Le Havre: a UNESCO Heritage Site?

Le Havre is the port via which most cruise ships access Normandy, France. As we arrived, it looked functional and unappealing. I didn’t even take a picture, which would have shown cranes for lifting cargo, huge gas storage tanks, and a refinery. The city was faintly visible from the upper decks, but the buildings appeared to be concrete, commercial, and without color or charm.

Boy, was I surprised to hear our guide, a resident of Le Havre, describe her home as a UNESCO heritage site! She gave a bit of history: Allied bombers during WWII had virtually destroyed the town–a German base, leaving 5000 dead and 87,000 homeless. (One of the disturbing aspects of visiting WWII sites in Germany and France are the reminders of the devastation wrought by our skilled military. It brings home the human cost of war…) After the war, those 87,000 folk wanted desperately to come home, and start their lives in the ruined town. An architect, Auguste Perret, was hired to design and build an entirely new city upon the ruins of the old. In 2005, the city was designated as a UNESCO Heritage site.

Perret used reinforced concrete for speed and efficiency. His plan focused the city on the sea, with a Catholic church greeting a center piece of welcome to sailors and a memorial to those who died. Here are some photos from our ship, which I shot as we departed:

There are lessons here: colorless may not be drab; sometimes a closer look is needed to appreciate the details; not all UNESCO Heritage Sites are medieval.

I asked two of our shipmates, who had gone to the city market in Le Havre, if they found the city attractive. Both had seen it as functional, but unattractive. What do you think?

Oops! Almost forgot the one element of the city I found totally charming: Street art. For one of its anniversaries, the city invited sculptures. The sculpture so charmed the City Council that they have kept it. Can you guess what it is made of? I love it simply for its color in this otherwise very pale city…

Le Havre waterfront; take a close look at the colorful arch on the right (made of cargo containers, of course!)