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{line, north, south}
{island, water, area}
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Coordinates: 50°56′53″N 1°51′23″E / 50.94806°N 1.85639°E / 50.94806; 1.85639

Calais (French pronunciation: [kaˈlɛ]; in English usually /kæˈleɪ/, traditionally /ˈkælɨs/; Dutch: Kales) is a town in northern France in the department of Pas-de-Calais, of which it is a sub-prefecture. Although Calais is by far the largest city in Pas-de-Calais, the department's capital is its third-largest city of Arras.

The population of the metropolitan area at the 1999 census was 125,584.

Calais overlooks the Strait of Dover, the narrowest point in the English Channel, which is only 34 km (21 miles) wide here, and is the closest French town to England, of which Calais was a territorial possession for several centuries. The white cliffs of Dover can easily be seen on a clear day.

The old part of the town, Calais proper (or Calais-Nord), is situated on an artificial island surrounded by canals and harbours. The modern part of the town, St-Pierre, lies to the south and southeast.



People have lived in Calais since ancient times. The Romans called the settlement Caletum. As the centuries passed it grew in importance as a port. While sovereignty over Calais passed from one authority to another, the people spoke mostly Dutch. Its position as the point in continental Europe closest to England led the English king Edward III, who believed himself the rightful king of France, to cross the Channel and capture the city in 1347. The Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 ceded the city to England. For two centuries Calais remained an integral part of England, with representation in the English Parliament (see Pale of Calais). In 1558 Calais was finally recaptured by the French. In 1805 Napoleon massed troops there for his planned invasion of England. In World War I Calais was a major base for the BEF. In World War II it was the site of a major engagement, the Siege of Calais, in which some 4,000 British soldiers surrendered to the Germans after holding out for four days. Four years later, the Allies mounted Operation Fortitude, a deception campaign intended to convince the Germans that the main Allied landing would come around Calais instead of in Normandy. The Allied effort succeeded in causing Hitler to keep significant forces in and around Calais until July 1944, a month after the Invasion of Normandy had begun. Calais was finally liberated by the Canadian 1st Army later that year.

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