Visiting Malo-les-Bains, Dunkirk, France and its ornate, former Town Hall: shifting municipal identities
Neo-Flemish style, dating from 1899/1903
When visiting Malo-les-Bains in northern France, the visitor may come across a prominent-looking edifice which suggests itself as the local administrative centre. This must be the town hall! the observer may muse.
Well, it isn't.
It used to be the town hall (French: marie), however. Today, the term mairie-annexe has to suffice. Because in 1970 Malo-les-Bains ceased to be an independent municipality and was absorbed by the city of Dunkirk (French: Dunkerque).
So what to do with the former municipality's fine, former town hall? Well, it was still to be used for local administrative purposes, but under a different label.
Thus it was that, when I first recall passing this building in Malo-les-Bains, I remember thinking that it looks ornately upscale enough to be a town hall...and yet to its immediate environment there seemed to be the absence of life and bustle that one associates with town halls in France.
Unlike in various English-speaking countries, France's political system has traditionally revolved around people as much as around parties. Thus it is that a prominent French politician might well serve over the years in various ministries in the national government, but have his or her political base for decades as a particular town's mayor. Added to the fact the government ministers cannot be members of the National Assembly (French: Assemblée nationale), a particular town hall — sometimes quite splendid in its appearance — can often take on the aura of being more or less coterminous with the career of a prominent, household name in French public life.
The substantial and ornate town hall at Malo-les-Bains would also look as if would qualify as an ideal-looking base for a nationally-aspiring leader: but alas this is not now likely to be case, because its forme function has now been subordinated to the town hall of Dunkirk (itself a striking building with a conspicuous belfry).
Executed in Neo-Flemish style in a combination of red brick and white stone, the former town hall at Malo-les-Bains was built between 1899 and 1903 (1). Careful examination of some of the photos of the building (right) will show the former municipality's arms depicted on the gables, complemented by Syrian arches; this styloe of arching is a recurring feature of the building.
A bust of the former municipality's founder Gaspard Malo, which stands in the main courtyard of the building, dates from 1966; interestingly it was erected in its present position in 1971, that is, after the incorporation of Malo-les-Bains into Dunkirk.
October 11, 2013
Also worth seeing
In Dunkirk itself, other significant structures include a belfry at the City Hall, a 15th century belfry, the Leughenaer Tower and a statue of former pirate Jean Bart.
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.