The Wave Swept Lighthouses of Brittany, France

Nov 14, 2014 4 comments

The province of Brittany, in North-western part of France, forms a large peninsula that stretches towards the Atlantic Ocean bordered by the English Channel to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south. The waters located between the western coast and Ushant island form the Iroise Sea. This section of the coastline of Brittany remains one of the most dangerous seas in Europe with frequent violent storms, huge waves and strong currents. Over thirty ships were lost in this region between 1888 and 1904. Because of this, the rugged coastline is crowded with lighthouses - more than one third of all the lighthouses and fire towers illuminating the French coast are located here. These granite fortresses have been warning distant sailors of the dangers of this jagged coastline and treacherous rocks since the 18th century.


One of the most famous lighthouse is the one built on a rock called La Jument, about 300 metres from the coast of the island of Ushant. La Jument became well known in 1989, through a series of photographs taken by Jean Guichard.

On 21 December 1989, a low pressure front coming from Ireland brought gale force winds and huge waves of 20 to 30 metres high which crashed spectacularly against the lighthouse. The waves smashed through the lower windows of the lighthouse, ripped the front door, flooded the tower and washed away the furniture. Lighthouse keeper Théodore Malgorn decided to take refuge up in the lantern room while waiting to be rescued.

About the same time, photographer Jean Guichard was in Lorient hiring a helicopter to take aerial pictures of the storm. Guichard wanted to fly over the Iroise Sea despite extremely dangerous flying conditions. The helicopter made it to La Jument and hovered around for Guichard to take shots of the waves pounding the lighthouse. Inside the tower, Théodore Malgorn heard what he thought was his rescue helicopter and hurried downstairs to open the door. At that very moment, a giant wave rose over the rear of the lighthouse and Guichard took his world-famous shot as the wave smashed against the tower. Théodore Malgorn, suddenly realising that a giant wave was about to engulf the structure, rushed back inside just in time to save his life.


Photo credit: Jean Guichard


Photo credit: Jean Guichard


Photo credit: Jean Guichard


Photo credit: Jean Guichard


Photo credit


Photo credit: Frédéric le Mouillour


Photo credit: Frédéric le Mouillour

Another lighthouse worth a visit is Phare de Kéréon or the Kereon lighthouse. The lighthouse is built on a small rocky outcrop named Men Tensel located in a strait called Passage du Fromveur between the islands of Ushant and Bannec. Passage du Fromveur exhibits strong tidal currents, often running at 8 Knots, the second strongest in France after those of the Raz Blanchard in Normandy. As a result, the sea around Phare de Kéréon is never calm, and terrifyingly large waves crashes against it relentlessly. The inside, however, is another story. The floor is oak adorned with mahogany and ebony inlays, the walls are panelled in oak from Hungary, the stairwell is tiled and the enclosed beds are worthy of farms in Brittany. Indeed, Phare de Kéréon was nicknamed "The Palace" because of its lavishly decorated interior.


Photo credit: Frédéric le Mouillour

The lighthouse was built between 1907 and 1916, supported in part by a donation from Madame Jules Baudy, a descendant of Charles-Marie Le Dall de Kéréon, a naval officer guillotined at the age of nineteen during the 18th century French Revolution, and after whom the lighthouse is named. When Madame Jules Baudy learnt that the Ministry of Public Works was about to begin the construction of lighthouse on the rock "Men Tensel", she proposed a donation of 585,000 francs on the condition that the lighthouse be named after her great-uncle. Madame Baudy’s generous sum not only brought down the total expenses for the state but also left them with enough cash to turn the interior into a luxurious residence.

The hall, the kitchen and two rooms for the lighthouse keepers, that occupy the first four levels, are richly panelled in oak. But it is “the room of honor”, located at the 5th level, which holds your attention: walls lined in Hungarian oak with several panels decorated with star of the lighthouses in relief. The parquet floor, built on bitumen, is decorated in its center with a large roseate of the winds carried out of ebony and mahogany.

The lighthouse is built of granite with a base diameter of 4 meters and stands 48 meters tall. Its fire was lit for the first time in 1916 and it continued working in oil until 1972, when it was electrified. Today the lighthouse is powered by batteries, and two wind-powered generators. The guards, who were still responsible for proper operation and maintenance, left the lighthouse in 2004. Since then, the lighthouse is fully automated.


Photo credit: Jean Guichard


Photo credit


Photo credit: Frédéric le Mouillour


Photo credit: Frédéric le Mouillour


Photo credit: Jean Guichard


Photo credit: Jean Guichard


Photo credit: Jean Guichard

Sources: Wikipedia / DIRM-NAMO / /


  1. So great to finally hear the story behind that famous photo.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. considering the lighthouse has no windows on the sea side, the story is false. If it was indeed flooded, there would be water pouring out of the door where he is standing...

    1. There is a window on the sea side in the top compartment of the lighthouse.
      Check this picture.

      The window is also visible in pic 7 from the top.


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