History of Calais port

The port of Calais was originally a bay at the estuary of Hames and Guînes towns rivers.
During the 10th century it was improved on Baudouin IV Count of Flanders‘
request who built the old basin so called “Bassin du Paradis”.
In 1189, Richard the Lion Heart landed there to go on Crusades …

In 1366, Calais was under the English rule, and the English moved one step in Calais for the wool transport between England and Flanders. To cope with the development of trade, the English built in 1397 the big basin “Grand Paradis” and repaired the “Petit Paradis” small basin. This one now called “Bassin du Paradis” opposite the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is the only remnant of the Middle Ages ancient port and still used today by small fishing boats.

Thereafter and on various occasions, forts were erected to defend the harbour against attacks from the enemy. The Fort Risban is the oldest and the most important at the same time which has gone through the centuries. In 1553 at the end of the British rule, Henry VIII ordered to build two locks and a new dock.

Between 1834 and 1839 under the leadership of the Chamber of Commerce,
the port of Calais was offered a new pulse with the construction of the “Bassin Ouest” bassin,
with a constant water level and access through a lock.

The Saint-Omer canal was connected to the sea. A little later, a new lighthouse was built and put into service in 1848 with first passenger trains reaching Calais this year. A pier and a ferry terminal allowed them to get on board to England.

In 1879 a new basin with a constant water level called “Bassin Carnot” was created to enlarge the port. A few years later, in 1883, the Calais Chamber of Commerce and Industry became the concessionaire of the Public Tools of the Harbour. The construction of a drydock at the end of the “Bassin Carnot” basin and important works to rebuilt the East Pier were launched. The front port basin was then sheltered by the East Pier and allowed passagers traffic to be developed.

In 1928, Captain Stuart Townsend created the first car transport line between Great Britain and France on the Calais-Dover line with the “Artificer” ship. The vehicles were put on to the ship with cranes but traffic however grew up rapidly.

After the second world war, major repairs were carried out in the port.

The first RORO linkspan N°3 was put into service on 27th June 1951 opening the way for modern “car ferries” to be used by travellers driving their vehicle. These ferries did not stop growing both in number and size. A new passenger terminal was opened in 1956 and two new RORO linkspans built in 1966 and 1972.

The first commercial hovercraft line to Dover started operating in 1966. The hovercrafts were powered by turbines run with kerosene. This activity lasted until 2000 but did not survive due to the fuel cost explosion.

A new innovation with Berth 5 and its first double-deck linkspan started the Channel traffic revolution in 1975.

Special ferries adapted to this new equipment were built. Berth 3 and Berth 4 were adapted to this model in 1979 and 1980. A harbour master house still active up to now, was put into service overviewing the area.

Calais port’s greatest mutation before
Calais Port 2015 started in 1984.

Works started with the East pier construction, inaugurated in 1986 allowing work in the East port to start. Just after Berth 6 was put into service in 1987, work began for a new deep water basin, the future “President Henri Ravisse” basin filled up with water in February 1990 a little before Berth 7 was put into service. This basin commercial activity started on 25th September 1990 with 4 Caillard cranes sized 22 meters and 40 tons.

In 1991, the highway was directly connected to the port through the East 2x2 way ring road.

The traffic to England started concentrating from Calais due to the substantial increase in the Channel traffic capacity. Traffic diversified with rapid lines operated by catamarans in 1991 to support hovercrafts on this market segment. The commercial port activity also developed in 1995 with the implementation of a sugar terminal at the Eastern Port. A submarine cable quay directly connected to the plant located in the Southern Port was put into service in 2000 in the new basin.

The last train left the harbour station on 21st January, 1995, giving way to pedestrians or motorized travellers.

Due to the Duty-free attraction, traffic exploded
with more than 20 million passagers in 1997.

A new berth (P8) opened in 1995 and the port rearranged the area between 1996 and 1998 to facilitate the flows of vehicules.

The duty-free ended in the early 2000s entailing the foot passenger traffic decrease.

In this period, truck traffic took off after the Channel Tunnel opened in 1994 and the circulation flows concentrated in Calais. It was the time of big ferries operating with 185 meter length and 28 meter width as such SeaFrance “Rodin” and “Berlioz”, P&O “Pride” and “Pride of Canterbury” in Kent.

The port continued to invest and improve its infrastructure especially from year 2007 when the “Nord-Pas de Calais Région” became the owner going on preparing the 21st century with Calais Port 2015. In 2004 a new RORO linkspan was implemented allowing traffics to diversify and in 2006, Berth 9 was inaugurated in the ferry terminal. From 2006 to 2009, the Eastern port had 20 hectare area platforms created and a 1000 meter double railways was implemented in 2011. Calais port environmental efforts were recognized with the ECOPORTS certification the same year.

New P&O ferries of “Spirit” generation with 213 m length and 32 m width sailed to Calais in 2010 and 2012 requiring Berth 7, 8 and 9 capacity to be increased.

Then the harbour reached its limits and Calais Port 2015 project was definitively under way in 2015 when a unique and innovative equipment in a European port, the rail motorway was inaugurated.

An intense railway business was back in Calais,
as a link between its past and future prospects