All aboard for Brittany’s Alcatraz! The Château du Taureau in Morlaix Bay

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
January 15, 2024

Exploring Château du Taureau - AMZ Newspaper

Exploring Château du Taureau - AMZ Newspaper

Château du Taureau dans la baie de Morlaix. Photo : Bulo78

A splendid citadel standing on an island in the Bay of Morlaix, in Finistère, and a chateau with an unusual story spanning back over four centuries.

The Fort of the Bull (Fort du Taureau) is a splendid citadel on an island in the Bay of Morlaix, in French Finistère. Its unusual tale spans back over four centuries. Building work began circa 1542 to protect Morlaix and its people from pillaging assailants. Back in 1522, the English had sailed up the Dossen river to the estuary by Morlaix to loot the town. They were finally expelled by the town’s people, who decided to fund and build this fort on the estuary’s mouth to forestall future attacks, twenty years later. Until Louix XIII’s reign, fort governors were ennobled ex-officio (and Morlaix’s townsmen understandably vied fiercely for the job). The wall shielding that original fort was 6.50 metres high (the one you see today is twice as high).

In 1661, however, Louis XIV decreed that the fort was to become crown property, turned it into a State prison, and set up a garrison there. However, in those belligerent days, Brittany was in a valuable strategic position (it was near England). Accordingly, Vauban, a military engineer, decided to strengthen the fort in 1680. It was completely rebuilt (except for the Tour Française) into a larger and sturdier stronghold. The building was mostly made of granite from Callot, a neighbouring island. It is practically the same shape and size as the island: it is oblong, 60 long, and 12 metres wide. The walls are 12 metres high and the buildings span 1,450 sq m. There are 11 pillboxes, each of which can house a cannon. The fort also counts soldier and officer quarters, two dungeons, a mess, a kitchen, a chapel and latrines.
However, before rebuilding work was completed – and owing to Morlaix’s gradual decline in prominence – this fortress was turned into a prison in 1721. Louis Auguste Blanqui, a well-known communard, was its last inmate until his release in 1871. The fort was disarmed in 1890 and became an historical monument in 1914. The Vilmorin family spent their summer holidays there in the 1930s and it housed a sailing school from the 1960s until 1980.
The fort’s state of disrepair prompted local and central-government authorities to start restoration work in 1998. The chateau was transferred to the public realm in 2004.

All aboard for Brittany's Alcatraz! The Château du Taureau in Morlaix Bay