Lighthouses of France: The Monuments and Their Keepersby Rene Gast
The lighthouses of France are a proud part of the country's national heritage, both in terms of their architectural splendor and the stupendous feats of engineering they represent. The sixteenth-century tower of Cordouan, widely recognized as one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world, was one of the first edifices in France to be classified as a historic monument, along with the cathedral of Notre Dame. The construction of La Jument or Ar-Men on rocky outcrops off the Brittany coast was a prodigious achievement in the face of the steepest of odds. In building towers such as these, man pitted himself against the elements at their most savage -- and won.
But the history of French lighthouses is also the more modest, humble story of the men and women who have lived and worked in these towers, isolated at sea for months on end. For centuries, they have battled with the sea to ensure that come wind, come storm, the light burns on, to guide sailors and fishermen back to safe harbor. Unlike many other countries, France has resisted the trend toward total automation, and in a handful of small ports and seaside towns, the lighthouse keeper is still a well-known and respected figure. Rene Gast's text provides a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives, past and present, of these important members of the community.
Throughout the book, Jean Guichard's iconic photographs illustrate only too well the fury of the Atlantic ocean and the perilous working conditions the lighthouse keepers face: even today at Kereon light, keepers are winched down to the deck of the relief boat by hand, dangling from a rope over the crashing sea. But Guichard captures images of lighthouses in more tranquil conditions as well, perfectly communicating the romantic calm but also the solitude their situation entails. Featuring additional vintage photographs and etchings, extracts from logbooks, architectural drawings detailing developments in lighthouse engineering, and a map of France locating all the lighthouses discussed, Lighthouses of France is an essential volume for all those interested in this eternally fascinating subject.
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