Honfleur is a commune in the Calvados department in northwestern France. It is located on the southern bank of the estuary of the Seine across from le Havre and very close to the exit of the Pont de Normandie. Its inhabitants are called Honfleurais.
It is especially known for its old, beautiful picturesque port, characterized by its houses with slate-covered frontages, painted many times by artists, including in particular Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet and Johan Jongkind, forming the école de Honfleur (Honfleur school) which contributed to the appearance of the Impressionist movement. The Sainte-Catherine church, which has a bell tower separate from the principal building, is the largest church made out of wood in France.
The first written mention of Honfleur is a reference by Richard III, duke of Normandy, in 1027. By the middle of the 12th century, the city represented a significant transit point for goods from Rouen to England.
Located on the estuary of one of the principal rivers of France with a safe harbour and relatively rich hinterland, Honfleur profited from its strategic position from the start of the Hundred Years' War. The town's defences were strengthened by Charles V in order to protect the estuary of the Seine from attacks from the English. This was supported by the nearby port of Harfleur. However, Honfleur was taken and occupied by the English in 1357 and from 1419 to 1450. When under French control, raiding parties often set out from the port to ransack the English coasts, including partially destroying the town of Sandwich, in Kent, England, in the 1450s.
At the end of the Hundred Years' War, Honfleur benefited from the boom in maritime trade until the end of the 18th century. Trade was disturbed during the wars of religion in the 16th century. The port saw the departure of a number of explorers, in particular in 1503 of Binot Paulmierde Gonneville to the coasts of Brazil. In 1506, Honfleurais Jean Denis departed for Newfoundland island and the mouth of the Saint Lawrence. An expedition in 1608, organised by Samuel de Champlain, founded the city of Quebec in modern day Canada.
After 1608, Honfleur thrived on trade with Canada, the West Indies, the African coasts and the Azores. As a result the town became one of the five principal ports for the slave trade in France. During this time the rapid growth of the town saw the demolition of its fortifications on the orders of Colbert.
The wars of the French revolution and the First Empire, and in particular the continental blockade, caused the ruin of Honfleur. It only partially recovered during the 19th century with the trading of wood from northern Europe. Trade was however limited by the silting up of the entrance to the port and development of the modern port at Le Havre. The port however still functions today.