What's stranger than a 200-year-old fortress that looks like a floating bathtub and is now the set of a popular game show? The island bastion in question is Fort Boyard, located just off the western coast of France, halfway between the islands of Oleron and Aix. It was first conceived as part of a military buildup in the 1660s during the reign of Louis XIV. The project was scrapped, however, when Vauban, the king's leading engineer, famously said of the endeavor, "Sire, it would be easier to grasp the moon with the teeth than to attempt such a task in this location." Construction on the fort didn't begin in earnest until 1804 under the direction of Napoleon Bonaparte. To create the foundation, workers had to dump 98,000 cubic yards (75,000 cubic meters) of rocks onto the sandy floor of the shallow sea [source: Oleron].Work progressed intermittently until 1809 when British attacks interrupted the construction crews. Nearly 30 years later, under the rule of Louis Phillipe, builders once again restarted the project, which was finally completed in 1857. The resulting oval-shaped island fortress measured 105 feet (32 meters) wide and 65 feet (20 meters) high and could support 250 soldiers and 74 guns [source: Oleron].
Almost the minute crews laid the last brick, Fort Boyard was obsolete thanks to advances in gun technology. Since then, it has been used as a military prison, a movie and television backdrop, and, most recently, the set for the French game show "Fort Boyard." Contestants on this popular show, which has aired since 1990, are asked to perform mentally and physically challenging tasks, much like the American show, "Fear Factor."