Le Château d'Oléron

Situated at the southern end of the Ile d’Oléron, Le Château d'Oléron is the second largest town in terms of population. This multi-faceted “capital” of the oyster world has a richly important historical heritage.

Introduction :

The story of Le Château d'Oléron was first marked by salt-farming but now it’s the oyster that dominates local activity. Small businesses and boatyards are also important for the local economy. The Sunday market draws people from all over the island as well as from the mainland. There are two gateways to this fortified town – to the south the “Ors” from the name of the village it overlooks and to the north the “Dolus”.

Sites :

The citadel of Le Château d'Oléron is a must-see for everyone visiting the island. Richelieu ordered work to be started in 1630 on the ruins of a medieval château, destroyed during a battle – between the Protestant Agrippa d’Aubigné and the Catholic François d’Espinay, governor of Brouage – of the Wars of Religion. The first engineer, Pierre d’Argencourt was succeeded by Louis Nicolas de Clerville and the fortress was modified, enlarged and completed under the great military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban.  During this period, the purpose of the construction changed.

It was now a link in the defence system for the Royal Arsenal at Rochefort ordered by Colbert in 1666; this chain was completed with the building of Fort Louvois in 1694. Canons from the two sites could now “padlock” the channel and enemy ships could no longer pass through and threaten Rochefort. The fortress was damaged during the allied bombing of 17th  April 1945.

The covered market is in the town centre – two dates can be seen: 1771 and 1891. 1771 is the date of construction of the first market and the second date of that currently in use.

The public fountain in front of the market is the work of Jean Paillé, a member of the Journeymen of France Guild. It is a mixture of renaissance and baroque styles and decorated with marine sculptures.  It dates from 1851 and was listed in 1937.

The oyster port of Le Château d'Oléron is unmissable. Many of the former huts have been restored and act today as workshops for artists and craftsmen who exhibit their work. 

The Notre Dame church, although started in 1700 had to wait until 1883 for its bell-tower. All the medieval churches were destroyed during extension work on the citadel. Inside, you can admire works of Omer Charlet, an artist born at Le Château d'Oléron in 1809, a pupil of Ingres, who won several medals for his work.

The villages :

Ors, with its channel and its multi-coloured oystermen’s huts, is a real spectacle especially as the tide comes in when the oyster-barges return to the channel. At La Chevalerie, even the casual visitor will note that some houses have been designed in the most surprising architectural styles. La Gaconnière, Le Petit and Le Grand Gibou, La Renisière… are all satellites of Le Château d’Oléron that are worth exploring.

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