The military port of Etretat

The military port of Etretat

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Title: Project for a military port in Etretat.

Author : LAPEYRE (-)

Creation date : 1805

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 32.8 - Width 147

Technique and other indications: Ink and watercolor on paper

Storage place: Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime website

Contact copyright: © Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime

Project for a military port in Etretat.

© Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime

Publication date: June 2013

Head of the Collections and Scientific Development Department, Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime

Historical context

Protection of the Seine estuary

There are many development projects for ports along the coast or along the Seine. In fact, when Francis Ier sends Admiral de Bonnivet to study possible solutions to protect the estuary of the Seine, the port of Étretat is being studied, as is the site of the future port of Le Havre. Louis XVI, for his part, wanted a military port to be created with the status of the king’s port. At the beginning of the XIXe century, Napoleon asked to resume his studies and entrusted them to his engineer Lapeyre. The plan presented is in the latter's file.

Image Analysis

Exceptional precision and proportions

The plan represents a profile of the project, which explains the length of the document (1.47 m). From left to right successively appear a form of refit intended for naval repair, follows an outer harbor then comes the roadstead, on which are represented several cannons. The water is greenish in color, like the grass covering the cliffs of Étretat. Particular attention has been paid to the landscape, particularly in the finesse of the depiction of the chalky cliffs, including the famous needle of Étretat. The vessels are drawn with extreme precision with fine lines. We notice that the engineer took care to draw the hull of the ship underwater, in order to indicate the draft of the boat. An artificial line is also laid in the sea, emphasizing the depth of the water near the shore. Large-capacity vessels could thus be accommodated: the engineer had studied the possibilities of anchoring the ships using probes. Finally, the roadstead leads to a fortification, an outpost equipped with cannons, from which lines of smoke escape, symbolizing war with the English.


A strategic position

The plan illustrates the scale of the military port project devised by Lapeyre and his predecessors. The geographical location of Étretat is so rented in particular because of the depth of the waters of its bay and its sheltered position. Its location represents so a means of preventing a landing targeting Le Havre. She appears so like a rival of Cherbourg. Indeed, before Lapeyre, engineer Lamblardie had studied the two ports as a strategic position. In the file submitted to Louis XIV, he gives his opinion on the place of Étretat in the maritime strategy: from Le Havre. We can even say that this project is linked with that of Cherbourg, considering the point of Etretat as an advanced post of the great naval army; and that the one we propose, or any better that could be better, deserves, in many ways, the attention of commerce and the favor of government. "

Moreover, the Étretat plan is an exceptional document which allows us to imagine the fate of the small fishing village if the project presented here had seen the light of day. No doubt he would not have had the tourist boom that he experienced thanks to sea bathing. He would not have known the privilege of being the place where Maupassant and Monet met, and so many others. artists fascinated by the beauty of these curious cliffs.

  • Water
  • strong
  • Harbor
  • boat
  • engineer


· Nicolas FAUCHERRE, "The king and the fortification of Norman ports during the Renaissance", in The Normans and the sea, XXVth Congress of Historical and Archaeological Societies of Normandy, October 1990, Maritime Museum of Tatihou Island, 1995.

· Daniel FAUVEL, "Etretat, port of war", in The Normans and the sea, XXVth Congress of Historical and Archaeological Societies of Normandy, October 1990, Maritime Museum of Tatihou Island, 1995.

To cite this article

Marie GROULT, "The military port of Etretat"

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