Visiting Hondschoote and its Town Hall: 16th century Gothic symbol of the state at an extremity of France

Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Honschoote Town Hall
Honschoote Town Hall | Source
The Battle of Hondschoote 1793
The Battle of Hondschoote 1793 | Source
Map location of Hondschoote, Dunkirk 'arrondissement'.
Map location of Hondschoote, Dunkirk 'arrondissement'. | Source

Sedate building in French Flanders, hidden near the Franco-Belgian border

As a town hall (French: Hôtel de ville ), this fine building at Hondschoote, France, is a symbol of the authority of the French state. However, in various ways, the location of this small town in northern France is very interesting. The town is in Flanders, a term which often provokes more questions than provides answers. Most of Flanders is in neighbouring Belgium, where it constitutes one of the country's component states and is officially Dutch-speaking. In French, the Dutch-speaking state of Flanders is known as la Flandre . But Flanders also refers historically to a wider area, comprising not only a substantial part of Belgium but also parts of France and The Netherlands. The part of Flanders which is located in France is known in the plural as les Flandres, or, if qualified, as French Flanders (French: la Flandre française ).

Oddly, the Franco-Belgian border in the vicinity of Hondschoote bends drastically, with the result that there is Belgian territory to the north, east and south of the town. The immediate area around Hondschoote is known as les Moëres (Dutch: De Moeren ) , with the international border — and, thus, the official language boundary also — passing through this flat expanse of land. Largely empty, les Moëres seems identical on either side of this boundary invisibly marking a transition from territory which is wholly Dutch-speaking to wholly French-speaking.

Unofficially, however, Dutch has persisted in the Hondschoote French Flanders areas, centuries after this part of what is now the French department of Nord was definitively incorporated into France.

Interestingly, even the name of the town adds to complications of local identities. The standard Dutch spelling is 'Hondschote', but the archaic form is 'Hondschoote', the form still used officially in France.

The Town Hall, in Gothic style, was built from 1556-1558. The building was restored between 1862 and 1870 by the architect Outters, who moved the front steps and entrance to its current, central position to efface the previous asymmetry of the frontage.

On the striking frontage of the Town Hall may be seen various colourful coats of arms. This frontage is classified in France as a National Monument. The Town Hall is located at 1 bis, place du Général de Gaulle , Hondschoote, in the Dunkirk (French: Dunkerque ) arrondissement .

The town was given a charter by the Count of Flanders in 1373. It was formerly a centre for the linen industry. A major battle occurred at Hondschoote in 1793.

Also worth seeing

In Hondschoote itself, visitor attractions include St Vaast church, with a massive tower, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries; the town also has a restored, old windmill dating from the 12th century.

Bergues (distance: 12 kilometres) has some well preserved fortifications, a belfry and a striking town hall.

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How to get there: A number of North American airlines fly to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, where car rental is available, and the French SNCF railroad company maintains a service from Paris to Dunkirk. (The distance between Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and Hondschoote: 256 kilometres). But the nearest large international airport is Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), where car rental is available (distance between Brussels Airport and Hondschoote: 165 kilometres). Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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