The "Abris du Marin" in France: Origins and Characteristics

The “Abris du Marin” are an interesting and historic part of French maritime culture, primarily established in the early 20th century. These shelters were designed to provide a safe haven and communal space for sailors and fishermen along the French coasts. Their origins and characteristics highlight a unique blend of social welfare, maritime tradition, and architectural uniqueness.


The inception of the “Abris du Marin” can be traced back to the philanthropic efforts of Jacques de Thézac, a French philanthropist and social activist, who, in 1899, was deeply moved by the harsh conditions faced by fishermen and sailors off the French coast. These maritime workers spent long periods at sea under challenging and dangerous conditions, often facing the perils of the ocean without any support structure on land.

De Thézac’s concern for these sailors led him to establish the first “Abris du Marin” in 1900 in Audierne, Brittany. His vision was to create a network of shelters that would provide both physical refuge and social support to these maritime workers. The initiative quickly garnered support from various stakeholders, including local communities, maritime organizations, and even religious groups.


The “Abris du Marin” were more than just physical structures; they embodied a sanctuary where sailors could find comfort, engage in social activities, and receive educational and religious instruction during their time ashore. The characteristics of these shelters included:

  1. Community Centers: Each shelter served as a community center where fishermen could meet, share stories, and relax away from the harsh maritime environment. These centers often featured reading rooms, game rooms, and communal dining areas.
  2. Educational and Spiritual Services: The shelters provided educational services such as literacy classes and navigation courses to improve the skills of the sailors. Spiritual services, including chapel areas and pastoral counseling, were also available, reflecting the deeply religious nature of many maritime communities at the time.
  3. Architectural Design: The architectural style of the “Abris du Marin” varied from one location to another, but they commonly featured robust construction to withstand the coastal environment. Many were built using local materials and styles, often reflecting the traditional designs of the region.
  4. Support Services: Apart from recreational and educational facilities, the shelters offered practical support services like first aid, legal advice, and communication facilities to contact family members. Some even provided temporary lodging for sailors waiting for their next voyage.

Legacy and Modern Relevance

The legacy of the “Abris du Marin” continues to be felt today. Many of the original shelters have been preserved as cultural heritage sites, serving as museums or community halls, where the rich maritime history of the region is celebrated. They stand as a testament to the community spirit and the solidarity essential for those who make their living at sea.

In modern times, while the role of such shelters has evolved, the concept of providing support to those in maritime professions continues, reflecting the ongoing need for community-based support in the face of the challenging conditions faced by maritime workers.

The “Abris du Marin” not only provided refuge from the physical storms faced at sea but also addressed the psychological and social storms that sailors endured. Their establishment marked a significant advancement in the social welfare of maritime workers in France, illustrating a profound understanding of the complexities of life at sea and the importance of community support on shore.