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Visiting the Old Town of Calais, France: memories and architecture from centuries past

Updated on March 8, 2016
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
The 'Tour du Guet' dates at least from 1302
The 'Tour du Guet' dates at least from 1302 | Source
Notre Dame Church in the Old Town: an example of the English Tudor style in France. Calais was an English possession prior to 1558
Notre Dame Church in the Old Town: an example of the English Tudor style in France. Calais was an English possession prior to 1558 | Source
Map location of Calais
Map location of Calais | Source

For centuries an English town

There being so much of historical and cultural interest in Calais, this article does not attempt to be comprehensive. The Old Town alone of Calais, despite having suffered much war damage of the years, has retained a centuries' old architectural heritage which can be appreciated by the discerning visitor. It is situated on an artificial island.

Calais is also a major port and ferry terminus linking the town with Dover, England.

The Tour du Guet

The Medieval Tour du Guet, records of which date back at least as far as 1302, can still be seen from a distance out at sea, and is 39 metres high. Some sources suggest that it has its origins as one of a series of towers built by Charlemagne in the 9th century.

During part of the 19th century, the tower served as a lighthouse. This tower is the major landmark in the Place d'Armes area.

The years following 1347

In 1347, Calais was captured by English forces. Its possession by England was confirmed by the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360.

Calais remained English until 1558, even being represented in the English Parliament.

Notre Dame Church

Architectural evidence of these centuries of English presence in Calais may be observed. Dating from the English period the Notre Dame Church in the Old Town is an example of English Tudor architecture in France!

A more modern historical note in relation to the Notre Dame Church in Calais Old Town is the fact that in 1921 Mademoiselle Yvonne Vendroux was married there, and would later become France's first lady. Her husband: a young officer called Charles de Gaulle, later President of France, the culmination of a long and tumultuous army career as a General. Her brother Jacques Vendroux was Mayor of Calais 1959-1969.

Also worth seeing

Town Hall, Calais (distance: 1.1 kilometres from the place d'Armes ), with its noted Flemish-style belfry; and sculpture by Rodin of the Burghers of Calais (Les bourgeois de Calais).

The lacemaking centre on quai du Commerce (distance: 2 kilometres from the place d'Armes ) testifies to the long existence this significant industry associated with Calais.

Cap Blanc-Nez (distance: Gris-Nez (distance: 31 kilometres) and nearby Cap Blanc-Nez are major landmarks and picturesque cliff areas along the Côte d’Opale (Opal Coast).

Renescure (distance: 53 kilometres) has a Medieval castle, associated with the chronicler Philippe de Commynes , which has been converted into the town hall.


How to get there: United 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.

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


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