Visiting Jean Bart Square, Dunkirk, France: Remembering a Famous Pirate
Pirate, or admiral? or both?
Jean Bart (1650-1702) was a pirate. Jean Bart Square (French: Place Jean Bart ), in Dunkirk (French: Dunkerque ) is named for him; indeed, this accomplished pirate is regarded as being among the city's greatest heroes.
The fact that his many acts of piracy were committed for the benefit of the King of France made them 'official', more or less. They were certainly in keeping with the traditions of the day: Bart is also referred to as an admiral. Pirating thrived, in fact, in the Dunkirk area (1).
Bart saw action on numerous occasions, both off Dunkirk (where he famously broke a blocade), in the nearby English Channel (French: la Manche ) and further afield in the Mediterranean (2). Bart and his men are known to have captured at least 386 ships; this figure is dwarfed by the number of those which he destroyed.
Bart died in 1702, and was given a honoured burial at St Eloi church, close to the Square. His marble tombstone, ornately inscribed, may still be viewed today.
Many ships have been named for Bart, as have also a local school in Dunkirk and companies of sea scouts.
A number of interesting facts emerge about Jean Bart. This was not his real name, or, at least, it is not how it was originally spelt. The name he was given at birth was Jan Baert. He was, in fact, a Fleming (his native Dunkirk did not become a French city until 1662).
In addition, leaving aside his service as a privateer for King Louis XIV, Bart is reputed not to have been able to speak French, either.
The statue of Jean Bart in the Dunkirk Square named for him was sculpted by David d'Angers (1788-1856)(3); this work was unveiled at a special ceremony in 1845, for which a cantata was composed, still sung annually at the Square.
(1) By way of extension, a local tower, known as the 'Leughenaer' — old Dutch for 'liar' — would lure ships to run aground for the benefit of plunderers.
(2) Indeed, piracy survived in the Mediterranean into the 19th century, and it was the concerns which this raised that proved to be the substantial reason for the establishment of the United States Navy as a permanent force.
(3) David d'Angers was a prolific sculptor, heavily influenced by Michelangelo and Raphael; among his many works is included the ornate pediment of the Panthéon , Paris, and work on the Arc de triomphe du Carrousel , Paris.
Also worth seeing
In Dunkirk itself, other significant structures include a belfry at the City Hall and a 15th century belfry.
Bergues (distance: 9.3 kilometres) a fortified town, which has an impressive belfry.
How to get there: The nearest large international airport to Dunkirk is Belgium's Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), where car rental is available (distance between Brussels Airport and Dunkirk: 168 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.