The Port of Dunkerque (or Dunkirk) is the third biggest port complex in France. Located on the Strait of Dover just 13 kilometers west of the border with Belgium, more than 70 thousand people call the Port of Dunkerque home.
The Port of Dunkerque is the major economic contributor to the local economy. It receives imports of crude and refined oil, coking coal, and iron ore. Dunkirk’s major exports include efined oil products and cereals. The Port of Dunkerque’s industrial zone is home to several heavy industries, including petrochemicals, steel, oil refining, and aluminum production. More recently, manufacture of pharmaceuticals and cans for beverages have become more prominent.
The Port of Dunkerque was first mentioned in 1067 as the Church of the Dunes, or Dunkirk in Flemish. It was the focal point for conflict between France, Holland, England, and Spain throughout the Middle Ages. During the Eighty Years’ War, Dunkirkers (private ship-owners) operated a fleet of privateers that attacked merchants from the Spanish Habsburgs’ enemies. The Dunkirkers lost their port for a time in the middle 17th Century.
In 1657, the war between England and Spain resulted in the Port of Dunkerque’s capture by the English. In 1662, Dunkirk came under French rule when England sold the port to France. Louis XIV built fortifications there to protect French privateers. The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht forced France to destroy the Dunkirk fortifications, and they were not rebuilt until the late 1700s. The Port of Dunkerque was the site where the famous Man in the Iron Mask was arrested.
In 1940, Allied forces were forced out off the continent as German troops surrounded the Port of Dunkerque during the Battle of France. Escaping the Germans on 900 vessels, the British evacuation from Dunkirk was called Operation Dynamo. During German occupation, the Port of Dunkerque was all but destroyed by Allied bombing.
In 1944, Canadian forces tried to liberate the Port of Dunkerque during the Battle of Normandy, but the Germans held firm. In 1945, the German commander surrendered Dunkirk to forces from Czechoslovakia. By that time, over 75% of the houses in the Port of Dunkerque had been destroyed.
Since then, the Port of Dunkerque has been rebuilt. The old 15th Century belfry, originally a tower of the Gothic Saint-Eloi church, has been restored. Also rebuilt after World War II, Dunkirk’s artificial port was expanded to a deep-water port and industrial zone.
The modern Port of Dunkerque is the third largest port in France. It is also an important industrial center with busy industries that process foods, refine oil, build ships, and manufacture chemicals and steel.