The port of Calais was originally a natural bay, at the mouth of the river Hames and the river Guînes. It was improved in the 10th century by order of Baldwin IV, Count of Flanders.
At that time, the defences of the city and the bay consisted of two towers, one of which was located on sand to the north of Calais, and the other at the northwest corner of the town. It is assumed that the first dated back to Emperor Caligula, while the other was one of those built by Charlemagne to protect the coast of Morinie against devastation by the Normans; the two towers later became Fort Risban and the castle.
Calais, Gateway to France
In 1190, Henri de Lorraine authorised the establishment of a port which became known as the “Old Paradise”. The “small Paradise” basin was excavated under the British rule in 1397 to meet the needs of trade, which had gained considerable importance.
The small basin, or Paradise, located opposite the Courgain, which is used as a harbour for fishing boats, is all that remains of the port from the Middle Ages; under British rule, it was called “Fisher’s Gap”.
The first piers to be oriented north-northwest were built in 1405. They were extended in 1700 and 1822 to 550 fathoms in length.
In the following centuries, and at different times, forts were erected to defend the port against attacks from the enemy. The oldest and also the largest, which has withstood the test of time, is Fort Risban. To the great tower attributed to Caligula, Philippe Hurepel, Count of Boulogne, had other fortifications added. In 1604, Fort Risban was surrounded by a new wall, and flanked by two bastions defending a stone embankment leading to the Sangatte seawall.
The other forts defending the bay or the port were the Lapins, Estram, Crabes, Rouge and Vert forts. The first three were built in 1690. Fort Lapin is located on the west dune, and is covered with masonry.
Fort Estram was located between Fort Rouge and Fort Lapin: it was made of wood, and built on piles in the sea; it was destroyed by fire in 1739 due to the carelessness of the guard. Fort Crabes, clad in cut stone was located about halfway between the Citadel and Fort Nieulay on a seawall which connected each section of the fortified structure Fort Rouge was built after Calais was bombarded by the English in 1695.
It was built of wood on piles, to the north of Fort Risban and almost adjacent to the west pier. The following year, in 1696, a second bombardment by the English of the east side of the town gave the town’s inhabitants the idea of building Fort Vert Like Fort Rouge, is was made of wood and built on piles in the sea, at some distance from the east pier. It was demolished in 1777.