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The Fortifications of Vauban The Saint-Vaast-La-Hougue / Tatihou Coastal Observation Towers A UNESCO World Heritage Site



Vauban Coastal Observation Towers : Superimposition is an exhibition showing creative photography works carried out by the EUROPESCO students of the Henri Cornat High School Photo-Lab.

The aim of this work is to promote a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Cotentin peninsula, Normandy, France, but also and especially to offer another artistic point of view on this specific heritage .

Everything began in 2012, when the Photo Lab members, subsidized by COMENIUS PROJECT EUROPESCO, went to visit La Hougue as part of a Heritage course. Many pictures were taken.

Among various black and white silver photography techniques, the students discovered some invented by famous surrealist photographer: Man Ray. It was then decided to give a more imaginary aspect to this Vauban architecture by using the superimposition technique.

Photographers and Exhibition curators

Louise Lanièce Tanguy Legendre

SĂŠbastien le Prestre de Vauban

« Vauban was a military engineer of King Louis XIV. From 1653 to 1703, Vauban took part in 48 sieges, restructured 130 strongholds, built about 30 strongholds from scratch and left behind him about 30 plans which were used after his death. Vauban played a major role in the history of fortification in Europe and other continents until the mid-19th century. »

Portrait of Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707) Early 18th century Oil by unknown artist of French School http://www.bridgema

Vauban's fortifications

Vauban's fortifications in France,381

« Fortifications of Vauban consists of 12 groups of fortified buildings and sites along the western, northern and eastern borders of France. They represent the finest examples of the work of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707). The serial property includes towns built from scratch by Vauban, citadels, urban bastion walls and bastion towers. There are also mountain forts, sea forts, a mountain battery and two mountain communication structures. This property is inscribed as bearing witness to the peak of classic fortifications, typical of western military architecture ».

Tatihou's coastal observation towers « During each of his visits, Vauban described the harbour of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue as the "best and most secure in the kingdom" with natural protection from the Isle of Tatihou. However, the Cotentin coast remained vulnerable because of its prominent position facing England. The need to protect it turned out to be crucial after the battle of the Hougue, in June 1692, when Louis XIV‘s ships were defeated by the AngloDutch fleet. Therefore, in 1694, Vauban called for the urgent construction of two towers which would protect the anchorage of ships by means of cross fire. »

« These tapered towers, 20 metres high, are distinguished by their many different functions: for observation, firing out to sea and communication by signals and are a fine example of Vauban’s military engineering. They were planned to be self-sufficient, with cisterns and magazines, to enable between 40 and 80 men to withstand a siege. Planned to repel English attacks, they are equipped with canons on a terrasse about 25 metres above the ground. The bastioned tower illustrates that the tower was also useful far from the sea. »

Up until the Second World War, these towers were integrated into different fortified ensembles on this coast. Today, the Isle of Tatihou is an environmental showcase, managed by the Manche General Council and houses a maritime museum. The Hougue tower has been open to the public since 2008; the signal station remains a national Marine property .,381

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008

Outstanding Universal Value

« The work of Vauban constitutes a major contribution to universal military architecture. It crystallises earlier strategic theories into a rational system of fortifications based on a concrete relationship to territory. It bears witness to the evolution of European fortification in the 17th century and produced models used all over the world up to the mid-19th century, thereby illustrating a significant period of history ».

Criteria « Vauban’s work bears witness to the peak of classic bastioned fortification, typical of western military architecture of modern times. Vauban played a major role in the history of fortification. The imitation of his standard-models of military buildings in Europe and on the American continent, the dissemination in Russian and Turkish of his theoretical thinking along with the use of the forms of his fortification as a model for fortresses in the Far East, bear witness to the universality of his work. Vauban’s work illustrates a significant period of human history. It is a work of the mind applied to military strategy, architecture and construction, civil engineering, and economic and social organisation. »

Why are the fortifications of Vauban inscribed on the World Heritage List ? « The fortifications of Vauban form the most rational example of military architecture and represent a masterpiece of human creative genius. They also bear testimony to the evolution of military architecture in the 17th century. They influenced the construction of a great number of strongholds throughout the world up to the end of the 19th century . These constructions can also be interpreted as the shaping of a modern space through the creation of a network of border sites, forerunners of our borders today. »

What does inscription on the World Heritage List mean ? « Significant renown and international exposure, through the recognition of the outstanding universal value of the property ; A guarantee of high standards for the conservation, restoration, protection and enhancement of the heritage ; The growing concern of local authorities to raise awareness about fortified heritage and to ensure that it is handed down to future generations ; Setting up management plans for territorial projects concerning urbanism, culture, citizenship and tourism. »

Photography Techniques

Photography Techniques

The EUROPESCO students of the Henri Cornat High School Photo-Lab took, edited and developped their argentic photographs with the school equipment. In the school lab, groups of four students could process their work of superimposition together in good conditions.

Superimposition : Placing a conventional silver negative on top of an other negative in the enlarger enables to obtain original visual effects.



This Vauban coastal observation tower was built on Tatihou Island in 1699 The photograph was taken in low angle shot to emphasise its verticality. Indeed it is twenty meters high.

To Tatihou Observation Tower


These Vauban towers run along an impresive coastline with a rich biodiversity . On this picture, the trees hiding the fortifications symbolise the luxuriant environnement of the small island.


The stone portal superimposed on the Vauban observation tower both frames it and gives it even more massiveness / heaviness.


Here, the negatives which have been superimposed are the same as the ones you can see in the previous montage . The portal is upside down and it looks like a platform or basement under the tower, which enhances its full height.

Tatihou Island Paths


On Tatihou Island, there are many places of interest. This tunnel leads to a path that goes around the island. It is covered with vegetation. This photograph gives a glimpse of the surprinsingly dense vegetation on Tatihou Island.


The second negative makes the Vauban observation tower almost completely disappear and strengthens its blackness. The twisted and intertwined branches form a vegetal cage that emprisons the tower in nature.

Mysterious Vauban tower


The artist's purpose was to superimpose a negative of a puddle on a negative of the Vauban observation tower to offer more abstraction tand to convey an impression of lightness to the stone building which semas to be flying in a cloudy sky.


Through the jungle of the branches, the visitor can have a glimpse at the Vauban tower. An accident during the superimposition process caused a little brown stain to appear on the monument, giving the impression that the tower is on fire.


This superimposition of a woodpile on a Vauban observation tower seems half way through figuration and abstraction. This resulting superimposition is the artist's first attempt at the technique and is therefore an example of complete experimentation.


The ink stains superimposed on the picture of the Vauban tower remind of the Rorschach test, a psychological test in which subjects' perceptions of inkblots are analyzed. Or else, the superimposition can also suggest an antique partly-burned film spool.


In this picture the Vauban observation tower is lying in a boat named Bernard as if it wanted to escape Tatihou Island. This photo montage gives the impression that the building has been personified.



The Fortifications of Vauban The Saint-Vaast-La-Hougue / Tatihou Coastal Observation Towers A UNESCO World Heritage Site


Superimposition book  
Superimposition book