As if it were an immense vessel made of stone and anchored between the Ile d’Aix and the Ile d’Oléron, Fort Boyard would dazzle any spectator who glimpsed it along the French Atlantic coast.
Placed in the middle of the Pertuis d’Antioche straits, this fort was initially designed to keep guard over Charente and the harbor of Rochefort in France, as the range of the artillery on the islands failed to cover the entire zone back in the 17th century. The edifice erupting from the sea was completed in impressive dimensions, being 223 feet long, 101 feet wide, and 65 feet in height, but its construction did not come without any challenges.
Fort Boyard was first envisioned as a base for the French army of Louis XIV. Plans for the construction project started in 1662, but it soon became clear how challenging and costly the entire effort might be, so the scheme was abandoned.
A leading military engineer of Louis XIV known as Vauban had famously remarked against the project, saying, “Your Majesty, it would be easier to seize the moon with your teeth than to attempt such an undertaking in such a place.”
However, tensions with the British persisted in the following years, and so constructing the fort was reconsidered, especially after the British had raided the Île-d’Aix in 1757 during the Seven Years War.
It was not until 1801, however, that the project was finally launched by Napoléon Bonaparte. Work on the site came to a halt in 1809 because of problems in creating an artificial island that would support the fortification, and work was not resumed until Louis Philippe became the country’s new king in 1830.
Construction workers were housed in barracks at what would become established as the village and port of Boyardville, whose strategic location on the île d’Oléron was chosen as the site for a Naval academy and torpedo training school many years later. After so many struggles and interruptions to building it, Fort Boyard was finally completed by 1858.
The imposing walls form an oval measuring 330 feet by 160 feet with a yard well protected in the centre. The ground floor was reserved for stores and quarters for men and officers, whilst the floor above included casemates for the emplacements of guns. The fortification had ample room to hold a garrison of 250 men in total.
It was envisioned that Fort Boyard would form part of a line of fortification along with Fort Enet and Fort de la Rade on Île-d’Aix, ensuring the protection of Rochefort from any possible attacks coming from the open sea by leaving no unprotected gaps in the fields of fire between the forts. That would have worked quite well considering the limited range of artillery back in the 17th century.
But during the years that passed from its conception until the time, it was finished, the range of cannons significantly increased and the fort ended up being obsolete. After 1871, the oval-shaped edifice was used as a military prison for a short period, but by the beginning of the 20th century, it was completely abandoned.
With the passage of time, the site slowly started to crumble and decay into the sea since there was nobody to maintain it. It was made a listed building back in 1950, and a decade later it was purchased by the Charente Maritime Regional Council.
It was not until 1967 that Fort Boyard found its new purpose as a filming location, when the final scene of the French film Les Aventuriers was filmed there. Since the 1990s, both the French and international versions of an adventure game-show television series entitled Fort Boyard have been set and filmed there.
Participants in the game show were challenged to survive a number of different and difficult tasks in order to win time in the final level, the Treasure Chamber. The show ran until 2003, bringing attention to the abandoned military site.