The Lighthouse at The End of The World

Sep 14, 2021 0 comments

The San Juan de Salvamento lighthouse is located at the very end of the island of states, in Patagonia of Argentina, in the province of Tierra del Fuego. It is the oldest lighthouse in Argentina and the first to be built in southern waters. It has been nicknamed The Lighthouse at the End of the World, after the novel by Jules Verne that bears that title. The theme of the novel is survival in extreme circumstances, and the events depicted revolves around this isolated lighthouse.

Faro de San Juan de Salvamento.

The lighthouse dates back to 1884, when the South Atlantic Expeditionary Division, under the command of Commodore Augusto Lasserre, established a maritime sub-prefecture, a prison and a rescue station on the island of the States to help the numerous shipwrecks that occurred in the around Cape Horn. The lighthouse was erected on a rocky promontory called Cape San Juan. Commodore Augusto Lasserre added “de Salvamento” (meaning “rescue”) to the name of the lighthouse in order to make its purpose clear. The name San Juan de Salvamento extended to the surroundings of the cape and in particular to the small port that was installed in an adjoining bay.

The original lighthouse was a 16-sided beech wood house, barely 5 meters tall and about 9 meters in diameter. The light was provided by 8 fixed kerosene lamps that were placed behind a couple of windows whose panes were fitted with Fresnel lenses. But the location of the lighthouse did not provide good visibility of its beam of light. Although it was 60 meters high, the light from the oil lamps was too weak, and fog often hid the lighthouse. As a result, ships continued to get wrecked around New Year's Island and many islets north of the lighthouse.

Faro de San Juan de Salvamento

So in 1901, the Argentine government, in collaboration with the International Organizing Commission of the Antarctic Expedition, decided to erect the New Year Lighthouse, located a little further north, on Observatory Island. The New Year Lighthouse was completed in 1902 and Faro de San Juan de Salvamento was abandoned after only eight years of operation. Inspired by the lighthouse’s remote location, Jules Verne completed the first draft of his novel The Lighthouse at the End of the World in 1901. It was published four years later after the writer’s death.

The lighthouse remained abandoned and in ruins for nearly a century, until 1994, when French navigator André Bronner who, fascinated by Jules Verne's novel, set out in search of the “lighthouse at the end of the world”. Bronner returned to the island the next year and stayed there in isolation for three months, surviving with rudimentary means in Flinders Bay, the western end of the island. He decided to undertake the project of rebuilding the lighthouse, and to this end created the French port of La Rochelle the Association of the Lighthouse at the End of the World. He got the support of the authorities of Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, the Argentine Navy, the French government and several private companies that received the idea with enthusiasm. The project also received financial contributions from the French municipalities of Nantes (Jules Verne's hometown) and La Rochelle (André Bonner's place of residence).

Faro de San Juan de Salvamento

The replica lighthouse was completed in 1998 and lit for the first time on 26 of February of 1998. The wooden building was constructed in La Rochelle, disassembled, taken by ship to Ushuaia and then finally to the island of the States where it was rebuilt.

In 2000, André Bronner promoted the construction of another replica of the original San Juan de Salvamento lighthouse, off the coast of La Rochelle , on the Atlantic coast of France. Also called the Lighthouse at the End of the World, this lighthouse is built in the sea, on pillars.

Replica of Faro de San Juan de Salvamento in La Rochelle. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


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