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A general view from the Brecquerecque Quarter: The lighthouse, the bell tower and the English Channel
A general view from the Brecquerecque Quarter: The lighthouse, the bell tower and the English Channel
Coat of arms of Boulogne-sur-Mer
Coat of arms
Boulogne-sur-Mer is located in France
Country France
Region Nord-Pas-de-Calais
Department Pas-de-Calais
 • Mayor (2014–2020) Frédéric Cuvillier (PS)
Area1 8.42 km2 (3.25 sq mi)
Population (2012)2 42,785
 • Rank 2nd in the department, 7th in the region and 59th in France
 • Density 5,100/km2 (13,000/sq mi)
 • Metro (2010) 133,109
INSEE/Postal code 62160 / 62200
Elevation 0–110 m (0–361 ft)

1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km² (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.

2 Population without double counting: residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) only counted once.

Boulogne-sur-Mer (French pronunciation: , Latin: Gesoriacum or Bononia, Dutch: Bonen) is a city in Northern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department of Pas-de-Calais. Boulogne lies on the Côte d'Opale, a tourist coast on the English Channel, and is the most-visited location in its region after the Lille conurbation.[1] Boulogne is its department's second-largest city after Calais,[2] and the 59th largest in France.[3] It is also the country's largest fishing port, specialising in herring.[4]

Boulogne was the major Roman port for trade and communication with Britain. After a period of Germanic presence following the collapse of the Empire, Boulogne was at the centre of an eponymous county of the Kingdom of France during the Middle Ages, and was occupied by the Kingdom of England numerous times due to conflict between the two nations.

The city's 12th-century belfry is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site,[5] while another popular attraction is the marine conservation centre, Nausicaa.


  • Name 1
  • History 2
    • Origin of the city 2.1
    • Middle Ages 2.2
    • The Napoleonic period 2.3
    • The two world wars 2.4
  • Sights 3
  • Economy 4
  • Media 5
  • Events 6
  • Administration 7
  • Population 8
  • Transport 9
    • Road 9.1
    • Rail 9.2
    • Water 9.3
  • Education 10
    • University 10.1
    • Public primary and secondary 10.2
    • Private primary and secondary 10.3
  • Health 11
  • Sports 12
  • Culture 13
    • Food 13.1
  • Notable people 14
    • Born in Boulogne 14.1
    • Others associated with Boulogne 14.2
  • International relations 15
    • Twin towns — Sister cities 15.1
  • See also 16
  • References 17
  • Further reading 18
  • External links 19


The French name Boulogne derives from the Latin Bononia, which was also the Roman name for Bologna in Italy. Both places—and Vindobona (Vienna)—are thought to have derived from native Celtic placenames, with bona possibly meaning "foundation", "citadel", or "granary". The French epithet sur-Mer ("on-the-sea") distinguishes the city from Boulogne-Billancourt in Paris, the county of Boulogne, and other places.


Origin of the city

The foundation of the city known to the Romans as Gesoriacum is credited to the Celtic Boii. In the past, it was sometimes conflated with Caesar's Portus Itius, but that is now thought to have been a site near Calais which has since silted up. From the time of Claudius's invasion in AD 43, Gesoriacum formed the major port connecting the rest of the empire to Britain. It was the chief base of the Roman navy's Britannic fleet until the rebellion of its admiral Carausius in 286. As part of the imperial response, the junior emperor Constantius Chlorus successfully besieged it by land and sea in 293.[6] The name of the settlement was changed to Bononia at some point between the sack of Gesoriacum and 310, possibly as a consequence of its refounding or possibly by the replacement of the sacked and lower-lying city by another nearby community.[7]

The city was an important town of the Morini, and Zosimus called it Germanorum ("Germanic-speaking") at the end of the 4th century.[8]

Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages Boulogne was the capital of an eponymous county, founded in the mid-9th century. An important Count, Eustace II, assisted William the Conqueror in his conquest of England. His wife founded the city's Notre Dame cathedral, which became a site of pilgrimage from the 12th century onwards, attended by fourteen French kings and five of England. It was an important whaling center prior to 1121.[9] The city survived on herring fishing and received its municipal charter from Count Renaud of Dammartin in 1203.[6]

The area was fought over by the French and the English, including several English occupations during the course of the Hundred Years War. Boulogne was again occupied by the English from 1544 to 1550. In 1550, The Peace of Boulogne ended the war of England with Scotland and France. France bought back Boulogne for 400,000 crowns. A culture of smuggling was present in the city until 1659, when French gains in Flanders from the Treaty of the Pyrenees moved the border northwards.

