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Montreuil-sur-mer, a medieval port

Gateway to the Citadel at Montreuil

You are standing on the old ramparts of Montreuil, looking out over the valley of the river Canche towards the sea at Etaples.

Back in the 13th century this town - known as "Montreuil-on-sea" - was one of the wealthiest ports in northern Europe. The Canche estuary then reached up to Montreuil; its quays thronged with sailing ships carrying pilgrims to the holy relics in Montreuil's churches, and trading cloth (some woven in the town), grain and wine.

Above the port, on the 40m high chalk hill, stood the walled town and market place - all guarded by a royal castle built by French king Philippe Auguste.

Inside the town's 16th century ramparts - workmen's cottages in Rue du Clape en Bas

Club de Canoe-Kayak: lessons and group facilities on the river Canche where once there thrived a medieval port.

16th century France's frontier fort
By the 16th century, the river had silted up and the old port was quiet. Montreuil became militarily important because it lay on France's northern frontier with Spain. The rest of the
Artois area, with its capital Arras, and all of Flanders was ruled by Spain.

In 1522 Henry VIII of England and Charles V ("
Charles Quint") of Spain combined forces to besiege the town's aged medieval walls, but failed. In 1537, another siege succeeded; Montreuil was sacked, leaving the town and the Abbey Church of Saint-Saulve partly ruined.

Victor Hugo - best-selling French author of the 19th century, set his novel "Les Misérables" in Montreuil.

Built after the 1537 raid.

Walled town rebuilt
French king François I recaptured the town, and ordered the its fortifications to be updated. By 1567, military engineers had made Montreuil a French border stronghold against the might of Spain - with a bastions along the walls, earthworks, and a new citadelle on the weakpoint where there was a gentle slope to the river. Only two entrance towers remained of the old medieval castle.

Louis XIV
Success in 17th century wars moved France's frontier north and west. Montreuil was no longer on the front line, but
Louis XIV's military engineer Vauban completed the modernisation of the ramparts, adding a new arsenal and gunpowder-store as part of his work in securing the region for France.

Victor Hugo & “Les Misérables”
By the 19th century, Montreuil was a sleepy medieval town on the coaching road from Calais to Paris. Famous writer
Victor Hugo spent a brief stay here and was inspired to use it as the setting for his famous novel about the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Empire and the 1830 revolution. You can see an outdoor spectacle based on the novel, and tours of places in the town connected with the story.

First World War
Later, Montreuil was the headquarters of the British Army in France during World War I. General Haig stayed in a chateau near the town

General Haig had his HQ in Montreuil for part of the First World War

Web links and more information:
Tourist information:
21 Rue Carnot - 62170 MONTREUIL-SUR-MER
Tel: 00 33 - Fax: 00 33 (0)3 21 06 57 85
Office de Tourisme de Montreuil-sur-Mer

Historic Fortifications Network:

Local area map:
Canche-Authie map
Click on places for more information


Where to eat in Montreuil - we recommend:
Les Hauts de Montreuil Review
Auberge de la Grenouillere - just outside Montreuil

Places to visit
Chocolate factory - craft workshop in the village of Beussant (10km from Montreuil)
A traditional boulangerie - near Hardelot
"Les Misérables" - annual outdoor spectacle based on the novel set in Montreuil; also regular tours
MAREIS - interactive exhibition about working fishermen, Etaples

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

Background information
Victor Hugo - life of the author of “Les Misérables”
Spanish Flanders & Charles Quint
First World War
Vauban - 17th century military engineer

Le Touquet



Hesdin Last updated 17th August 2001 © Copyright Invicta Media 1999-2001