Christophe Correy
© Christophe Correy

The Belem

Le Belem, a three-masted ship with a square lighthouse and a steel hull, is the last of the great French merchant ships of the 19th century still sailing. A maritime adventure that has lasted for 126 years, having lived no less than five lives, changed nationality three times to finally regain the tricolour flag of her origins, cheating death, surviving where thousands of other sailing ships, bigger, more powerful, newer, have disappeared forever!

Discover Le Belem

Le Belem, protected by its lucky star, now belongs to the Caisse d'Epargne Belem Foundation. Classified as a historical monument in 1984, it continues to sail every year, with nearly 2,000 people sailing on board and receiving nearly 50,000 visitors per year.

  • Country of origin: France
  • Home port: Nantes
  • Overall length: 58 metres
  • Date of construction: 1896
  • Construction material: Steel
  • Architect: Armement Crouan (the name of the architect is unknown)
  • Number of sails: 22 sails

Did you know? The history of Le Belem

  • Merchant ship 1896 - 1913

On 10 June 1896, the Dubigeon shipyards in Chantenay-sur-Loire launched the three-masted Belem for the Crouan shipping company. From 1896 to 1913, the ship was fitted out for trade and made 33 transatlantic voyages, mainly to Brazil, from where she brought back cocoa beans for the chocolate maker Menier, her first sponsor, and also to French Guiana and the West Indies to transport rum and sugar.

  • British luxury yacht 1914 - 1950

In 1914, the Belem was bought by the Duke of Westminster who transformed her into a pleasure yacht and equipped her with engines. He sold her in 1921 to Sir Arthur Ernest Guinness who renamed her Fantôme II, completed her fitting out and made many voyages on board, including a round the world trip in 1923-1924.

  • Italian school ship 1951 - 1978

In 1951, after the Second World War, the ship was acquired by the Cini Foundation in Venice, which renamed her Giorgio Cini and turned her into a training ship for Italian naval orphans and cadets from Italian merchant navy schools. 

  • The Belem today

In 1979, the Caisse d'Épargne bought the three-masted ship and restored her original name and flag. It donated her to a foundation created on its initiative. The Belem Foundation, recognised as a public utility in 1980, restored the sailing ship in Brest, then Paris, and converted her into a civilian training ship open to the general public. The Belem was classified as a historical monument in 1984. Several major voyages mark the Belem's recent history: in 1986, the ship took part in the centenary of the Statue of Liberty in New York; in 2002, the Belem returned to Belém in Brazil and then to Saint-Pierre de la Martinique as a tribute to the victims of the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée; in 2008, the ship represented France at the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City;  in 2012, the Belem was the guest of Queen Elizabeth II for her Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympic Games; in 2014, the ship returned to follow in the footsteps of the Giorgio Cini in Venice; in 2016, the Belem celebrated its 120th anniversary.

Le Belem - © Thomas Sanson
Le Belem - © Thomas Sanson

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