Port-Vendres is located in the Albères on the Vermilion coast on the Mediterranean Sea. The town was built around a cove which was used to develop a port and its defences. The village and its amenities have evolved over the centuries. The roadstead is dominated by numerous puigs: puig Béar, puig of fort Saint-Elme, puig of fort Taillefer, puig of the Madeloc tower.
This Village would have been founded by the Phoenicians in the VI century BC and was the first commercial port of Roussillon used to connect the western world to the eastern world, then would have been taken over by the Greeks and finally the Romans who would have given it the name of “Roussillon”. Portus Veneris, in reference to a temple of Venus but no remains of this past have been found.
Used in the Middle Ages, the port (in deep water) was in fact used as an annex port to Collioure. This port was only inhabited by a few families.
From the 17th century. The port was fortified and developed little by little because it was of strategic interest and could accommodate large ships (deep-water port) but the town remains sparsely populated. In 1804: it is still only a modest town of 194 inhabitants.
We can cite the fortifications built under Louis XIV by Vauban in the 1680s: construction of defences: the Fort Fanal, the Béar redoubt, the fort on the peninsula, which was demolished in 1929.
Then later between the years 1772 and 1789 under Louis XVI a new project was initiated by the Count of Mailly with the aim of making this port a large military port. On the north side, a dock was dug, the embankments of which were used for the construction of the obelisk square where the architectural ensemble of the Obelisk consisting of the dome, the obelisk to the glory of Louis XVI as well as some barracks was built.
During this period Fort Mailly was also built on the south shore in order to strengthen the defences of the port. Work stopped because of the revolution.
It is only in 1823 that Port-Vendres is separated from Collioure to be erected as a commune.
It is necessary to wait for the beginning of the conquest of Algeria (1830) for the port city to develop in a significant way, by obtaining sufficient credits for its development with the creation of the jetty, three slipways, warehouses and the digging of a new 9-metre deep dock. The embankments resulting from this work are used for the construction of the Castellane square (General artisan of the development of Port-Vendres).
These works will be completed by the excavation of the two tunnels of the pier path (1842).
In 1850, at the instigation of a military commission, it was decided to reinforce the defences at the entrance to the Port, including the reconstruction of the Fort de la Mauresque at the Pointe de la Mauresque (north of Port-Vendres).
The port works will be completedin 1867.
Subsequently Port-Vendres will see the arrival of the railway and will become an important transit port for the link with North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia) and the ports of Marseille and Sète served by the Compagnie de Navigation Mixte.
Passenger transport is developing as well as commercial activities: exports of wine, iron ore, imports of grain, coal …
In 1885, at the end of the dike, which had been reinforced several times and stabilized, a metal lighthouse was built. This unique lighthouse had at its centre a metal staircase with a screw that could be adjusted according to the direction of the waves.
Port-Vendres also remains a military port, at a time when tensions in the Mediterranean are high. France and Germany are vying for the domination of Morocco. La France et l’Allemagne se disputent la domination du Maroc.
If the strategic military role of Port-Vendres diminished little by little after the Great War of 1914-1918, the same could not be said for its economic role.
The population increased from 1671 inhabitants in 1856 to more than 3000 in 1886 when the construction of the church of Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle began.
In 1925 CR Mackintosh and his wife Margaret moved to Port-Vendres in the Hotel du Commerce which is located on the Quai Pierre Forgas at N°6 (since the hotel has been transformed: on the ground floor has been installed a bank: the BP and the floors have been converted into apartments. On one of the facades of the building is a plaque commemorating Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s stay there.
This hotel at the time was very busy and animated by a constant coming and going of customers. The dining room overlooked the harbour. Although the couple did not speak French very well, the owners, Mr and Mrs Dejean, welcomed them with attention and sympathy.
In front of the hotel, the quay was very busy at the time: steam freighters, wooden or metal-hulled sailing ships and ocean liners docked there (the new maritime station on Quai François Joly was only inaugurated in 1928).
These ships came from various countries: Spain, Greece, North and South Africa.
The quay was teeming with life: disembarking and embarking passengers and a wide variety of goods (wine, coffee, timber, cereals, locust beans, dairy products, fruit and vegetables…) and animals (sheep, cattle).
Military maritime activity was also active.
They therefore find a dynamic town surrounded by a preserved landscape, historic buildings and monuments in good condition, a lively port with its diverse and varied boats: so many sources for his inspiration cf. these paintings of Mackintosh’s path and his correspondence. From his stay in Port-Vendres he leaves to posterity 13 watercolours on the theme of Port-Vendres.
In 1929 the destruction of the peninsula fort on the south shore of the bay was undertaken. It was dynamited and a new dock created.
In 1944, the German army of occupation modified many military buildings such as Fort Mailly, the lantern fort and the Moorish fort by building reinforced concrete blockhouses that they would partially destroy during their retreat. It will be the same for the installations of the port (quay, stores …). It will take more than 10 years to rebuild everything and de-mine the port.
The vision one can have of Port-Vendres and its historic buildings is quite different from that which the artist may have had in the 1920s due to the destruction of the war of 1940-45, the reconstructions that followed and the major development of the city and the port after the war.
After 1962, following Algeria’s independence, the transit of passengers stopped and the activity of the commercial port declined; however, the fishing activity developed with the arrival of fishing vessels and techniques imported by Algerian expatriates.
In 1975 the Gerbal cove located on the north shore of the harbour, near the old slaughterhouses under Fort Fanal, which Mackintosch had painted (where the fishermen at the time were beaching their boats), was entirely concreted. This work led to the creation of new docks and on the resulting esplanade were installed a careening area, an ice plant, refrigerated warehouses, a large fishmonger’s shop and an auction. Trawlers came to land their catch for auction.
However, as a result of the disappearance of fishery resources, fishing activity has declined sharply. Le nombre de chalutiers a fortement diminué et la criée a fermé ses portes en 2010.
Nowadays the port is managed by the department and the Chamber of Commerce.
There is only one old wooden trawler, the Maria José Gabriel, “small crafts”, as well as three tuna boats that only operate for two weeks a year due to fishing regulations and quotas.
The activity of the commercial port is specialized for the import of fruit and vegetables by container ships (at least one ship per week).
The marina has a limited anchorage and in season welcomes cruise ships and yachts and is animated by some heritage ships such as the Belem, the Santa Maria, the Hermione, the Santa Victoria …