Fort de Bertheaume

Article and pictures by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.

The Berteaume fort is a small part of the large coherent system of small forts and batteries designed to protect the entrance to Brest harbour. It is situated on a small island just 100m off the coast of the town of Plougonvelin.

Its role in the system is the protection of the Bertheaume bay, which was used as an anchorage for ships waiting for the right winds to enter Brest harbour. Thus, it forms the northern counterpart of the tower of Camaret. The island, 38m above sea level, with its steep cliffs, has been an impregnable safe place for centuries.

It was only accessible at low tide by foot over a rocky bank, attackers had to climb the steep cliffs first to reach the walls of the fort, an impossible job.

The medieval fort that used to be situated on the island was destroyed during an English attack in the 16th century. On his inspections of the Brest region in 1683 Vauban'had already noticed the strategic value of the island and wanted to build a battery there.

The first cannon were placed there during the English attack in 1694 and the fort was finished in 1699. The original fortifications where situated only on the large island.

The buildings on the smaller island closest to the mainland date from the 19th century. The fort on the large island consists of batteries for cannon on 4 levels connected with stairs. At some places the bases of the échauguettes'can still be seen on the walls and posterns gave access to the foot of the walls.

In the past the island was only accessible by a “flying boat” at high tide. This was a small boat connected to a rope running from the mainland to the island. By pulling the rope the boat went to or from the island.

The current steel bridge dates from the 20th century. In the late 19th century the fort was abandoned and was replaced by the more modern casemated fort on the mainland. The Nazis built a small blockhouse on the island.

Visiting Fort de Bertheaume

In the 1990s the Fort de Betheaume was restored and opened to the public. Apart from the visit of the fort it also offers a “survival track” (only available when the weather conditions allow it). The fort is open to the public all year round. A small restaurant and various exhibition rooms are located in the 19th century fort. There you can also visit the underground powder magazine, carved in the rocks 13m below ground level.

The fort is not the most spectacular one but just like all of the Brittany forts its location is very spectacular and the views from the fort are worth the visit alone. Apart from that most of the other forts around Brest are difficult to visit or they are military property and thus not accessible at all.

Article and pictures by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.

Back to the "Fortresses" page