The Napoleonic period

The Column of the Grande Armée commemorates Napoleon's gathering of 200,000 soldiers near Boulogne for a proposed invasion of England

Boulogne received its current status as a

Boulogne-born footballer Franck Ribéry.

Born in Boulogne

Notable people

As an international maritime port on the English Channel (La Manche), the town of Boulogne-sur-Mer has European and American influences in local cuisine. They include:


  • The Château de Boulogne-sur-Mer (now a castle museum) of Boulogne, in the fortified town, houses the most important exhibition of masks from Alaska in the world, the second largest collection of Greek ceramics in France (after the Louvre), collections of Roman and medieval sculptures, paintings (15th-20th century), an Egyptian collection, African Arts etc. As these collections are exhibited in a medieval castle, one can also discover the Roman walls (in the underground) as well as rooms built in the 13th century (La Barbière, banqueting hall, chapel, covered parapet walk...)
  • La Casa San Martin is currently a museum where José de San Martín the leader of independence struggle in Argentina (also Chile and Peru) died in 1850, from 1930 to 1967 this house was the consulate of Argentina in France. There is a statue dedicated to his colleague Simón Bolívar, other liberator of South America in the revolutions against Spanish colonial rule in the 1810s. Bolivar planned to head in exile to this very part of France before his death in 1830. Historic emigration in the 19th century from the Nord-Pas de Calais region to Argentina and Chile can explain some cultural ties with South America of the Boulognais and Latino/Ibero-American culture.
  • Nausicaä, the French national sealife centre.


Basketball teams in Boulogne include Stade Olympique Maritime Boulonnais and ESSM of Pro B (second-tier men's professional basketball league in France).

Boulogne's football club, US Boulogne Côte d'Opale (US refers to Union Sportive), is one of the oldest in France due to the city's proximity to England, founded in 1898. The club currently play in the third tier, the Championnat National, and host home matches at the 14,500-capacity Stade de la Libération.[14] Boulogne native and FIFA World Cup finalist Franck Ribéry began his career at the club.[15]

US Boulogne play their home football matches at the 14,500-seat Stade de la Libération.


Two health centres are located in Boulogne, the public Hospital Duchenne and the private Clinique de la côte d'opale.


  • High schools: Lycée Nazareth, Haffreingue, Saint-Joseph
  • College: College Godefroy de Bouillon, Haffreingue, Nazareth, Saint-Joseph

Private primary and secondary

  • High schools : Lycée Auguste Mariette, Edouard Branly, Cazin (professional).
  • College : College Langevin, Angelier, Daunou.

Public primary and secondary


The Saint-Louis building of the University of the Côte d'Opale's Boulogne campus opened its doors in 1991, on the site of the former St. Louis Hospital, the front entrance to which remains a predominant architectural feature. Its 6 major specialisms are Modern Languages, French Literature, Sport, Law, History and Economics. The university is situated in the town centre, about 5 minutes from the Boulogne Tintelleries railway station.

Boulogne-sur-Mer hosts one of the oldest Universités de l'été - summer courses in French language and culture.


  • Boulogne currently has no cross channel ferry services since the closure of the route to Dover by LD Lines.



  • Metropolitan bus services are operated by Marinéo
  • Coach services to Calais and Dunkerque
  • A16 motorway
  • Megabus operate coach services to Paris and Brussels and across the Channel to London and beyond.[13]




List of Mayors
Duration Name Party Particularities
2014–2020 Frédéric Cuvillier PS Deputy, Minister
2012-2014 Mireille Hingrez-Céréda PS  
2004–2012 Frédéric Cuvillier PS Deputy, Minister
1996–2004 Guy Lengagne PS Deputy, Minister
1989–1996 Jean Muselet Conservative  
1977–1989 Guy Lengagne PS Deputy, Minister
1945–1977 Henri Henneguelle PS  
Past mayors are unknown.


