fishing port - once a haven for pirates. Town Hall helfry in
Historic & Modern
Dunkerque started life in the 8th century as a simple
fishing harbour. It became famous as a haven for pirates who
preyed on shipping in the North Sea - the most celebrated
being the local hero,
Jean Bart. Today's the dunes of
Dunkerque make it a seaside resort. The city is remarkably
green for a major international port and industrial centre,
handling bulk cargoes from all over the world, as well as
being a ferry port for cars and freight with many lorries
crossing between the UK and Europe.
17th pirate Jean Bart - here celebrated in a 1930's shoe
- is buried in Saint Eloi's Church in the centre of Dunkeque
Every year his memory is praised in the town's carnival
processions and balls
- see Carnivals.
A haven for
You can still discover much of Dunkerque's colourful past in
a visit to the town. In the 17th century Dunkerque was the
base for French "pirates" who successfully attacked other
countries' ships in the North Sea. The most famous
Jean Bart - who, like the
English hero Sir Francis Drake, is said to be "not
really a pirate". Both were "privateers", with their
monarch's written permission to attack other countries'
ships, as well as use of royal ships and
Fishermen's carnival and
the town "giants"
Dunkerque was also an important
fishing port - a past celebrated
in the annual two-month long carvival, featuring weekly
parades by the town "giants".
Explore the history of Dunkerque docks at the
Museum - and on
tours round the
Container ships, tankers, and heavy industry - the modern
port area is separate from the town.
The famous wartime
In Britain many people first associate "Dunkirk" (the
English spelling) with the famous evacuation
of British, French and Allied troops in 1940.
The German forces had swept through
Belgium into northern France, cutting off the retreating
Allied armies in this corner of France. Some could be
evacuated by ships that braved the German air offensive to
enter Dunkerque harbour. The only hope for thousands of
other troops was to wait in the dunes and on the flat sandy
beaches along this coast. Many unarmed small boats and ships
crossed the Channel in an amazing bid to rescue them - in
what Churchill dubbed "the
miracle of Dunkirk."
Constantly revisited by heavy fighting, the town of
Dunkerque was 80% destroyed during the Second World War. Its
rebuilding in the 'fifties left a legacy of contemporary
post-war 'fifties architecture that is slowly coming to be
appreciated. Fortunately some interesting reminders of
Dunkerque's colourful past can still be seen.
The town's miles of sandy beaches have
good facilities for children; the dunes are ideal for a
first class golf course...
Modern port and
Since the last war, the port has greatly expanded along with
new industries such as oil refining, chemicals, and
steel-making that use the port to bring in raw materials.
The steel works and shipbuilding yards, once big industries
here, closed in the 1980s. Dunkerque has an international
reputation for its efforts to protect the environment whilst
finding new jobs: landscaping separates industry from
residential areas, and there are notable "green"
initiatives, like the "wind farm" on the harbour wall.
The old dockside quays, now too small for
today's ocean-going supertankers are being redeveloped as a
characterful and elegant cultural and tourist area, centring
around the Port Museum and the Université
ferry service runs direct between
Dover and Dunkerque.