The Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer lies at the mouth of the Liane River in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France just 45 kilometers south of Folkestone, England, across the English Channel and about 210 kilometers north of Paris. In 2005, about 45 thousand people called the Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer home.
The Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer is France’s premiere fishing port, and about seven thousand residents depend on fishing for their livelihood. Local industries include fish-curing factories, canneries, cement works, foundries, and manufacturers of fishnets, ropes, pencils, pens, and canvas. It is also important for passenger- and car-ferry traffic across the English Channel. The city is home to the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea and the Pasteur Institute.
The Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer was a Roman harbor called Gesoriacum and, later, Bononia. Roman Emperor Claudius used the town as a base for is invasion of Britain in 43 AD, and it was the base for Rome’s navy for the Brittania province until 296. Medieval nobility constructed a castle on part of the old Roman fortifications, and the Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer’s Old Town arose within the old Roman walls.
The Roman port was destroyed in 882 by the Normans and rebuilt 30 years later. Frequently the object of conflicts between Normandy and Flanders, it was part of Burgundy in 1477 when it was united with France under Louis XI. Held by England’s Henry VIII for six years in the middle 16th Century, France bought it back for 400 thousand crowns in 1550 as a term of the Peace of Boulogne. You can still see Henry’s stone cannon balls in the crypt of the Cathedral.
It was the embarkation point for Napoleon’s La Grande Armée as he attempted to invade England in the early 19th Century. In 1815 when Napoleon was defeated and the French monarchy returned, people could again cross the channel from England for their holidays. English artist J.M.W. Turner made many watercolors and sketches of the Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer’s beautiful seascapes, its fisher-folk, and sunsets.
The first major harbor developments came in the early 19th Century when Napoleon planned his invasion of England. He excavated a turning basin and constructed a quay. He built several forts and an inner harbor. After Napoleon abandoned the plan, the port remained abandoned for a couple of decades.
In 1822, the first steamship arrived at the docks from Dover, and work on port infrastructure began again in the 1830s. During the 1830s, new jetties were built, the harbor was dredged, and the Marguet Bridge was completed. In 1843, the transport route for passengers between the Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer and Folkestone, England, began operations.
After 1850, port development efforts kept pace with the steady growth in traffic. In the 1860s, a new wet dock, the Napoleon Basin, was completed. During the 1860s and 1870s, a shelter was constructed to make the port was made accessible during all weather conditions, and the harbor was dredged to remove silt and accommodate larger vessels. In 1889, the Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer welcomed the first ship to sail from the United States. Soon, cruise ships were arriving from across the world.
In the early 20th Century, the Loubet Basin was constructed to accommodate growing trade and fishing activity, the docks were excavated to accommodate new ocean-going vessels, and the dikes were expanded. By 1914, the Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer was the leading fishing port in France, handling over 50 thousand tons of fish per year. Further, it was the country’s sixth largest commercial port and the leading port for cross-channel passengers. The railroad soon linked Paris and England through the Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Germany occupied the Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer early during World War II, and it became a prohibited zone in 1940. In 1944, the port was all but destroyed. After the war, a project began to create an industrial fishing district that was completed in 1956. Cross-channel transportation was resumed in the early 1950s.
In 1971, the port was further expanded. The Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer extended the marina, installed a large lock and a third slipway, and added a new cross-channel gateway. The Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer modernized the dock station and started car-ferry operations in 1980.
The 1980s brought a period of economic hardship for the fishing industry. Late in that decade, the Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer retook its leading position as France’s major fishing port and as Europe’s first seafood processing and marketing center. A new temperature-controlled warehouse was constructed, the auction hall was expanded, and a training center was established to support the fishing port.
By 1990, the Port of Boulogne-sur-Mer was France’s first fishing port, second port for passengers, and ninth port for trade.