Since 1611, France's longest-serving lighthouse has been guiding sailors along the French Atlantic coast. Originally three storeys and 37 metres high, three more storeys were completed in 1790, giving the tower its current height of 68 metres, situated on a rocky plateau in the middle of the Gironne estuary. Its architecture and its rich ornamentation are based on ancient models as well as on the architectural language of its construction and extension period.
The beacon at a height of 60 metres with its current range of 22 nautical miles is generated by a high-pressure gas discharge lamp of 250 watts. The tower was automated in 2011. In the centuries since its commissioning, different fuels (such as pitch, tar, coal, rapeseed and mineral oils) have been used and optical technology has been developed and improved several times. A citizens' initiative prevented the planned decommissioning in the 1980s. The Cordouan lighthouse is of extraordinary technical historical importance; therefore it has been listed as a 'Monument historique' since 1862. In 2021, it was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.