The Lantern Tower (12th and 15th century) is a complex building which served different purposes in the Middle Ages: firstly it was in charge of the control and disarmament of all ships entering the port, but it was also the central watchtower for the Aunis coastline and was responsible for the guidance of ships because it combined the features of a lighthouse and maritime navigation landmark.
In the 16th century, the Lantern Tower was used as a prison, firstly for priests. Then until the 19th century, it held English prisoners captured from their ships, and in the 17th and 18th centuries, it held prisoners from the Vendée region who were seized during the Vendée Wars.
Today, the Lantern Tower houses a remarkable collection of more than 600 graffiti engraved on the walls by pirates, corsairs, common law prisoners or religious prisoners. It remains the oldest lighthouse on the Atlantic coast.
The Saint Nicolas Tower and the Chain Tower together constitute the majestic gateway to the Old Port of La Rochelle. The Saint Nicolas Tower had the task of protecting the entrance to the port and was connected to the Chain Tower by a huge chain. It was used as a prison for the Huguenots during the period of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and later for the Chouans who remained faithful to the king during the revolutionary wars.
Veritable city dungeons and palatial residences, the two towers were symbols of the strength and privileged nature of La Rochelle and its commercial trade. At that time, the two towers were controlled by a Captain who was nominated each year when the mayor was elected.
As the gateway to the Old Port, the Chain Tower closely monitored all boat movements and port traffic and collected taxes and dues.
In the Protestant period, the Chain Tower was regarded as sacrosanct: it was here that the standard with the city’s colours was proudly flown.
Severely damaged in 1652, when it was used as a gunpowder warehouse, the Chain Tower remained empty for 3 centuries. It was only in the 20th century that the Tower was restored and given a new purpose.
Since 2008, and to mark the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the city of Quebec, the restored areas have housed a permanent exhibition entitled, “La Rochelle-Quebec, Embark for New France”, which tells the story of the migrants who left France to start new lives in Quebec.
The Chain Tower now has a new design setting for its permanent exhibition « La Rochelle-Quebec, Embark for New France » which tells the story of the French migrants who left France to start new lives in Quebec.