Boulogne-sur-Mer (Latin: Bononia) 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 touristic coast on the English Channel, and is the most-visited location in its region after the Lille conurbation. Boulogne is its department's second-largest city after Calais, and the 59th largest in France. It is also the country's largest fishing port, specialising in herring.
Boulogne was founded during the Roman occupation of France, and as Portus Itius, was used for trade and conquest of Great 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.
Origin of the city
Originally named Gesoriacum and probably also to be identified with Portus Itius, by the 4th century Boulogne was known to the Romans as Bononia and served as the major port connecting the rest of the empire to Britain. The emperor Claudius used this town as his base for the Roman invasion of Britain, in AD 43, and until 296 it was the base of the naval fleet of the Classis Britannica. Zosimus called the city "germanorum", Germanic speaking, at the end of the 4th century. The city was an important town of the Morini.
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 Conquerer 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. The city survived on herring fishing and received its municipal charter from Count Renaud of Dammartin in 1203.
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
Boulogne received its current status as a subprefecture of the Pas-de-Calais department in 1800 due to the territorial re-organisation in Revolutionary France. Three years later, it was given the title of an Imperial City (Ville Impériale).
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. 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 (including thousands of Congreve rockets).
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 two World Wars
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. It also was the site of an Allied (French and British) armaments production conference.
On 22 May 1940 during the Battle of France, two British Guards battalions and some pioneers attempted to defend Bolougne 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. On June 15, 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.
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.