Things to Do in Nord-Pas de Calais - page 2
Located on the Cote d’Opale on the English Channel, the city of Boulogne-sur-Mer is the second most-visited destination in Nord Pas-de-Calais and France’s largest fishing port. While there’s plenty to see wandering the streets of this thriving community, Boulogne is home to some impressive sights that definitely make it worth the trip.
The 12th century belfry is an architectural and historic landmark and one of the few buildings to have gained World Heritage Site recognition. Visitors can venture inside and check out the museum which houses Celtic remains from when the Romans occupied the area. Medieval walls, complete with four gates and 17 towers line much of the town and what remains of Boulogne’s medieval castle houses a vast collection of Egyptian art. One of the city highlights is a trip to the French National Sea Centre, which explores the relationship between humans and the oceans, as well as the history of fishing—an industry that has kept Boulogne-sur-Mer alive and thriving.
As a farming village located 8 miles north of Arras in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Ablain-Saint-Nazaire was almost completely destroyed during World War I. But the horrors of the war did not spare this tranquil village; one of the most striking monuments to have fallen under gunfire (with front lines only two kilometers away) was the Ablain-Saint-Nazaire Church, a 16th-century flamboyant Gothic masterpiece built upon the request of local lord Charles de Bourbon-Carency to honor Saint Nazarius and the role he played in the healing of the lord’s sick daughter.
The Ancient Monuments Commission of France listed the church in 1908, right before the war started, while the same committee opted against rebuilding the magnificent church 10 years later. The committee wanted to preserve the poignant ruins as a testament to the German brutality and ruthlessness — a bone-chilling sight scarred by the war, and where time seems to have stood still for the past century. Shell holes are still visible today on most stones that make up these roofless yet utterly fascinating ruins. A new church was later built on the other side of town, which fortunately, still stands today.
The town of Calais is more of a throughway than a destination. That’s because each year some 15 million people pass by this quiet nook en route to Dover, but very few actually stop. Still, seasoned travelers say this major ferry port, which is also the largest city in Pas-de-Calais, has a few hidden gems that make it worth overnighting.
The World War II museum on Part St Pierre is housed inside a former Nazi military bunker and the museum’s 20 rooms are filled with photographs and artifacts that help make history come alive. The Citadel on Avenue Roger Salengro, once housed a medieval castle, but today travelers can venture to this spot for epic views of the White Cliffs of Dover. And the pre-war Watch Tower, which dates back to the early 1900s, is one of the most historic monuments in the town of Calais.
Also known as Helen’s Tower, Ulster Tower is a memorial dedicated to the Irishmen who lost their lives on the Somme battlefields in France in World War I. Built in 1921 thanks to funds collected by public subscription, Ulster Tower is an exact replica of the famous white-washed, 70 feet (21 metres) high stone memorial on the 36th Division's training ground in Belfast, where many soldiers of the Ulster Division trained before moving to France in order to attack a German strongpoint named Schwaben Redoubt, just a little further north-east of where Ulster Tower stands today. The battle site was a triangle of trenches of 500–600 yards (460–550 meters) long and 200 yards (180 meters) wide; the Ulster men captured the redoubt on July 1, 1916, suffering casualties of roughly 5,000.
Designed in neo-Gothic style, the memorial site features a plaque commemorating the names of the men who won the Victoria Cross during the Somme battles. Ulster Tower contains a small memorial room, with plaques of remembrance from regiments and public authorities in Northern Ireland as well as a Book of Remembrance for visitors to sign. A visitor center opened next to the Tower in the 1990s, providing insightful and contextual information to World War I buffs.The inscription on the memorial reads: "This Memorial is Dedicated to the Men and Women of the Orange Institution Worldwide, who at the call of King and country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of man by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in Freedom. Let those who come after see to it that their names be not forgotten."
Just outside the Belgian border with France stands a First World War cemetery built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission containing the graves of 250 British and Australian soldiers who died on July 19, 1916, in the Battle of Fromelles - a diversionary battle, which only occured in order to draw the attention of the Germans away from the larger attacks elsewhere in Somme. It involved units of the Australian 5th Division and the British 61st Division, but alas, the Germans were well-prepared and the British Empire troops suffered great losses.
Dating back from just 2009, Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery was the first new Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery to be built in commemoration of World War I in over 50 years; the last such cemeteries having mostly been in remembrance of the Second World War. The reason for this somewhat unusual delay is that analysis of historical aerial photographs showed the presence of mass graves on the edge of Pheasant Wood, which were confirmed after excavation works in 2008. Over 250 British and Australian bodies from five mass graves and some 6,200 individual artifacts have since been successfully identified using DNA analysis.
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