Honfleur and the 19th century painters
Honfleur is located on the northern tip of the Côte Fleurie, and on the south bank of the Seine estuary.
This ancient fishing port is one of the most picturesque on the Normandy coast, and was a subject of inspiration for the painters of the 19th century.
Indeed, Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin, Charles-Francois Daubigny, Jean-Baptiste Corot and Raoul Dufy fell in love with the unique light and atmosphere of Honfleur.
They founded the artistic circle Saint-Siméon, also known as School of Honfleur, and left us an extensive collections of paintings of the area.
Georges Seurat, James Whistler and Johan Jongkind, among the best known, joined them.
They also drew inspiration in the green landscapes of the Plateau de Grâce and Côte de Grâce.
The Plateau Grâce or Mont Joli is a hill located a mere 2km to the southwest of the Vieux Bassin of Honfleur (port).
It boasts prime views of the harbour, the sea, the Seine estuary, the Pont de Normandie and Le Havre.
It was named after the small Chapelle Notre-Dame de Grâce, one of the oldest chapels in the area.
It was indeed erected in the early 17th century to replace the chapel Richard III, Duke of Normandy built in 1023.
Seafarers and fishermen at sea, but also inhabitants of Honfleur, have placed countless exvotos in the chapel.
Honfleur from yesteryear
Honfleur was already an important port in the time of Richard III.
Located at the mouth of the Seine, it was indeed a port of transit for the goods transported between Rouen and England.
The city walls were reinforced during the Hundred Years War, in order to protect the port and the estuary from English attacks!
The port of Harfleur on the south bank, re-enforced this defense system (before the construction of Le Havre).
The French also used Honfleur as a base when they raided the English coasts.
The impressive fortifications, however, didn’t stop the English from occupying Honfleur, a first time in 1357 and then from 1419 to 1450!
Honfleur, a thriving port
Honfleur’s maritime trade was relaunched after the Hundred Years War.
It thrived until the 18th century despite a slowdown during the Wars of Religion of the 16th century.
Indeed, that century was also the century of the great maritime expeditions!
Great explorers sailed from Honfleur for faraway places such as Brazil and Newfoundland.
An expedition, organised by Samuel de Champlain, left Honfleur in 1608, landed in Canada and founded the city of Quebec.
The exceptional maritime trade Honfleur enjoyed with Canada, the West Indies, the African Coast and the Azores resulted in an unprecedented growth.
Honfleur became a major french port involved in… the slave trade!
The old walls were demolished in order to enlarge and modernise the city and a new port, Vieux Bassin, built.
However, the French Revolution put an end to the slave trade and all commercial activities!
The continental blockade, initiated by Napoleon I to prevent England from trading with the rest of Europe and therefore bankrupt it, contributed to the decline of Honflleur.
Indeed, many French ports were then ruined!
The city succeeded in reviving its maritime activities in the following years, however, on a much smaller scale, by trading timber from Northern Europe.
The silting of the harbour entrance exacerbated this decline.
It indeed limited river traffic and led to the development of the port of Le Havre.
Honfleur, present today
The port of Honfleur is very picturesque.
1- The Quai Sainte-Catherine runs along the Vieux Bassin; it is lined with tall and narrow houses built in the 17th and 18th century on the former ditches of the fortifications.
These terraced houses have different sizes, and some of their facades are covered with tiles.
2- The Lieutenance, the former residence of the King’s Lieutenant, is one of the landmarks of Honfleur.
It is located at the extremity of the Vieux Bassin, and is the fortifications’ only intact vestige.
3- The Quartier Saint-Catherine, the fishermen old quarter, grew within the walled city.
This picturesque district boasts a wealth of timber-framed houses laid out around the Eglise Sainte-Catherine.
It replaces a church that was destroyed during the Hundred Years War.
It was rebuilt in timber, because of the lack of funds.
It is today the largest French timber-framed church with an independent bell tower; the bell tower is indeed part of the ringer’s house.
This unusual church was classified Historical Monument in 1879.
4- The Greniers à sel are another landmark of Honfleur.
These warehouses were used to store the salt necessary for the conservation of fish, and for the payment of the gabelle, the tax paid on salt during Middle Ages.
These warehouses were built 1670 re-using the stones recovered from the ramparts.
Two of the three remaining salt barns were classified Historical Monuments in 1916.
5- Honfleur was the city of predilection of the Impressionist painters.
The Musée Eugène Boudin was founded in order to display the artist’ extensive collection of paintings.
6- The last major landmark is the superb timber-framed house (Maisons Satie) where the composer Erik Satie was born.
Finally, Honfleur boasts two superb beaches: Plage du Butin and Plage de Vasouy!
As a result, this beautiful seaside resort was classified ‘station balneaire et de tourisme – seaside resort and tourism‘.
Honfleur, a port, a city and a seaside resort to visit!
Department of Calvados
Coordinates: Lat 49.418762 – Long 0.233262