Top Historic Sights in Calais, France

Explore the historic highlights of Calais

The Burghers of Calais

Les Bourgeois de Calais is one of the most famous sculptures by Auguste Rodin, completed in 1889. It serves as a monument to an occurrence in 1347 during the Hundred Years" War, when Calais, an important French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for over a year. Calais commissioned Rodin to create the sculpture in 1884. The City of Calais had attempted to erect a statue of Eustache de Saint ...
Founded: 1889 | Location: Calais, France

Calais Town Hall

One of Calais’ finest landmarks is the Town Hall (1911-25) whose clock towering belfry can be seen for miles around. This magnificent neo-Flemish-style structure built of brick and stone was finally completed in 1925 after being interrupted by The Great War. Its purpose was to commemorate the merging of the cities of Calais and Saint Pierre in 1885 on a piece of barren land between the two towns. Today it dominates the ...
Founded: 1911-1925 | Location: Calais, France

Tour du Guet

The Tour du Guet is a 13th-century watchtower. It is 39 metres high and features a dovecote for carrier pigeons. The tower dates from 1214, when Philip I, Count of Boulogne built fortifications in the town. Damaged by a 1580 earthquake, it was used as alighthouse until 1848, when it became a watch tower. During World War I, it served as a military post.
Founded: 1214 | Location: Calais, France

Église Notre-Dame

Église Notre-Dame ('The Church of Our Lady') dates from the 12th century, and chiefly from the 14th century. It is a sample of Tudor architecture due Calais was part of England for centuries. The church was damaged during the early wars between France and England, especially in 1346-47, after the Battle of Crécy. Many of the kings and queens of France and England prayed here; and John Bourchier, 2n ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Calais, France

Calais Lighthouse

Calais Lighthouse is a significant landmark as well as a navigational aid to ships and ferries using the Straits of Dover. There was a beacon at the summit of the watchtower from 1818. King Louis-Philippe in his plans to improve French ports decided the construction of a first-class lighthouse in Calais. This lighthouse started operating in 1848 and was electrified in 1883. After escaping the destruction of the Second Wor ...
Founded: 1848 | Location: Calais, France

Fort Risban

The existence of the Fort Risban was first mentioned when it was besieged by the English in November 1346. Edward III of England"s troops, finding the defences of Calais impenetrable, decided to erect a small fort to prevent any supplies reaching the town by sea, with a view to starving the inhabitants into submission. Under the English occupation the wooden tower was replaced by a stone structure, the Stone Tower, a ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Calais, France

Calais Citadel

The Citadel of Calais was built between 1560 and 1571 on the site of a former medieval castle which was built in 1229 by Philippe de Hureprel. Its purpose of its construction was to fend off would-be invaders, but it wasn"t long until the city was successfully invaded by Archduke Albert of Austria on 24 April 1596. Both Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu at one time considered expanding the citadel and Calais into a g ...
Founded: 1560-1571 | Location: Calais, France

Battery Oldenburg

Battery Oldenburg is a German artillery battery, built during World War II as part of the Atlantic Wall, and situated east of Calais. The battery began in 1940 with artillery guns in an open emplacement. The Organisation Todt built casemates around two 240mm guns during the war. Both casemates or Turms (towers) are 35 meters long and 15 meters high, positioned in a slight offset from each other to gain a broader ra ...
Founded: 1940 | Location: Calais, France

Fort Nieulay

Fort Nieulay, located along the Avenue Pierre Coubertin, was originally dated to the 12th or 13th century. During the English invasion in 1346, sluices gates were added as water defences and a fort was built up around it in 1525 on the principle that the people of the fort could defend the town by flooding it. In April and May 1677, Louis XIV and Vauban visited Calais and ordered a complete rebuilding of Fort Nieulay. It ...
Founded: 1677-1679 | Location: Calais, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.

The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.

Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.

In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.