Commune of Île-d'Aix
Île-d'Aix, as seen from the south-west, from Fort Boyard
|Elevation||0–15 m (0–49 ft)
(avg. 9 m/30 ft)
|Land area1||1.19 km2 (0.46 sq mi)|
|- Density||156 /km2 (400 /sq mi)|
|INSEE/Postal code||17004/ 17123|
|1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km² (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.|
|2 Population sans doubles comptes: residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) only counted once.|
Île-d'Aix is the name of the commune of the Charente-Maritime département which occupies the territory of small island of Île d'Aix in the Atlantic, off the west coast of France. It has a population of only 186 (1999) and an area of about 300 acres (1.2 km²). It is a popular place for tourist day-trips during the summer months.
During the Roman period, it seems the island was connected to the continent at low tide. She finally took her current shape around 1500.
At the end of the 12th century, France and England fought for the possession of the island. Until 1286, the island was located at the boundary between the French and the English "Saintonge", formed by the estuary of the Charente River. During the Hundred years war, Aix became English for about 15 years.
In 1665, the nearby Rochefort was established as a strategic harbour for the Kingdom, prompting many fortification to be built in the area. Vauban built numerous fortifications on the island, which were completed in 1704 by Ferry.
During the Seven Years' War (1756–1763) the British captured the island in 1757 and destroyed its ramparts as part of the attempted Raid on Rochefort, before withdrawing several weeks later. The island of Île-d'Aix was again captured by British forces in 1759 following the Battle of Quiberon Bay, and occupied until the end of the war in 1763. The fortifications were then rebuilt by several French officers, including Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, the author of Les Liaisons dangereuses.
Napoleon famously visited the island in 1808 and gave directions to reinforce the fortifications. He ordered the construction of a house for the commander of the stronghold (today's "Musée Napoleon"), and the construction of Fort Liedot, named after a colonel killed in the Russian campaign.
In 1809, the Battle of the Basque Roads (French: Bataille de l'Île d'Aix) was a naval battle off the island of Aix between the British Navy and the Atlantic Fleet of the French Navy. On the night of 11 April 1809 Captain Thomas Cochrane led a British fireship attack against a powerful squadron of French ships anchored in the Basque Roads. In the attack all but two of the French ships were driven ashore. The subsequent engagement lasted three days but failed to destroy the French fleet.
In 1815, from July 12 to 15, Napoleon also spent his last days in France at Ile d'Aix, after the defeat at Waterloo, in an attempt to force a Royal Navy blockade to escape to the United States. Realizing the impossibility to accomplish this plan, he wrote a letter to the British regent.  and finally surrendered to HMS Bellerophon, which took him to Plymouth before transferring him to Saint Helena.
Located on the island is the large Fort Liédot which functioned as a military prison from the early 19th century to the 1960s. The Algerian independentist and future president Ben Bella was imprisoned there from 1956 to 1962, together with other FLN militants such as Khider and Aït Ahmed.
Access to the island is provided by a ferry that leaves several times a day year round from Fouras just east of the island, or from La Rochelle, and Oléron, during the summer months. Cars (except for service vehicles) are prohibited on the island, affording more tranquility. People move around on foot or by bicycle. Horse carriages are also available to circle the island.