10 largest cities in France




Calais is a French commune, sub-prefecture of the Pas-de-Calais department in the Hauts-de-France region. Its inhabitants are called the Calaisiens. The city of Calais is the most populous city in the department, although it is not its capital, this function falling to Arras. It is also one of the most extensive (just behind the vast town of Oye-Plage). Facing the south-east of England, its port (first in France for the transport of passengers) and the Channel Tunnel make it the main French city of connection with Great Britain.



Its proximity to England made Calais a strategic military location. The history of the city is marked by several sieges: a first in 1346 during the Hundred Years War, where King Edward III of England chose Calais to land in France (the city then passing under English control), a second in 1436 when Philippe le Bon, Duke of Burgundy, attacked the English while seeking to liberate Calais, then a last in 1558 where France finally succeeded in recovering the city which had remained under English occupation for more than two centuries. In 1595, Calais was captured by the Spaniards who returned it two years later.

In the eighteenth century, the port of Calais was in difficulty and its activities gradually disappeared in favor of Boulogne, its eternal rival, and Dunkirk31. It nevertheless retains an important place during the Napoleonic wars between France and the United Kingdom. Calais, a small fishing town at the end of the 19th century, developed with the appearance of a tramway in 1879. It merged with the neighboring industrial town of Saint-Pierre-lès-Calais in 1885, thus tripling its population and becoming the main town of Pas-de-Calais.

Calais was spared from the First World War despite several German raids causing some damage. The toll of World War II is heavier. Calais, besieged in 1940, became a “forbidden zone”, the Germans fearing a landing of the Allied forces in the Pas-de-Calais. Like its neighbors, Boulogne and Dunkirk, the city ended up destroyed at 73%.

The city rebuilt after the war is developing, strengthening its place as the master of cross-Channel transport in front of Boulogne. The opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 gave a new dynamic to the agglomeration, providing jobs, businesses and new road and rail infrastructure. The city was nevertheless well affected by the economic crisis at the end of the twentieth century, then by the crisis of illegal immigrants wanting to join England at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Multiple makeshift camps, known as the “Calais Jungle”, regularly demolished and rebuilt, have been adjacent to the city since 2002.