Pas de Calais

The route of the Via Francigena is not well-defined in Pas de Calais, but runs for 215km across mainly level plains. If you travel via the channel tunnel, you arrive in Coquelles, not Calais, the largest town of the region. The port of Calais is the major arrival point for ferries, and the White Cliffs of Dover can be seen from the harbour. The area is part of the Pas de Calais department, which has its capital at Arras.

Pas de Calais is also the French name for the English Channel. Facing the channel is the Opal coast, which has 120km of beaches and dunes as well as the famous cliffs, which form both sides of the channel. The geography of northern France is mostly flat, which enabled easy invasion in time of war. The invaders nowadays arrive via the Channel Tunnel from the UK, and come to enjoy both the beaches and the gastronomy and wines of France. In the other direction, immigrants from all over the middle east and north Africa aim to slip into Britain via the tunnel or the ferries. Traditionally, Pas de Calais was important for coal mining – it still has a dense population but the mining areas are now devoted to industry or in decay.

History of Pas de Calais

This area of Northern France formed part of the Roman Empire, but was garrisoned by German tribes who acted as auxiliary troops. So until the 8th Century, when the Empire of Charlemagne was established, the local languages were a mixture of Latin and Germanic languages. Later, the area was disputed by the English, who held Calais for many years, the Austro-Hungarian and Spanish empires and the Dutch. Due to its rolling farmland, supporting sheep, it was a prosperous hub of the hand-weaving trade, famous for tapestries and woollen cloth.

By the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713 the border was fixed and Pas de Calais continued to be active in trade and added industry to traditional crafts. The area around Lille became both a transport hub and home to a textile industry powered by coal. In the First World War Pas de Calais was a scene of trench warfare causing great carnage; this invasion was repeated during the second world war when the Germans outflanked the Maginot line by invading France via Belgium. Much of the town of Calais and surrounding area was flattened in May 1940 during the Dunkirk action.

Since the 1970’s coal mines have closed and unemployment risen, although new industries have partly replaced the old.

Interesting Places in Pas de Calais

Calais

The old city of Calais is to the north, on an artificial island, and is surrounded by harbours and canals. It still has standing walls, a fortified watch tower, the Tour du Guet, and an English-Gothic church of Notre Dame, built when Calais was occupied by the British.


Gris Nez and Blanc Nez

The capes are designated a Grand Site National for their landscape value; the park continues inland as far as St Omer. The cliffs are the most spectacular feature, but the beaches are also well-visited.
Lesdeuxcaps.fr


Abbey church at Licques

The route runs close to this village with a spectacular tall church which was once part of an 11th C Abbey


Tournehem sur la Hem

A pretty village, once walled, with a dilapidated mill and interesting church.


Chateau de Liettres

The chateau is mentioned in 1479 as being built by Simon de Luxembourg. With round towers at the corners and a moat, it was built for defence. The interior is not open.


Abbaye de Wisques

The route passes the Abbaye de Wisques, a manor-like building set in forested grounds – this is official pilgrim accommodation.

Abbaye-saint-paul-wisques.com


La Coupole

A domed V2 rocket bunker used by the Germans to bomb London during the 2nd world war. It is now a museum and planetarium.

Lacoupole-france.co.uk


Arras

The town of Arras includes the World Heritage town hall and belfry, and a Gothic abbey and cathedral. Tall, Flemish-style town houses grace the square and riverside. During most of the 1st World War, Arras was only 10km from the front line, and the town hall and cathedral were both destroyed. There is still a maze of tunnels, the Boves, under the town, where treasures were hidden during the wars.

Explorearras.com


Chateau d’Olhain

A medieval moated chateau of the 13th and 15th centuries, situated close to Arras, at the heart of l’Artois. The castle is of a classic plan – in two sections linked by a causeway – a baily and a lower court. The round towers of the baily with conical roofs are reflected in the water of the moat. The site is open to the public and a registered national monument.

Chateau-olhain.com


Bapaume

The small town was mainly destroyed during the first world war – the town hall was reconstructed and the town is surrounded by war memorials and cemeteries.

                        


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