cooperage, the Saint Luc and the Brèche powder kegs, the arsenal, the icehouse, the latrines, or even the old underground ports, accessible by canals dug in the ramparts. Today transformed into small shops and artists' studios, the royal stables housed over 238 horses in the XVII century as well as a plethora of workshops blacksmiths, gunsmiths or carters.


Brouage

The Royal Stables are home to craftsmen and small stalls (closed at the time of my visit)

Brouage

The Royal Gate of Brouage

Brouage

La Halle aux Vivres, 64 meters long and 14 meters wide

At the entrance to the village via the Porte Royale, a building dominates the horizon: La Halle aux Vivres. In the Richelieu project, Brouage had to be equipped with warehouses to store wine, cider, oils, brandy, but also fish, salted meat, wheat, wheat, spelled, buckwheat or rye. Built in 1631, this hall was the food store before being successively assigned to other functions: a barracks, an annex to the hospital, a prison, a powder magazine. Abandoned in 1885, it was restored and today houses the European Center for Military Architecture as well as an exhibition room dedicated to the history of Brouage.

Brouage

Brouage

The Church of Brouage

In the center of the stronghold, the church of Saint-Pierre de Brouage, completed in 1608, is characterized by the structure of the framework of the central nave. Similar to a ship's hull, it testifies to the presence of carpenters specializing in shipbuilding. Inside this national heritage building, six of these nine stained-glass windows are the work of the Franco-Canadian master glassmaker Nicolas Sollogoub. Like a memorial to the origins of New France, the emblematic character of Brouage is represented there: the founder of Quebec City, Samuel de Champlain, originally from the village. The floor of the church, meanwhile, is covered with funerary slabs under which rest rich 17th century salt merchants, soldiers and former governors.

The graffiti on the walls of Brouage are a real curiosity not to be missed on the Porte Royale, the Porte d'Hiers and on the latrines of the curtain of the Sea. Engraved in stone by soldiers on guard, they represent ships, badges, animals, women's faces...


Brouage

Superb graffiti of a sailing ship to discover in the walls of the Porte Royale

Brouage

Brouage

Lined with flowers and hollyhocks, the alleys of Brouage form a veritable labyrinth in which you can lose yourself with delight, as a couple, with friends or with family. The village retains very beautiful bourgeois residences, witnesses of the commercial prosperity of the city at the time. Inspiring serenity and creativity, the town abounds in small shops of designers and craftsmen: jewelry, paintings, clothing, works of art, local products. Cafés, restaurants and terraces cheerfully enliven the streets, the opportunity to discover Charente specialties.


Brouage

Brouage

Easy walks to make the pleasure last

To enjoy the unusual landscapes of the Brouage marshes, many hiking trails are available to nature lovers on foot or by bike. Birdwatchers come to observe an incredible diversity of birds. Nearly 150 species find refuge in marshes and mudflats: herons, egrets, passerines, swans as well as dozens of varieties of migratory birds. In spring, during the nesting period, you can even see white storks! Don't forget your binoculars.

A beautiful iodine getaway awaits you!

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Article and photos prepared by Lesley Williamson for the Charente Maritime Guide


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