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Coordinates: 50°53′10″N 1°39′49″E / 50.8861°N 1.6636°E / 50.8861; 1.6636
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The centre of Wissant
The centre of Wissant
Coat of arms of Wissant
Location of Wissant
Wissant is located in France
Wissant is located in Hauts-de-France
Coordinates: 50°53′10″N 1°39′49″E / 50.8861°N 1.6636°E / 50.8861; 1.6636
IntercommunalityTerre des Deux Caps
 • Mayor (2020–2026) Laurence Prouvot[1]
12.79 km2 (4.94 sq mi)
 • Density66/km2 (170/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+01:00 (CET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+02:00 (CEST)
INSEE/Postal code
62899 /62179
Elevation0–158 m (0–518 ft)
(avg. 17 m or 56 ft)
1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km2 (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.

Wissant (French pronunciation: [ɥisɑ̃];[3] from Dutch: Witzand, “white sand”[4]) is a seaside commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Hauts-de-France region of France.[5]


Wissant is a fishing port and farming village located approximately 18 kilometres (11 mi) north of Boulogne, 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) west-southwest of Calais, 36 kilometres (22 mi) southeast of Dover, 53 kilometres (33 mi) west-southwest of Dunkirk, 66 kilometres (41 mi) from the Belgian coast, 191 kilometres (119 mi) north of Le Havre, 523 kilometres (325 mi) northeast of Brest, and 231 kilometres (144 mi) north of Paris, at the junction of the D238 and the D940 roads, on the English Channel coast.


Located at the eastern end of a lagoon formed by a storm-breach of the coastal dunes, probably in the mid-10th century,[6] Wissant has been a fishing village for a millennium: along with Audresselles it is the last fishing village in France to use a traditional method of fishing using a wooden boat called a flobart and was in the Middle Ages a major port for embarkation for England:[7] In a mid-11th century Life of St. Vulganius, Wissant was specified, probably anachronistically, as the natural disembarkation point for the early eighth-century Celtic saint in his evangelizing travels.[8] Wissant was the embarkation port of Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester, for his ill-fated invasion of England in 1173, with an army of 3000 Flemings.[9] Henry III of England was stranded at Wissant for lack of cash.[10] According to Matthew Paris (mid-13th century) its naucleri habitually interfered with English fishing fleets.

From the 7th to the 14th century, the local language was the West Franconian dialect called Old Dutch and the village was called Witsant and reckoned part of Flanders.

The sea encroaches upon a World War II concrete blockhouse at Wissant

Shifting coastal sands silted up the harbour, at the same time that Calais was rising in importance as a port towards the end of the 12th century. At the end of the 19th century, the coastal dunes of Wissant began to be covered with seaside villas. During the 20th century, an entrepreneur, M. Létendart from Calais, extracted sand and gravel from the dunes to the west of Wissant, in the bed of the ancient lagoon. The huge excavations now form lakes and a nature reserve. At the time of the exploitation of these gravel pits, the bones of a complete mammoth with its tusks were discovered by four workers.

In July 1909 Wissant stood at the centre of worldwide focus. Three contenders for the £1,000 Northcliffe prize offered by the Daily Mail for the first heavier-than-air craft to cross the English Channel were camped along the coast between Calais and Wissant. The Franco-Russian Comte Charles de Lambert who had two Wright Flyers (Nos. 2 and 18) and was camped at Wissant.[11]. While practising over the dunes he crashed heavily and cancelled his plans. Louis Blériot won the prize and worldwide fame, from his camp at Calais.[12]

Today, because of the frequent and usually favourable winds and the proximity of the TGV railway station and the Eurostar trains to Fréthun, Parisians call Wissant the "Mecca” of surfing.

Notable people[edit]

On 1 December 1170, Thomas Becket sailed from Wissant to England, where he was martyred.[13]

Jacques and Pierre de Wissant were, with four others, voluntarily hostages in the siege of Calais during the Hundred Years War. On 4 August 1347 they went barefooted and dressed only with shirts and ropes around their necks to the English king, who had intended to leave them to die as a retaliation for his losses in that siege. Only by Queen Philippa of Hainaut's intervention were the six men saved. Auguste Rodin used this subject for his famous sculpture The Burghers of Calais (1889).

The French President Charles de Gaulle had a small summer house in Wissant that still exists today.


The inhabitants are called Wissantais.

Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
1968 1,058—    
1975 1,140+1.07%
1982 1,247+1.29%
1990 1,303+0.55%
1999 1,186−1.04%
2007 1,046−1.56%
2012 1,033−0.25%
2017 939−1.89%
Source: INSEE[14]

Places of interest[edit]

  • The church of St Nicholas, dating from the fifteenth century.
  • Le Typhonium, a villa built in Egyptian style for the artist Adrien Demont and his wife Virginie Demont-Breton,[15] which later had a tower added on to it by the descendants of the artists.
  • Two 17th-century fortified manor houses.
  • An old watermill, converted into a museum, now unfortunately closed to the public.
  • The Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, which contains the graves of 11 Commonwealth war dead of the Second World War.
  • SM UC-61, the wreck of a German WWI submarine, usually hidden beneath sand but visible again in 2019.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Répertoire national des élus: les maires". data.gouv.fr, Plateforme ouverte des données publiques françaises (in French). 9 August 2021.
  2. ^ "Populations légales 2021" (in French). The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies. 28 December 2023.
  3. ^ "Noms de lieux et diable de prononciations". Le Monde.fr. 21 August 2010.
  4. ^ Kristien Hemmerechts' novel Wit Zand (Amsterdam, 1993) is set in Wissant.
  5. ^ INSEE commune file
  6. ^ Philip Grierson, "The Relations between England and Flanders before the Norman Conquest" Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fourth Series, 23 [1941:71-112] p. 80f) notes that "Wissant was situated in the parish of Sombres, and in the Itinerary of Archbishop Sigeric (990) the landing-place was still known by the name of the parent village (Sumeran) and not by that of the recently formed harbour; Wissant itself does not appear by name in a contemporary document till the second half of the eleventh century."
  7. ^ For two centuries, it was under English rule, as was all of the county of Calais; it has formerly been a candidate rivalling Boulogne for Portus Itius, used by Caesar for his campaign in Britannia.
  8. ^ The saint appulit ad portum Witsant appelatum: qui videlicet locus ex albentis sabuli interpretatione tale sortitur vocabulum (quoted in Grierson 1941:80).
  9. ^ In the 1173-1174 War; the contemporary source, Ralph de Diceto specifies Wissant.
  10. ^ Close rolls of the Reign of henry III, 1259-1261 (HMSO, 1934), noted in review by Eileen Power in 'The Economic History Review 5.2 (April 1935:134).
  11. ^ Flight Magazine, July 24, 1909 p.442
  12. ^ Elliot, Brian A. Blériot, Herald of an Age, pp.109-37
  13. ^ A plaque affixed to the village church attests to this
  14. ^ Population en historique depuis 1968, INSEE
  15. ^ Base Mérimée: Villa Le Typhonium, Ministère français de la Culture. (in French)

External links[edit]

The bay at Wissant