This post on Dieppe is my last on the Alabaster Coast (Côte d’Albâtre) in Normandy. Sheltered between two high cliffs, Dieppe stretches on either side of the river Arques as it empties into the Atlantic. Seaside and tourist resort of the Alabaster coast valued by the English and Parisians, the town has conserved very few architectural souvenirs of its golden age. Dieppe is sometimes called the Viking town. It traces its history as a human settlement and port back to the arrival of the Vikings on this coast at the beginning of the tenth century AD. Of course, there were other people living in these parts before then, and the Romans passed this way before the Vikings. But the Romans did not leave such important traces of their occupation here as they did elsewhere. The Vikings, from Scandinavia, settled in and around Dieppe because of the hospitable harbour they found for their ships at the river estuary that cuts through a forbidding line of cliffs. The name Dieppe derives from the Viking term “djepp”, meaning “deep”.
The 14th and 15th centuries saw the birth of several adventurers, pirates, explorers and ship-owners, who criss-crossed different seas of the world. Dieppe was once an important port for the trading of spices and ivory, and its Château Museum displays a collection of sculpted ivory worked by local craftsmen as far back as the 16th century plus a collection of Impressionist paintings. Dieppe had become a fortified town from the end of the fourteenth century, when construction of the castle began: the castle, and one gate of the fortified wall that was built round the town, still stand. The stream running through Dieppe was called Tella in Merovingian and Carolingian documents, before being called Dieppe in the 10th century. The name has stuck to the town, but the stream changed its name again to Béthune. The Béthune is 61 kilometres (38 mi) in length, flowing through the department of Seine-Maritime and it is a tributary of the Arques River. The French Sandre regulators however, consider the Béthune as the Arques for all its length. Like other rivers in the region, the Béthune is classified as a first class river, offering anglers the chance to catch salmon and trout.
Dieppe housed the most advanced French school of cartography in the 16th century. The Dieppe maps are a series of world maps produced in Dieppe, France, in the 1540s, 1550s and 1560s. They are large hand-produced maps, commissioned for wealthy and royal patrons, including Henry II of France and Henry VIII of England. The Dieppe school of cartographers included Pierre Desceliers, Johne Rotz, Guillaume Le Testu, Guillaume Brouscon and Nicolas Desliens. Two of France’s best navigators, Michel le Vasseur and his brother Thomas le Vasseur, lived in Dieppe when they were recruited to join the expedition of René Goulaine de Laudonnière which departed Le Havre for Florida in 1564. The town, or its more fortunate inhabitants, knew prosperity in the seventeenth century, thanks to its thriving commerce, the expanding fishing industry and the local craft of ivory-carving. Local hero Abraham Duquesne, whose monument stands on the Place Nationale, gained fame as the vice-admiral of the fleet of King Louis XIV (the king didn’t give him the honor of Marshal of France, because he insisted on remaining a Protestant).
Dieppe is sort of hard to explain, so I was looking for some arial photos and came across the Kite Arial Photography (KAP) site with these fabulous arial photos of Dieppe taken from kites in 2010. They apparently have a kite festival every other year in September, “Festival International de Cerf-Volant de Dieppe”. One of the main characteristics of the Dieppe Kite Festival is its international character with the attendance, to each edition, of about forty invited countries. Every 2 years, there are eight hectares of lawn between the city and the sea which are available to the kite flyers and the public. This exceptional area forms a kind of natural amphitheatre. Listed among the 300 biggest world events, in all categories taken together, this innovative festival presents all the kite disciplines. The best teams and acrobatic kite pilots, the best creative artists, but also a wide panel of traditional kites are faithful to go. Unfortunately this is 2013 so we will have go next year. In any case, although the alabaster cliffs are still present in Dieppe, they gradually go away farther north.
The harbor is lined with shops and cafés, they even have a carousel. Dieppe is a fairly large town, about 80,000 people, and you can get here by train directly from Paris. Because most of the hotels are on the beach, they have this little train to go between the beach and the harbor. Dieppe is also a popular British holiday destination because of the ferry from Newhaven in England.
We were in Dieppe just for the day and did not have a lot of time to look around. We did visit the maritime museum, L’Estran-Cité de la mer, where they have a nice collection of old nautical instruments including this beautiful brass marine quadrent which they unceremoniously screwed to the wall. I wonder if they know how much it is worth? They also have a very rare marine astrolabe, not the usual Spanish or Portuguese model, I think it might be a local model from the 15-16th century. Usually these are only found in shipwrecks, the placard gives no other information. Next to the marine astrolabe they had a Hadley Octant, the precursor to the sextant (see my post) from the mid 18th century. This one is a later model made of wood, the second model, made to be held vertically. The term ‘octant’ comes from the fact that the instruments arc covers 1/8th of a circle (=45º). The use of the mirror on the index arm multiplies this by 2, so an angle of up to 90º can be measured. They also had a collection of sextants, ranging from a fairly modern one to the ebony model that looks pretty valuable. Finally they had a collection of moderately old instruments to measure the speed of the ship. Not a bad little collection and they also have an aquarium.
There is a lot more to see and do in Dieppe, fabulous natural beauty, water-sports, fishing and the Castle Museum. If you get a chance, you should visit.
Dieppe Official Site: http://tablet.dieppe.fr/