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Visiting Dunkirk, France: city of magnificent Flemish belfries

Updated on August 23, 2011
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Belfry, Dunkirk
Belfry, Dunkirk | Source
City Hall of Dunkirk
City Hall of Dunkirk | Source
Map location of Dunkirk
Map location of Dunkirk | Source

French and Flemish in character

The city of Dunkirk (French: Dunkerque ; Dutch: Duinkerken) has not one magnificent belfry, but two.

Medieval belfry

Its freestanding belfry, built in Gothic style circa 1440, has a height of 58 metres. After World War One, the base area of the belfry was modified to incorporate a war memorial. For centuries it has thus stood as an imposing landmark in the area.

Interestingly, until the 18th century, the belfry was attached to the nearby church of St. Eloi. Being a noted tradition in Flanders, a carillon consisting of 48 bells was installed in 1962 and continues to function.

City Hall belfry

The belfy attached to the City Hall forms part of an impressive frontage. For some reason, the City Hall and belfry impressed me even more than the freestanding Medieval tower, described above. I later learned with interest that its architect, Louis-Marie Cordonnier , who completed the belfry's design in 1895 also designed the Basilica at Lisieux and the Peace Palace at The Hague.

After World War Two, when the building suffered damage, Dunkirk's City Hall underwent work by Louis-Stanislas Cordonnier , son of the original designer, who was also an architect.

A 17th century gate exists as part of the City Hall complex.

Noted people associated with Dunkirk

These include:

Jan Bart (1650-1702), a Dutch-speaking privateer based in Dunkirk, was the scourge of shipping not allied to Louis XIV. A monument to his memory may be seen in St. Eloi church, and a statue of him stands near the same church.

Michiel de Swaen (1654-1707), a Dutch language writer, who is maybe more widely known in the Belgian region of Flanders than in France.

Michel Delebarre (1946-), long serving Mayor of Dunkirk and prominent minister under the French Presidency of François Mitterrand.

Also worth seeing

In Dunkirk itself, in addition to the 16th century St. Eloi church (mentioned above) with the adjacent statue of Jan Bart (or Jean Bart), the Leughenaer (Dutch: liar) tower dates from the 15th century, but was later rebuilt. The city's Port Museum (Musée portuaire ) and Fine Art Museum (Musée des beaux-arts ) are culturally significant in the region and beyond. The Princess Elizabeth paddle-steamer, requisitioned for the evacuation of troops of the retreating British Expeditionary Force in 1940, is anchored at Dunkirk and is regularly hired out for events.

Bergues (distance: 9.4 kilometres) is a fortified town with a noted belfry.

Calais (distance: 44 kilometres) has a noted Flemish-style City Hall and belfry, a 15th century Perpendicular church and a Medieval tower.

Esquelbecq (distance: 19 kilometres) has a castle, Medieval in origin, restored in the 17th century.

Bray-Dunes (distance: 13 kilometres) is France's northernmost town. A resort on the North Sea (mer du Nord ), it has associations with a former Icelandic fishing fleet.

Adinkerke , Belgium (distance: 20 kilometres); the tower of its Adomaruskerk dates partly from the 12th century; its ornate railroad station also serves the neighbouring Belgian resort of De Panne.The nearby nature reserve De Westhoek lies adjacent to the Franco-Belgian border.


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 (distance between Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and Dunkirk: 273 kilometres). But the nearest large international airport is Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), where car rental is available (distance between Brussels Airport and Dunkirk: 168 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. 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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