Visiting the fortifications at Gravelines, France: coastal town fought for by many rival powers

Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
18th century ramparts at Gravelines
18th century ramparts at Gravelines | Source
Vauban | Source
Map location of Gravelines, Dunkirk 'arrondissement', France
Map location of Gravelines, Dunkirk 'arrondissement', France | Source

Seemingly impregnable

Although the last significant fortifications to the Downtown area of Gravelines, France, date from the 18th century, the town had in fact been repeatedly fortified for centuries.

The reason for this is the town's strategic position.

Situated one the Aa (yes, really!)(1) River in northern France, Gravelines (Dutch: Grevelingen ) was once part of the greater Netherlands in the Middle Ages, albeit on their western extremity. For centuries, rival powers fought for control of the town, which lies close to the North Sea (French: Mer du Nord ). These powers included Burgundians, Flemings, French, Spanish and English.

The town became definitively French in 1659 (2), and was further fortified, with the well-known French military engineer Vauban (3) contributing to the defences.

Today, the impregnable seeming ramparts, surrounded by a moat, is an historical curiosity and a tourist attraction, but interestingly the fortifications were still being used as a garrison in as late as the 20th century.

Gravelines is situated in the Nord department of northern France. It developed in the 19th century as a fishing port, including for herring and mackerel. Significantly, the town is twinned with Fáskrúðsfjörður, Iceland, as a tribute to former fishing links.

October 3, 2012


(1) This is a Dutch place-name; reflecting the language formerly spoken locally, centuries ago.

(2) This was following the provisions of the Treaty of the Pyrenees (French: Traité des Pyrenées ).

(3) Vauban, Marquis of (Sébastien Le Prestre ,1633-1707) was responsible for many fortifications under the reign of French King Louis XIV. Created a Marshal of France, he is attributed very significant influence in making France powerful under the Ancien régime (i.e., prior to the French Revolution).

Also worth seeing

In Gravelines itself, visitor attractions include its belfry, dating from 1827, and its Classical-style Town Hall (French: Hôtel de ville ).

Dunkirk (French: Dunkerque ; distance: 26 kilometres); among other sights, its belfries, Leughenaer Tower, and St Eloi church are worth visiting.


How to get there: The nearest large international airport to Gravelines is Belgium's Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), where car rental is available (distance between Brussels Airport and Gravelines : 191 kilometres); distance between Paris-Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport and Gravelines : 282 kilometres) Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please 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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Comments 2 comments

Funom Makama 3 profile image

Funom Makama 3 4 years ago from Europe

Thanks for the share... France has always been my No.1 Place to visit in the world.

MJFenn profile image

MJFenn 4 years ago Author

Funom Makama3: Yes, Gravelines is in the very interesting, northern corner of France. Thank-you for your comment.

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