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 ...
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

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

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.