The 13th century city walls surrounding the Old Town are the best - preserved fortifications in the north of France. Built by the Count of Boulogne, Philipe Hurepel, on the site of an ancient Roman fort, the Ramparts are made up of seventeen turrets and four gates , which have changed very little over the years, and surround the Cathedral, the château, the 17th century watchtower and the cobbled streets of the Old Town. From the gates, visitors can access the ramparts from where they can enjoy fantastic views over the lower town and the surrounding countryside.
The Château and Musée du Château
The medieval castle and its moat was built at the same time as the Ramparts, in the 13th century, by the Count of Boulogne and was unique in that it was the first castle to be built without a keep in the history of military architecture. Over the years it has been used for a variety of purposes - fortress, barracks and a prison – and nowadays visitors can wander through the vaults and underground passages taking in the chapel, the baronial hall, and the gothic Salle Barbière (armoury). Housed in the Château is an impressive museum, the Musée du Château, which was created in 1825 and includes some wonderful exhibitions, some of which are unique in Europe. These include the largest collection of Greek vases after the Louvre in Paris, the largest collection of Inuit masks in the whole of Europe, Renaissance coins, Egyptian antiquities, Mediaeval pieces and fine art by masters of the 19th century. Another highlight is the display of the Roman foundations of Bononia Antiqua, the Roman settlement at Boulogne, in the new underground complex.
Basilique Notre Dame (Cathedral of Notre Dame)
The present Cathedral was built in the early 19th century on the site of the old Mediaeval church which was destroyed after the Revolution, and was inspired by St Paul’s Cathedral, St Peter’s in Rome, the Panethéon and Les Invalides in Paris. Its huge dome is visible throughout the city and reaches a height of 101m. Of particular interest is the High Alter of the Princess of Torlonia, decorated with 19th century Italian mosaic. The Cathedral also has the second largest crypt in France, which contains various gold and silver religious artefacts, inlcuding the Reliquary of the Holy Blood.
The Hôtel du Ville (Town Hall) & Le Belfroi (Belfry)
The Town Hall was originally built in 1735 during the reign of Louis XV, although it has been renovated over the years. It is the only building in the Old Town made of brick and stone and beneath the roof sit the sculpted emblems of the town, the swan and the three massive heraldic balls; these have been part of Boulogne’s coat of arms since the 11th century. The Belfry, attached to the Town Hall, is Boulogne’s oldest building dating from the 12th century and was originally the keep of the old mediaeval castle before becoming a belfry in the 13th century. Visitors can enjoy breathtaking views over the port, the town and the sea.
The Annonciades (Library)
The impressive façade of the library dates back to the 13th century when the Grey Sisters of the Hospice of St Catherine looked after the sick and the pilgrims that came to the town. 1628, the Convent of the Annonciades was found in the same building, and the elegant chapel can still be seen. Nowadays the Library has an impressive collection of 500,000 books, 1,150 manuscripts, and 88 early printed books.
The Palais de Justice (Law Courts)
The Law Courts date back to 1852 and the building’s façade was inspired by a Grecian temple. The carved pediment and the statues in the niches on the façade represent Law protected by Justice, the allegorical figures of Commerce, Industry, Arts and Crafts, Charlemagne and Napoleon.
Colonne de la Grande Armée
The tallest column in France, the Colonne de la Grande Armée, topped with a statue of Napoleon, marks the site of the Camp of Boulogne where between 1803 and 1805 he planned his invasion of England. Here, in 1804, he also awarded the first Legions of Honour. The column was erected in 1841 and is made of Boulogne marble.
The Palais Impérial / Hôtel Désandrouin
Built in 1777 by the Viscount Désandrouin, a wealthy Boulogne industrialist, the Imperial Palace was once the headquarters of the Grande Armée with Napoleon staying there first in 1803 as First Consul and returning as Emperor in 1810 and 1811. Today it has been restored and furbished in period style and houses the Research Centre of the University.
The Poudrière (Powder Magazine)
One of the original powder magazines from the Camp de Boulogne, which has been beautifully restored and can now be reached at the top of the cliff near Nausicaä.