Places to visit | Local area map | rail travel*
on Calais-Dunkerque line



Ramparts and moat built by the Spanish, and strengthened by French engineer Vauban in the 17th century

The fortifications survive amazingly intact

Historic fishing port
The small coastal town of Gravelines lies near the mouth of the river Aa, where the river pierces the seaside sand-dunes. Like its neighbour Dunkerque, it has a long history as a port for fishing in the North Sea. In the Middle Ages, it was the port for the merchants of St-Omer, whose barges came down the river Aa.

Spanish border fort
For several centuries, Gravelines' fortifications protected the western border of the Spanish Netherlands with France.

Spanish Armada
The Spanish Armada anchored off-shore overnight at Calais in 1588, on their way to invade England. English ships had fought skirmishes all the way up the Channel, and here they took the opportunity to prepare fire-ships, set them ablaze to drift into the middle of the Spanish fleet.

The Spanish were waiting to pick up their invasion army - feared battle-hardened troops who had subdued revolt their empire in the Spanish Netherlands under the able leadership of the Duke of Parma.

The army wasn't ready to embark. In the panic caused by the fire-ships, the Spanish fleet hastily set sail on a disastrous journey up the east coast of England. As they went round the north of Scotland and Ireland in terrible gales most of their galleons were sunk.

17th century ramparts
A century later French king Louis XIV captured the northern borderlands of France. His minister VAUBAN strengthened the town's fortifications on modern lines, with his characteristic (and extremely effective) star-shaped defences - which still survive today.

In more peaceful times, SEURAT painted Gravelines in characteristic "pointilliste" style.

Tour the moats around the town walls in an electric boat - or walk around the ramparts.
To share the experience of 19th century fishermen, try a trip on a preserved sailing boat - or hire one for a group fishing trip.

Today's Gravelines
Gravelines is a quiet historic town in the countryside just outside the sprawling conurbation of Dunkerque. It is still known for its fishing and seafood.

The new ferry dock of Dunkerque-Ouest is just across the canal from Gravelines, and Dunkerque's nuclear power station is close.

The “giants” of Grand-Fort-Philippe and Gravelines
1. “Le matelot” comes inland from the lighthouse at the mouth of the river Aa. He is the “giant” of Graveline's coastal fishing-port neighbour, Grand-Fort-Philippe
2. “L’Islandais” -the Icelandic Woman - sails downstream to meet him.
3. Giants’ marriages (and births, deaths and family reunions) are important public occasions!

The town “giants” have an annual “outing” each spring. They represent the historic importance of fishing in the North Sea to this community. [more about “giants”]

Boat trips
Gravelines' river has facilities for safe boating, and its nearby sandy beaches make it a popular holiday resort.

It has developed facilities to make it what the French call a 'KID STATION'- a bathing place with fun activities that is specially safe - and specially adapted for - children.

River cruises up the Aa to Bourbourg and Watten

Web links and more information
Tourist information - OFFICE DE TOURISME:
11 rue de la République, 59800 GRAVELINES
Tel: 00 33 3 28 51 94 00 - Fax: 00 33 28 49 53 04
Historic Fortifications Network:

Local area map:

Click on places for more information

Places to visit
Fishing, herring-curing and boat trips
Maison du Sauvetage - Lifeboat museum
Drawings & Prints Museum - Gravelines
Sportica - largest sports complex N. of Paris
Port Museum - Dunkerque
Sailing facilities on the Flanders coast
Coastal footpath - long-distance path around the coast from Berck - Boulogne - Calais to Dunkerque

Why not try this newfeature?
clipboard helper
QUICK TOUR round Flanders Côte d'Opale, starting with Dunkerque Port Museum...

Background information
KID stations
Vauban - 17th century military engineer

Spanish Armada
Sports and outdoor leisure facilities
Giants & carnivals




Dunkerque Last updated 8th September 2001 © Copyright Invicta Media 1999-2001