In the year 1905 the First Esperanto Universal Congress was held in Boulogne-sur-Mer. L. L. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, was among the attendees. In the 2005, there was a grand anniversary meeting, to mark the centenary, with more than 500 attendees.


  • Radio : France Bleu Nord, Virgin Radio Côte d'Opale
  • Television : France 3 Côte d'Opale
  • Print : La Voix du Nord (édition de Boulogne sur Mer), La Semaine dans le Boulonnais, Touzazimut


Certain brands, including Crown and Findus, are based in Boulogne

IFREMER (the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea) and the Pasteur Institute are located in Boulogne Port.

Boulogne-sur-Mer is an important fishing port, with 7,000 inhabitants deriving part, or all, of their livelihoods from fishing.


Official website: Tourism in Boulogne sur Mer
Official website: Tourism in Boulogne sur Mer and the Boulonnais region

  • Medieval walls long 1,500 metres with 4 gates and 17 towers from 13th century
  • Medieval castle, whose foundations date to Roman times. It houses an Egyptian art collection
  • Gothic church of St. Nicholas, housing several 15th century statues
  • Cathedral basilica of Notre-Dame, with a dome standing at over 100 m. The crypt is one of the largest in France, and has Roman, Romanesque and Gothic elements.
  • Opened in 1991, Nausicaä - The French National Sea Centre is a science centre entirely dedicated to the relationship between mankind and the sea. It houses Aquaria, exhibitions on the marine fauna, and the exploitation and management of marine resources (fisheries, aquaculture, coastal planning, maritime transport, exploitation of energies and mineral, tourism).
  • The Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, created during the Great War
  • Colonne de la Grande Armée - Statue of Napoleon I

Boulogne's 12th century belfry is one of 56 in northeastern France and Belgium with shared World Heritage Site status. It is the oldest building in the upper city, and currently serves as the home to a museum of Celtic remains from the Roman occupation. Founded as the Counts' dungeon, the top floor was added in the 13th century. Damage by a fire in 1712 was built over by 1734.[5]

Boulogne's Castle Museum
Our Lady's Basilica towers over the city.
The Belfry is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


To replace the destroyed urban infrastructure, affordable housing and public facility projects in functional, brutalist building styles were carried out in the 1950s and 60s. The harbour, therefore, is not typical of a Northern French harbour.

On 22 May 1940 during the Battle of France, two British Guards battalions and some pioneers attempted to defend Boulogne against an attack by the German 2nd Panzer Division. Despite fierce fighting, the British were overwhelmed and the survivors were evacuated by Royal Navy destroyers while under direct German gunfire.[11] On 15 June 1944, 297 planes (155 Avro Lancasters, 130 Handley Page Halifaxes, and 12 De Havilland Mosquitos) of the Royal Air Force bombed Boulogne harbour to suppress German naval activity following D-Day. Some of the Lancasters carried Tallboy bombs, and as a result, the harbour and the surrounding area were completely destroyed. In August, 1944 the town was declared a "fortress" by Adolf Hitler, but it succumbed to assault and liberation by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in September. In one incident, a French civilian guided the Canadians to a "secret passage" leading into the walled old town and by-passing the German defenders.[12]

It also was the site of an Allied (French and British) armaments production conference.

Until June 1918, the dead from the hospitals at Boulogne itself were buried in the Cimetiere de L'Est, one of the town's cemeteries, the Commonwealth graves forming a long, narrow strip along the right hand edge of the cemetery. In the spring of 1918, it was found that space was running short in the Eastern Cemetery in spite of repeated extensions to the south, and the site of the new cemetery at Terlincthun was chosen.[10]

Boulogne, was one of the three base ports most extensively used by the Commonwealth armies on the Western Front throughout the First World War. It was closed and cleared on the 27 August 1914 when the Allies were forced to fall back ahead of the German advance, but was opened again in October and from that month to the end of the war, Boulogne and Wimereux formed one of the chief hospital areas.

A "special pass" issued for travel within Boulogne by the British Red Cross in May 1917, during World War I

During the First World War, this was the debarkation port for the first unit of the British Expeditionary Force to land in France, and for many others thereafter.

The two world wars

A nephew of Bonaparte, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, later Napoleon III, returned to France in secret from his exile in England, passing through Boulogne in August 1840. He was later jailed for trying to lead a revolt in Strasbourg.

