Mr Minister, dear Marc Laffineur, Mr Chief of the Marine Staff, Admiral Bernard Rogel, Mr Secretary General of the Sea, dear Michel Aymeric, Ladies and Gentlemen,

To his right [Peter’s right], above Sainte-Adresse, the two electric lighthouses of the Cap de la Hève, similar to two monstrous and twin cyclops, threw their long and powerful delays into the sea. The two parallel rays, similar to the giant tails of two comets, went down from the top of the coast to the bottom of the horizon, following a straight and disproportionate slope. Then on the two jetties, two other lights, children of these colossi, indicated the entrance to Le Havre; and there, on the other side of the Seine, we saw still others, many others, fixed or flashing, with flashes and eclipses, opening and closing like eyes, the eyes of the ports, yellow, red, green, watching the dark sea covered with ships, the living eyes of the hospitable land saying, just by the invariable and regular mechanical movement of their eyelids: "It’s me. I am Trouville, I am Honfleur, I am the river of Pont-Audemer».

It is a ballet of fires, here, in Pierre and Jean de Maupassant, it is a catastrophe, there, in the poem Prévert: a lighthouse keeper loving too much the birds and no longer bearing to see them perish «blinded», «stunned» by the lighthouse, prefers to put out the fires in a gesture of “I don’t care”. Once the light is off «In the distance a freighter sinks/ A freighter from the islands a freighter loaded with birds/ Thousands of birds from the islands, thousands of drowned birds».

The "sentinels of the sea" - which call the storm, as Malcom Lowry said in one of his poems - because they are indispensable reference points for navigators, technological and scientific prowess, objects of fascination, but also essential elements of the built heritage of our coastlines, these sentinels alone concentrate a history of the sea, the history of a secular imagination, that of architects and navigators, enriched by generations of artists.

I am very pleased to be with you this evening to inaugurate this exhibition of the National Museum of the Navy, which reveals us, thanks in particular to the very strong commitment of the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing, the functioning of these fires of the sea, their scientific and technical evolution, their history, their construction, the considerable part they occupy both in the learned cultures and in the popular cultures.

The history of these French monuments begins with the impressive Cordouan Lighthouse, built in 1611. The Cordouan Lighthouse, which celebrated its 400th anniversary last year, has been listed as a historic monument since 1862. This “beacon of kings, king of lighthouses”, according to the well-known expression, will be the subject of a mini-website being prepared for the Ministry of Culture and Communication.

The Ministry of Culture and Communication, attentive to the protection of all forms of heritage, could not remain indifferent to these singular buildings, of high architectural and landscape value, witnesses of an essential stage in the history of navigation, and a difficult profession, now gone: that of lighthouse keepers.

In 2011, as a result of a joint work initiated nearly 10 years ago, conducted with the Directorate of Maritime Affairs, 14 lighthouses were classified as Historic Monuments, a first since Cordouan in 1862. To date, 24 lighthouses and lights are classified as historical monuments, around 40 are listed as historical monuments and about 15 will be presented to the National Commission of Historical Monuments on 18 June 2012. In total, around 80 lighthouses and lights should be protected under the title of historical monuments, from Cap-Gris-Nez to the small lighthouse of the Port-Vendres pier, via the Stiff and Créa'ch in Ouessant, Pointe Saint-Martin in Biarritz, the Bel-Air lighthouse in La Réunion, the island of Petite Terre in Guadeloupe, among many others.

In this regard, I would like to stress the decisive involvement in this campaign of protection and valorization of MM. Philippe Paolantoni, Director of Maritime Affairs at the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing, Vincent Guigueno, curator of this event, and in charge of «heritage» mission in the service of lighthouses and beacons, and, for the Directorate-General for Heritage of my Department, the commitment of Mr. François Goven, inspector general of historic monuments and Marc Pabois, honorary curator of heritage. I welcome this common protection policy in which my Ministry is involved.

Although they were not taken into account in this first wave of protection because of their very specific nature, the famous «Enfers», lighthouses in the Iroise Sea, popularized by photography and cinema, are not forgotten. In 2009, the Grenelle de la Mer planned the implementation of a policy of heritage valorization of lighthouses, which, in particular, led to the creation of an Observatory of lighthouses in the Iroise Sea, which combines the Lighthouses and Beacons of Maritime Affairs service, the Ministry of Culture and the Iroise Marine Park.

Whether or not they have retained their signal function, some lighthouses can find a second life as a tourist monument. In this regard, visitors are more than enthusiastic about these magnificent stone monuments: with some 600,000 visitors a year, the lighthouses of France constitute a heritage that contributes substantially to the attractiveness of our coastal territories. And I am convinced that this exhibition, thanks to the talent of its organizers and all the teams
who took part in it, will win a deserved success among the general public.

Thank you.