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Contis Lighthouse

Contis Lighthouse


Les phares à spirale de style « barber’s pole » sont déployés à la fin des années 1800 sur la côte est des États-Unis afin de servir d’amer à la navigation maritime...

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Collection: Lighthouses of Aquitaine

The Contis Lighthouse


Télécharger les Phares de France dans Google Earth

Made of: Resin
Size: 13.0 x 7.0 x 7.0 cm

  • Locality : Saint-Julien-en-Born, Landes
  • Construction : 1863 to 1948
  • Range : 23 nautical miles



Until 1790, the greater of the two church towers of  Sainte-Marie de Mimizan served as a landmark, allowing daylight navigation in this part of the gulf of Gascogne. That year, dilipidated, it collapsed for lack of repair.

In 1856, the Lighthouse commissioners, under the authority of Napoléon III, decided to revamp navigational provision along this coast building a new lighthouse equidistant between Arcachon and Biarritz. Orders to construct the  Contis-les-bains lighthouse were decreed by none other than Napoléon III in 1860.

Works began in 1862, under the supervision of messieurs Ritter and Pairier. The foundations and the body of the column are made from 'garluche' (bad stone) a pocked stone often used for barns and walls. The openings and crown are made of stone from Saint-Savinien. The dome can be accessed by a staircase in cast iron of 183 steps. The tower reaches 41.5 m in height and the light at 39 m. Its beam originally had a remarcable range of 80 km. The light originally used rape sead oil and progressively whale oil and then petrol.

Construction was somewhat tardive, mainly owing to insufficient labour and technical challenges assoicated with climbing 11m up the dune to reach the construction site. The business funding the work went bankrupt in 1863, the work nevertheless eventually completed by another firm.

In 1873, an earth tremor weakened the structure, causing cracks to appear and some mercury leaks. In 1917, the rotating system broke down forcing the lighthouse keepers to push it manually. This problem persisted until 1928, the date it was replaced.

Originally completely white, the light was decorated in 1937 with two black bands in the shape of a double screw like Archimedes' Screw painted by Bellocq, so it would clearly function during the day as distinctive landmark for shipping. So it now stands among the lighthouses sharing the  « barber’s pole »  look (black and white pole outside US barber shops), The first band rises up from the ground to the 'West door' level, the second band begins starts at the base of the tower at the 'East door'. 

On the 21 August in 1944, the German army exploded the dome before leaving Contis. Gabriel Brouste, an entrepreneur from Saint-Julien-en-Born, set to work repairing the damage beginning in October 1948.

In 1950, the power of the light was vastly reduced giving a limited range of 42 km also switching the direction of the beam's rotation, ranging 23 nautical miles (approximately  43 km ). The renovated starcase counted 192 steps from that time onwards.

Today, complimenting its light sequence code, 4 bursts in 25 seconds, following a frequency pattern : 4-4-4-13 secones, the Contis light is indeed an essential partner to modern radionavigational systems and telecommunication.

Its keepers were still rosta'd until 1999, when the light was automated. The last of them founded a small museum where the navigator Titouan Lamazou is a custodian.

Spiral Design

These « barber pole » stripe designs were deployed siince 1800 on the US sea coast to serve maritime navigation. Their name comes from the american barber shops whose signs served as a test model for future light houses. The double band was particularly difficult all in black as the barber shop stripes were two different colours. Only 2 other lights exist in the world with towers decorated in the barber shop pattern:  Cap Hatteras light painted in 1873 in North Carolina  and Saint Augustine light in Floride painted in 1874. Other lights have followed the same pattern but used differenct colours such as 'red'.

Source: wikipedia

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