The 19th century was a prosperous one for Boulogne, which became a bathing resort for wealthy Parisians after the completion of a railway line to the French capital.[6] In the 19th century, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Boulogne was reconstructed by the priest Benoit Haffreingue, who claimed to have received a call from God to reconstruct the town's ruined basilica. During the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon amassed La Grande Armée in Boulogne to invade the United Kingdom in 1805. However, his plans were halted by other European matters and the supremacy of the Royal Navy.


  • Étienne-Prosper Berne-Bellecour (1838-1910), painter
  • Benoît-Constant Coquelin (1841–1909), actor
  • Ernest Hamy (1842–1908), anthropologist/ethnologist; created (in 1880) the museum of ethnography of Trocadéro (today known as the Musée de l'Homme, Trocadéro)
  • Ernest Alexandre Honoré Coquelin (1848–1909), actor
  • Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, and professor at the Paris Conservatory
  • Henri Malo (1868-1948), writer and historian
  • Léo Marjane (born 1912), singer
  • Sophie Daumier (1934–2004), film actress
  • Estha Essombe (born 1963), judoka
  • Jean-Pierre Papin (born 1963), footballer
  • Mickaël Bourgain (born 1980), track cyclist
  • Franck Ribéry (born 1983), footballer
  • Terence Makengo (born 1992), footballer
  • Others associated with Boulogne

    Baldwin I of Jerusalem, son and brother of Counts of Boulogne, ruled the Holy Land in the 11th century.

    International relations

    Twin towns — Sister cities

    Boulogne-sur-Mer is twinned with:

    See also


    1. ^ "C'est l'Actu juillet 2010". Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
    2. ^ France. "Ville de Boulogne-sur-Mer - La Commune, la Mairie de Boulogne-sur-Mer et sa ville - Pas-de-Calais en France". Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
    3. ^ Graeme Villeret. "France". Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
    4. ^ "Boulogne-sur-Mer Tourist Guide". Information France. 2010-06-01. Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
    5. ^ a b "Les Beffrois au patrimoine de l'Humanité". Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
    6. ^ a b c d "Boulogne-sur-Mer (Municipality, Pas-de-Calais, France)". Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
    7. ^ Nixon, C.E.V. , by an Anonymous Orator (310)", p. 223–224, n. 19.Panegyric of Constantine, "VI. Introduction, Translation, and Historical Commentary with the Latin Text of R.A.B. Mynors Panegyrici Latini: In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The University of California Press (Los Angeles), 1994. ISBN 0-520-08326-1.
    8. ^ Historia Nova, Book VI.5.2-3
    9. ^ DeSmet, W.M.A. (1981). "Mammals in the Seas: General papers and large cetaceans. Whaling During the Middle Ages.". 
    10. ^
    11. ^ "2nd Battalion Irish Guards. - World War 2 Talk". Retrieved 2012-07-03. 
    12. ^ Stacey, C P (1966). "Clearing the Coastal Belt and the Ports September 1944 - Operation "WELLHIT"; The Capture of Boulogne". Official History of the Canadian Army. Department of National Defence. Retrieved 24 June 2009. 
    13. ^
    14. ^ "Football Boulogne : Union Sportive Boulogne Côte d Opale (USBCO)". Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
    15. ^ Franck Ribéry -
    16. ^ "[via]"British towns twinned with French towns . Archant Community Media Ltd. Retrieved 2013-07-12. 

    Further reading

    • "Boulogne", A Handbook for Travellers in France (8th ed.), London: John Murray, 1861 
    • "Boulogne-sur-Mer", Northern France (3rd ed.), Leipsic: Karl Baedeker, 1899,  
    • "Boulogne-sur-Mer", The Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th ed.), New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910,  

    External links

    • INSEE (English)
    • IGN (English)
    • Official website: Tourism in Boulogne sur Mer and the Boulonnais area (in English)
    • Boulogne-sur-Mer city council website (in French)
    • Visiting Boulogne-sur-Mer (English guide and tourist map)
    • NAUSICAÄ's official website (in French and English)
    • Boulogne 2005 Esperanto
    • Universite d'ete de Boulogne-sur-Mer
    • The university library of ULCO
    • The Boulogne Eastern Cemetery on the website "Remembrance Trails of the Great War in Northern France"
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