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Gravelines (Municipality, Nord, France)


Last modified: 2021-06-19 by ivan sache
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Flag of Gravelines, current and former versions - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 16 November 2020, and Ivan Sache, 15 June 2014, respectively

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Presentation of Gravelines

The municipality of Gravelines (Dutch, Grevelingen; 11,470 inhabitants in 2011; 2,266 ha; municipal website) is located on the North Sea, half distance (20 km) of Dunkirk and Calais. The municipality os made of the town of Gravelines and of the villages of Petit-Fort-Philippe and Les Huttes.

Gravelines emerged in 800 around a chapel dedicated to St. Willibrord, the Apostle of the Frisians. In the middle of the 12th century, Count of Flanders Thierry d'Alsace decided to open his domain to the sea; the small trader's village was surrounded by a wall made of stones and stakes, while the estuary of river Aa was transformed into a port. The new town, established between 1159 and 1163, was first named Nieuwpoort (New Port), and subsequently renamed Graveningis, for the old name of the area, progressively transformed into Gravelines. Gravelines was then the outer harbour of the town of Saint-Omer. It was both a herring fishing port and a commerce port, where salt, fruit and wine were traded. The draining of the surrounding marshes allowed the development of agriculture and cattle-breeding, increasing the wealth of the town.

Gravelines was first sacked in 1212 by King of France Philip II Augustus, as a retaliation against the burghers of the town who had refused to allied with the king against the English. The town was sacked again in 1302 by Oudard de Maubuisson, "in the name" of King of France Philip the Handsome, and in 1383 by the English, short after the seizure of Calais.
Emperor Charles V, at war against King of France Francis I, rebuilt the four bastions protecting Gravelines and increased the fortifications of the castle. The town was then surrounded by an hexagonal levee planted with stakes, ditches, which included four gates protected by brick towers. The fortifications resisted in 1558 an assault by Marshal de Thermes, the French governor of Calais. The surroundings of the town were also fortified; a double fort was built on the banks of the Aa to protect the lock that regulated water supply to the new channel connecting the town to the sea, set up from 1635 to 1638.
Seized by the French in 1644, Gravelines was reconquerred in 1652 by the Spaniards, and eventually incorporated to the Kingdom of France by the Treaty of the Pyrenees, signed in 1659. Still a strategic place, Gravelines was visited in 1680 by Louis XIV, who commissioned Vauban to redesign and increase the fortifications. Appointed Governor of Gravelines in 1706, Vauban increased the outer defenses of the town, erecting a set of ravelins, counterscarps and glacis, as well as a new lock on the Aa.
The new channel planned by King of Spain Philip IV was eventually competed in 1740 by King of France Louis XV. Several new polders were established from 1761 to 1852. The Vauban lock was revamped in 1871, while the port was modernized and increased until the beginning of the 20th century.

Until the Second World War, the main source of income for the fishers of Gravelines was cod fishing on the Iceland banks, with up to 100 ships registered. Commerce and coastal fishing were successful until the 1960s. Gravelines was then industrialized. The nuclear power plant, inaugurated on 13 March 1980, is now made of six reactors allowing a nominal production of 5,460 MW; it is the second most powerful nuclear plant in Europe and the first in West Europe.

Ivan Sache, 15 June 2014

Flag of Gravelines

The flag of Gravelines (photo)is blue with the municipal logo, which was adopted in 2019.
The former flag of Gravelines (photo) was white with the greater municipal arms, beneath is the writing "VILLE DE GRAVELINES" written in black letters.

The arms of Gravelines (municipal website) are "Or a lion sable a bordure indented gules. The shield surmounted by a mural crown or port and windows and masoned sable and surrounded by a chain argent with four padlocks of the same. The Cross of War 1939-1945 appended to the shield."
These are the arms of the old lords of Gravelines, here the son of the Count of Flanders. "Or a lion sable" are the arms of Flanders, the bordure gules being used as a mark of cadency.
The chain is said to represent the fortifications of the town; the padlocks would represent the four bastions erected in 1528 by Charles V. The Cross of War, awarded to Gravelines in 1948, recalls that the town resisted the German assault for one week in May 1940, indirectly contributing to the success of the evacuation of the allied troops from Dunkirk (Dynamo operation).

The municipal arms are shown in the Armorial Général (image) and the Royal Letters signed on 20 July 1816 by King Louis XVIII with the current arms as an escutcheon placed on a field gules and surrounded by a chain or with four locks argent and sable.
Older municipal seals do not feature the chain around the shield; the seals used in the early 20th century, however, have the chain surrounding the shield, as on the modern arms.
[Th. Leuridan. Armorial des communes du département du Nord, 1909]

Ivan Sache, 31 January 2021