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Calais Town Hall with its spectacular belfry, and the famous statue of the Six Burghers by Rodin.

Welcome to France!
If you've crossed by ferry or tunnel, this is your first sight of "abroad". It's amazing how different a place can be when it's so close. In Calais you can enjoy the cultural heritage of traditional French restaurants. Despite the town having been flattened in two 20th century wars, you can also find a lot of surviving glimpses into its fascinating past - if you know where to look.

The English bridgehead in Calais
As the closest landing point in France, Calais has long been the port of passage across the Channel to England. The English occupied Calais from 1347 to 1558 - after complaints from English merchants that the old port was a "den of pirates" raiding their ships.

Edward III's siege - the starving burghers
The town surrendered to English king Edward III in 1347 after being reduced to starvation in a long siege. The dramatic circumstances are commemorated by Auguste Rodin's famous bronze statue of the "Six Burghers of Calais" outside the Town Hall.

The English army drove out all the inhabitants, and during the occupation Calais was populated by English settlers - merchants, sailors and the defending army.

For the English it was a valued bridgehead on the other side of the Channel. English kings clung onto this possession as a base for trade with the Continent, and from which to send their armies into Continental wars. Henry VIII used it as a base for sacking and looting the north of France.

Celebrating the liberation of Calais
A French forces liberated the town two centuries later in 1558. For a long time after, the Calais area was known as the "Pays Reconquis" [the Reconquered Territory]. . It was the turn of the English to leave.

Many of the new inhabitants were French Protestants, fleeing religious intolerance in other areas of largely Catholic France - bringing their valuable weaving skills with them. To mark the liberation, the town hall has a stained glass window and a statue of the commander of the French army, François Duc de Guise.

The Six Burghers 1347

After a year of siege, the inhabitants trapped inside Calais were starving. Normally people in a besieged town who fought back would expect to be killed if the attackers succeeded. Six leading citizens offered their own lives if Edward III spared the rest of the townsfolk.

His queen took pity on them, and asked if the brave burghers could also be spared if the town surrendered. Edward III agreed. The citizens of Calais lost their homes and property, but were permitted to leave without further bloodshed.

1. 13th century watch tower - part of the medieval walled town captured by the English.
2. Church of Notre Dame - the only English gothic style church in France

Calais before World War 2
Before wartime bombing, Calais was a medieval walled town a bit like the old parts of Canterbury - but without a Cathedral! The town walls were surrounded by canals that formed a moat - you can still see these today. The Place d'Armes was the main square in the centre - the 13th century watchtower still stands in one corner, from which the lookout would search the horizon for approaching enemies.

Another reminder is the church of Notre Dame. Its nave dates back to the 13th century, and it was completed during the English occupation. The old harbour lay under the town walls - now used as a marina for pleasure boats. A model of the old town in the Municipal Museum gives a idea of what it was like.

The yacht basin - part of the old harbour before the car ferry docks were built out on the dunes.

The ferry port
Like Dover, Calais is one of the world's busiest passenger and vehicle ferry ports.

Today's giant car ferries are too big to come into the inner harbour. New berths were constructed from the fifties on, in land reclaimed from the sea and the sand dunes that line the shore from here to Belgium.

Web links and more information
Tourist informtion:

12 Boulevard Clémenceau, 62100 CALAIS
Tel: 00 33 3 21 96 62 40
Fax: 00 33 3 21 96 01 92
Historic Fortifications Network:

Local area map:

Click on places for more information

Download & print out:
Town map with parking
Brief description
Places to visit
List of restaurants
List of hotels

Click for TOWN GUIDE


Where to eat in Calais - we recommend:
Au Côte d'Argent

Places to visit
Citadelle - the line of defences round Calais
City of Lace and Fashion - NEW + all about local lace
Museum of Fine Arts - Calais: Rodin, modern art
Lace Shops - factory shopping
Lighthouse - port of Calais
Maison du Marbre - museum of marble & geology, near the quarries of Marquise
Coastal footpath - long-distance path around the coast to Berck via Dunkerque - Calais- Boulogne

Background information:

Why not try this newfeature?
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QUICK TOUR round the Côte d'Opale, starting with Nausicaa...

Vauban - fortifications
Relations with the English
History of Channel ferries
Belfries - medieval bell towers




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