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Visiting Bergues, France: with town walls fortified by Vauban and preserved gates

Updated on February 25, 2013
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Porte de Dunkerque, Bergues
Porte de Dunkerque, Bergues | Source
Ramparts, Bergues
Ramparts, Bergues | Source
Map location of Bergues in Dunkirk (Dunkerque) 'arrondissement'
Map location of Bergues in Dunkirk (Dunkerque) 'arrondissement' | Source

Recalling past, military campaigns

This town in northern France was fortified by distinguished military engineer Vauban (1), responsible for many, similar fortifications also, particularly on France's borderlands. In France, republicans speak of the natural frontiers of the Hexagon (French: l'Hexagone), but, some centuries back, the borders of France were far from obvious or natural. Realities on the ground were basically created militarily and by the periodic treaties which ensued. Flanders — in its broader definition — was for many years a scene of conflict.

Thus, Bergues is a town which became part of France in 1668, following successful French military activity. To defend it, massive fortifications were put in place by Louis XIV's celebrated military engineer, although the town — already a prosperous port in the Middle Ages under the Hanseatic League — had previously been fortified under Spanish rule.

The fortifications have largely survived, and their thick walls are punctuated by a number of town gates: the Dunkirk Gate (French: Porte de Dunkerque), the Cassel Gate (French: Porte de Cassel), the Bierne Gate (French: Porte de Bierne) and the Hondschoote Gate (French: Porte d'Hondschoote).

Bergues is located in an area of northern France, not far from the Belgian border, which is known as Blootland, a Dutch word referring to the Flemish maritime plain. In the Middle Ages, sea-going ships were received at the town. Today, Bergues is situated administratively in the Dunkirk arrondissement of France's Nord department.

I walked out to Bergues from Dunkirk, although I would probably not advise this unless the visitor had plenty of time both to cover the distance, and to do justice to the town's noted visitor attractions.

February 25, 2013


(1) Sébastien Le Prestre, Marquis of Vauban ( 1633-1707) gave distinguished service to French King Louis XIV in the design of many military defensive structures.

Also worth seeing

In Bergues itself, its belfry and Town Hall are striking structures, as are also the church of St. Martin, and the remains of St. Winoc's Abbey (the full name of the town is sometimes given as Bergues-Saint-Winoc; Dutch: Sint-Winoksbergen — the area was formerly Dutch-speaking, and a few local people in this area of France still have a knowledge of Dutch).

Dunkirk (distance: 9.3 kilometres) has a number of noted buildings, including some impressive belfries, an old tower called the Leughenaer and the church of St. Eloi.


How to get there: United Airlines flies to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, where car rental is available, and the French SNCF railroad company maintains a service from Paris to Bergues (distance between Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and Bergues: 262 kilometres). But the nearest large international airport is Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National), where car rental is available (distance between Brussels Airport and Bergues: 173 kilometres). Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Reference to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities is also advisable.

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


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