Tour de Socoa

History and description

Located not far from the Spanish frontier, the site of Socoa (the corner in Basque) comprised a cap formed by a rocky outcrop, said to be of the Altha, allowing the roadstead of Saint-Jean-de-Luz by the west to be secured. The first fortifications of the site were made in the 16th century, after the Spanish rampage in 1525. It was a battery protecting the passage towards the bay, alongside another battery, namely that of Sainte-Barbe, installed on the other side. In 1627, during the Thirty Years war and the siege of La Rochelle, Louis XIII had a redoubt constructed on the rock of the Altha to enhance protection and flank a basin with a capacity of fifty ships constructed at the side. This redoubt was besieged multiple times by the Spanish and finally destroyed in 1680 by a hurricane.
One year after this catastrophe, Vauban visited Socoa in autumn 1681. He ordered the construction of a dike to connect the rock of Socoa to the land, to protect a port installed to the rear. Twelve years later, during the war of the League of Augsbourg, Francis Ferry wanted to reinforce the military protection of the port by establishing a project of a tower, flanked by a coastal battery in February 1693. A barracks and a dry-docking facility also had to be constructed. Vauban validated the project of his partner and only modified it by adding a tile roof to the tower. This tower is constructed in the form of a double trunk cone, enclosed within an outside cylindrical stairwell tower. Three projections mark the storeys and four levels of Loopholes are installed in the tower for musket fire. Each level was vaulted with annular vaults and a central pillar. The top was crowned with a corbelling including seven cannon emplacements and an identical number of slots for musketry and battlements at the base for grenades. The entrance gate was protected by a chain drawbridge, situated in the turret of the stairs. Twenty-two men were on garrison duty there. Its equipment and shape made it reminiscent of the fort Chapus in Charente-Maritime, designed by Ferry a year earlier.
Under the French Restoration in around 1825-1831, the fort was upgraded by the construction of a battery towards the sea and a front towards the land. The roof of the tower was removed in 1831. In 1940-1944, Socoa was upgraded with the German occupant and included in the Atlantic Wall.

Current state

The tower of Socoa still survives and is publicly accessible.

Tour de Socoa

Tour de Socoa
43° 23' 45" N, -1° 40' 58" E

artillery tower
François Boucher, Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban, François Ferry
  • LE BLANC (F Y), FAUCHERRE (N.), La route des fortifications en Atlantique. Paris, 2007.
  • Base Mérimée, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, « Fort du Socoa »
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