The Ile d’Oléron and the Marennes basin have a shared history. Although inhabited since prehistoric times, the Gallo-Roman era has sadly left little mark. It was in the Middle Ages that the territory first entered written history with a document of the greatest importance. In 1047, Geoffroy Martell signed a deed gifting a quarter of the island a large part of the basin to endow the Abbaye aux Dames in Saintes.
At the same time, at the instigation of the clergy, salt-farming developed on both banks of the Coureau and for centuries, the harvested produce was exported to northern Europe. This “white gold” was the source of local wealth. Thanks to the income from salt-farming, the clergy was able to build many churches during the 11th and 12th centuries in the then fashionable Romanesque style. Many were demolished during the Wars of Religion which wrought havoc between Catholics and Protestants from 1568 on.
In 1666, the creation of the Royal Arsenal at Rochefort by Colbert required the construction of numerous fortresses in the territory. The purpose of this “belt of iron” or “belt of fire” was to protect the arsenal; the work was undertaken by Vauban in the 17th century but was not completed until halfway through the 19th. Still visible today, the “belt” consisted of Fort Louvois, the citadel of Château d’Oléron, the Saumonard fort and of course, Fort Boyard.
Later on, the growth of the bourgeoisie in the towns was due to the production of wines and eau-de-vie until the Phylloxera outbreak at the end of the 19th century destroyed the bulk of the vines. The early 20th century saw the development of Belle Epoque holiday homes and sea-bathing.