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Visiting Calais, France and its lighthouse: gracious structure dating from 1848

Updated on December 16, 2011
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
The Calais lighthouse, reflecting the sunset.
The Calais lighthouse, reflecting the sunset. | Source
Calais Nord 'la Matelote'.
Calais Nord 'la Matelote'. | Source
Map location of Calais
Map location of Calais | Source

Replacing a Medieval tower used previously as a lighthouse

As lighthouses go, this structure is gracious in style — almost ornate. This possibly befits the fact that its date of construction was 1848.

Calais has long been a leading port of France, and the need for a permanent light to protect and guide shipping was a historical priority. On completion, the lighthouse replaced the Medieval Guet tower (French: Tour du Guet ).

The structure was planned from 1825, when Architect Rossel drew up a design for a lighthouse. The building is mainly executed in brick. Well before the end of the 19th century, the lighthouse had been electrified.

Its tower has 271 steps. Its tower is 55 metres tall.

Some of the fiercest fighting between Nazi German invaders and Allied forces occured in the Calais area. But despite widespread destruction sustained in Calais, liberated by Canadian forces in 1944, the Calais lighthouse successfully avoided this fate. However, its light was damaged, and from 1944 to 1948 a provisional beacon was employed.

It was automated in 1992.

The lighthouse has been recently classified in France as a historic monument.

It is significant also to remember that Calais is France's biggest seaport by number of its travellers. Having myself sailed to and from Calais many times, I, along with numerous travellers, can remember the almost sedate presence of the tower in Calais as a perennial fixture. In particular, at night, its light — quite apart from its navigational use — can give the voyager yet in mid-Channel a sense of curious expectancy.

Metaphorically, also, given than on a clear day the French coastline around Calais may be seen from the English coastline around Dover and vice-versa, the lighthouse at Calais may even be said to occupy the place of somewhat of a reminder of the neighbouring regions' common, maritime environment. This is so, particularly given the often divergent historical, linguistic and cultural differences which are widely understood to exist between France and England. This symbolism may be said to be especially acute from both historical and maritime perspectives (until the 16th century, Calais belonged to England).

Interestingly, what in England are called the Straits of Dover are often referred to in French as le Détroit du Pas-de-Calais. The alert reader will maybe notice that the linguistic use of the word détroit for 'straits', is where the name of the famous, riverside city of Michigan, USA, is derived, since French explorers and voyageurs were among the early Europeans to discover what is now the American Mid-West.

Also worth seeing

In Calais itself, the Tour du Guet , the Perpendicular Notre Dame church and the Town Hall, with its belfry and its Burghers of Calais monument, are among the various visitor attractions.

Boulogne-sur-Mer (distance: 34 kilometres); among its visitor attractions are its enormous, domed Cathedral.


How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Calais: 267 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains a service between Paris (Gare du Nord ) and Calais. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.You are advised to consult with appropriate consular sources regarding border crossing visa requirements for citizens of certain nationalities.

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


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