A prestigious project at La Teste: Gabriel-Joseph Durand's open sea baths

A. Versial, the author of the brochure Notice sur les bains de mer de Boulogne (Note on sea bathing in Boulogne), published in 1825, states that: "The medical profession has long since acknowledged the benefits procured by sea bathing for an array of diseases and illnesses (…). In England, where doctors are constantly thinking about and working on improving health and hygiene, all the reasonably large seaside towns have open sea baths. They offer relaxation and enjoyment, as well as cures or treatment for a wide range of conditions (…)".

Following the example of Boulogne, the commune of La Teste decided to build open sea baths. These were therefore the first tentative steps of this type of building, which would see major development enom the 1850s

onwards. Indeed, a host of sea bathing establishments of varying standards sprung up in seaside towns such as Arcachon, Gujan, Soulac, etc.

The Bordeaux-born architect, Gabriel-Joseph Durand, drew up some spectacular plans for La Teste. His design, inspired by neo-classical architecture, would be built on land that belonged to Lalesque, the mayor of La Teste, "on the shore of the Bassin d’Arcachon, at the end of the avenue that separates the beautiful basilica in Arcachon on the Bassin's main beach". The building was made up of a semi-circular gallery with accommodation for bathers, a dining room and a billiards room. There were pavilions at each end of the gallery. In the middle, a third pavilion housed the kitchens and outbuildings on the ground floor as well as a function room and library on the first floor. "Individual cabins", an icebox and other attractive aspects that could be used as focal points or hunting meeting-place" were planned near to the building.

When the plans were drawn up, sea bathing was only recommended for its therapeutic benefits. The plans specified, for example, that: "Patients will be able to use the mobile baths to take hot or cold baths in their

accommodation where they may also receive treatment enom one of the centre's skilled doctors". Equally planned was the possibility of bathing in "mobile cabinets similar to those in use in England, that is to say open-topped bathtubs on wheels for people who would prefer not to have to deal with the movement of the waves".

Unfortunately, Durand's ambitious plans were never realised.

My journey
  • Leasure, Sport
  • Artistic Life
  • Architecture and Urbanism
  • Land use planning
  • Health
Icons's legend