This maritime town, on the Northern shore of the Cotentin Peninsula, is built around the largest artificial harbour in the world. Here you will have a chance to see a wide spectrum of vessels, from cruise liners to dinghies and virtually everything in between. For this is not just a ferry port, but also a yacht marina, fishing port and a military port. Despite some bad luck over the centuries, the city has some amazing monuments and is renowned for its remarkable breakwater, an exceptional architectural achievement of the 19th century.
Be entranced by the exuberant daily activity of its fishing port and marina, right in the heart of town;
let yourself be guided along the made-up piers with their flood-lighting that seems to follow the rhythm of tides, and take in the very special atmosphere of a town open to the sea.
For this was the gateway to the American continent during the time of the great transatlantic liners. This port has always attracted the world’s greatest liners, and still does: from the Titanic to the Queen Mary 2, not forgetting the France, the Queen Mary, the Queen Elisabeth and the Queen Elizabeth 2, they have all visited this port over the years.
The History Bit
The Cotentin was one of the first territories of Northern France conquered by the men from the North, the
Vikings. To these sea people, it was logical that Cherbourg should become a port. The city evolved in relation to the Anglo-French conflicts before becoming a Channel stronghold and, in 1944, the
world's most important harbour.
This area of Normandy has been continuously inhabited since the Palaeolithic era.After the Celts came the Gauls, the Romans, the Saxons, the Franks and the Scandinavians.
The mysterious town of Coriallo in "The Antonine Itinerary" was probably situated within the city of Cherbourg, it is thought that it was somewhere in the Mielles area on the right bank of the Divette.
At the end of the 4th century, the presence of a castrum (fortified camp) is noted on the left bank of the Divette. From that point on, the site was continuously occupied as is proved by the archaeological digs carried out from 1978 to 1981 on the castle site. The date of castle’s construction on the castrum foundations is the topic of many a debate.
The name of Cherbourg appears for the first time in 1026 in the deed of donation of the castle by the Duke Richard II to his future wife. Later in the same century William, Duke of Normandy (a.k.a. William Le Batard) and his wife Matilda founded a monastery. A decisive factor in the development of the town was William’s victory at the Battle of Hastings, as the town was now at the centre of the Norman state.
Over the years the importance of the town increased until in 1686 Vauban came to the town at the request of Louis XIV, and he noticed that the town was only vulnerable from the sea. So work started two years later, only to be stopped, a year later, the orders of the War Minister, who also decided to demolish the castle. The result being that Cherbourg was no longer fortified. During the next century the harbour was rebuilt and then destroyed again in the course of yet another Anglo-French conflict.
Musée Thomas Henry:
This Fine Arts Museum, the third largest in Normandy, is housed in a purpose-built cultural centre. The gallery on the second floor is dedicated to paintings of Cherbourg and the sea. Other galleries have exhibits that date back to the 15th century. These include sculptures and paintings by foreign masters as well as French classical painters.
This oasis of green in the centre of the town was designed and constructed by the astronomer and naturalist Emmanuel Luis in the 19th century. Here you will find tropical plants flourishing due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. There are also two greenhouses, where you will see over 400 rare plants.
The Parc is situated just off Rue de l’Abbeye and close to the Observatory Tower.
La Cité de la Mer:
La Cité de la Mer was built on the site of the old Transatlantic Railway Terminal; this is partly new construction and partly renovation of an historical monument that was listed on the Inventaire Supplémentaire des Monuments Historiques in 1989*. This unique tourist centre, of great interest both scientifically and culturally stemmed from a desire to explain and to share man's underwater adventure, illustrating it through Cherbourg's history, its tradition of building submarines and the scientific epic which forms part of the same story.
A visit here is a 3½-hour journey through the many facets of underwater exploration. There are two main exhibits to watch out for: Firstly, The Permanent Exhibition Pavilion, that was built over an existing dry-dock, where you will find the submarine area and, “La Redoutable”, a decommissioned nuclear submarine, the largest submarine in the world that you can visit. The audio-guided tour takes about three-quarters of an hour. Secondly, the ocean area loxated in La Grande Halle, this was formally the railway station concourse. The aquarium, the biggest in Europe, contains 500,000 litres of seawater.
Other exhibits of interest include a cannon from CSS Alabama (a Confederate ship sunk during the American Civil War) and The Bathyscaphe Archimède.
Admission is from 18€ for adults and 13€ for children (5-17 inclusive).
*Grade II listed building in U.K.
Fort du Roule:
A road, Mont des Résistants, winds its way up to the fort from Ave. E. Lecarpentier. On reaching the top you will find a collection of mid-19th century buildings, where there are magnificent view over the town. The original fort was built in 1793 to protect the town from invaders from the sea, the fort, you see today, dates from around 1850. The fort gets its name from a local geological feature, grés (sandstone), formally called roule. On the 25th /26th June 1944, this was the scene of fierce fighting as a unit of the American Army sort to remove the entrenched German garrison from the fort. After 17 hours the garrison surrendered. Within the fort is the Musée de la Libération; this is a memorial and historical centre that recreates the dark days of 1940 – 1944 without displaying any uniforms of munitions. To get to the memorial, where the action took place, you have to walk beside a grill standing in a pool or water that ripples like the sea on a beach. In the basement are various documents and audio recordings that depict the route from darkness (the occupation) to light (liberation). Admission is 4€, but ex-servicemen of all nations are admitted free.
Unfortunately you cannot visit the Port Militaire, as it is only open to French Nationals. This is the headquarters of naval armament and specializes in the building of conventional and nuclear submarines.
On the outskirts of the town, follow signs for Caen, is the Auchen hypermarket and a variety of large shops including a garden centre: