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Dunkerque Port Museum

19th cent.Fishermen off Iceland (95K)

Fishing off Iceland
Looking at pictures like this, you shiver at the perils faced by fishermen in bygone days. You're in the Musée Portuaire, which is housed in an old 19th century tobacco warehouse on Dunkerque's dockside. You're finding out about the history of one of the great sea-ports of the North Sea. In the 19th century, over 3,000 fishermen would set sail around February for the dangerous herring fishing grounds off Iceland - with a riotous
carnival to give them a good send off, which is still commemorated today.

The lucky ones would return in August and September.

Den of Pirates
Dunkerque was once notorious as a base for pirates, who raided other countries' shipping on the North Sea. Most famous was Jean Bart - like Sir Francis Drake, he had royal permission and support for his activities (from
Louis XIV). His story is told in the Musée Portuaire. You can see models of ships and paintings of famous exploits and battles.

Jean Bart pirate unloading ships knot tying Dunkerque harbour
1. A 1930's shoe polish advertisement uses the image of 17th century pirate hero Jean Bart (museum collection)
2. Old methods of unloading cargo on display at the museum
3. School groups can learn about a sailor's life in the old days of sailing ships - they're taught some sailors' knots, and what they were used for on a sailing ship.
4. The 19th century docks - with the canal to Lille and the coalfield stretching away to the horizon.

Modernisation of the docks
The museum also records the past dockside life that has disappeared in recent years, as the port has been modernised and expanded. As elsewhere in the world, the old methods of loading cargoes into ships have changed. No longer do dockworkers handle individual boxes, barrels and sacks - now it's all giant containers, handled by cranes; and bulk carriers for industrial cargoes such as oil, ores and grain. Other port jobs like shipbuilding, customs officers, and lighthousemen, have gone too. The museum displays make you think about the hard life they lived.

Collection of ships
Outside the museum you see its outdoor collection of old boats and ships to record the past way of life of sailors who set out from Dunkerque. Some travelled the world in sailing ships, like the 3-masted "Duchesse-Anne" (1901) - other stayed in one place, like the old lightship "Sandettie" (1949) which used to be anchored out at sea to mark dangerous shoals in the days before satellite navigation.

Port tours
You can also book a tour round the harbour by boat - see the old historic port, and the new industrial docks that now stretch almost all the way to Gravelines.

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Location: 9 Quai de la Citadelle, 59140 Dunkerque

Museum Information/ reservations:
Tel: 00 33 3 28-63-33-39
Fax: 00 33 3 28-65-06-62

Harbour tours:
Boat Tours - see linked page for details.

lightship sailing ship
(left) Old lightship that once guided vessels through the North Sea sandbanks into Dunkerque harbour
(right) "Duchesse Anne" a German 3-masted sail-training ship - given to France after WW2 as reparations for war damage, and rescued and restored by the city of Dunkerque in 1980. You can visit it in the dock outide the Port Museum

Background Information:
Jean Bart - Dunkerque's famous pirate
Vauban - the military engineer who built Dunkerque's dockyard for Louis XIV
History of Flanders

Other Places to visit:

Boat Tours - see Dunkerque port by water
Fine Arts Museum - Dunkerque: local history gallery has collection about mariners, corsairs and Jean Bart
Lifeboat Museum, Gravelines
Lighthouse, Calais




Lifeboat Museum, Gravelines © Copyright 2000 Invicta Media. Last updated 1st June 2002 / 14th August 2000