Culture at the Crossroads in Pas-de-Calais
Situated just 26 miles from Dover, the Côte d’Opale coastline from Dunkerque to Calais and Boulogne has played host to many different cultures over the centuries, including several would-be conquerors.
On the one hand, Julius Caesar chose what is today the seaside resort of Ambleteuse to dock his armada while preparing his English conquest, and centuries later, Napoleon set up camp between Blériot and Boulogne harbouring the same intentions. On the other, the British did their share of invading Pas-de-Calais as well, and succeeded in keeping the territory for a hundred years. The battle of Agincourt, celebrated by Shakespeare’sHenry V took place in the village of Azincourt near Hesdin and the sumptuous feasts and displays of force between Henry VIII and François I took place at the Field of the Cloth of Gold outside of Calais, between Guines and Ardres.
Charles V of Spain also made towns such as Arras and Hesdin Spanish for a spell, while St. Omer and parts of the Nord were Flemish during the 17th -century reign of the Sun King Louis XIV.
The more recent history of World Wars I and II placed Pas-de-Calais at the heart of the conflicts as the Germans built a wall of bunkers along the coast and began to introduce the terrifying flying bombs V1 and V2. The local paper La Voix du Nord (the Voice of the North) was initially published by the French résistance which was particularly strong here.
It is no surprise, then, that local architecture reflects a mixture of styles from Anglo Norman in the coastal resorts, to Art Deco and Flemish-style architecture in the cities, as well as some exciting post WWII constructions. A wealth of museums, visitor centers and guided tours reveal this heritage to visitors in search of cultural inspiration.
Relive the Hundred Years War at the Center of Medieval History in Azincourt and the Musée de la Tour de l’Horloge in Guînes, or evoke the spirit of WWI in Arras, whose 10th-century underground galleries – which now hold the Wellington Quarry museum – were headquarters to 10,000 British soldiers. Gaze in awe at Saint Omer’s “Notre Dame” cathedral or marvel at the extraordinary baroque architecture of Béthune. And Boulogne-sur-Mer is not only a popular shopping destination, but also big favorite with art and history lovers.