Boulogne-sur-Mer is known for many things – its lovely old town with cobbled streets and elegant squares, and as the premier fishing port in France. It is, however not very well known that it is a place of pilgrimage for many Argentinians who flock to visit the Casa San Martin, the last home of the famous general who liberated South America in the 19th Century…
A Piece of Argentina at Casa San Martin Boulogne Sur Mer France
These days Boulogne-sur-Mer is drawing in the crowds thanks to the re-opening of the stunning crypt of its majestic Basilica Notre Dame. After several years of renovation it opened in 2015 and is an incredible monument, the longest crypt in France and unusually redecorated in the 19th Century after being destroyed during the French Revolution. It is both beautiful and quirky and well worth a trip to Boulogne-sur-Mer just for that though there is plenty more to tempt you once you’re there.
What you might not know about though, is the Casa San Martin, a museum that stands on the main road, the Grand Rue which runs past Place Dalton where a lively market takes place on a Saturday morning. Head up the hill away from the market and on the left hand side at no. 113 is a discrete door with a little sign that announces its place in history, the Argentinian flag hanging overhead though, may give an indication of its heritage.
José Francisco de San Martín y Matorras (born 25 February 1778). Known simply as José de San Martín, he is one of the most treasured heroes of the 19th century for south Americans. He liberated his country, Argentina (1816), Chile (1817) and Peru (1812) from Spanish rule. Considered the “Father of Argentina”. The General lived in this house from 1848 until his death in 1850 and it is today a museum and a place that honours his memory. The house was acquired by the Argentinean Government in 1926 and for a while housed the country’s consulate.
The house looks much as it did when the General lived there. A little sparse and very tidy as you might expect of a military man. There is a collection of weapons, paintings uniforms and artifacts of the day. In the little courtyard at the back are many plaques sent to the museum by those who honour his memory and achievements and his grand sacrifice in leaving the country he loved to allow the wounds of the past to heal.
The stairs are creaky, the shadows fall across the old furniture, the current curator’s predecessor spoke of strange sounds that can be heard here though he did add that it could be the wind… playing tricks. There’s certainly a feeling of the past, you can’t hear the traffic outside, its very quiet, very respectful.
Last Tango in Boulogne sur Mer
To this day the care and curation of the museum is an important role which is rotated every two years to a member of the military forces of Argentina. You’ll get a tour of the museum when you knock at the door, it really is remarkable time warp in the centre of this vibrant French town. On the second floor, in a room where the clock is frozen at 3 am, the great general died of old age on August 17, 1850 at 72 years old. Every year a commemoration ceremony is held here to remember him.
General San Martin’s body was interred in the crypt of the Basilica Notre Dame where a plaque is still in place for him and a room dedicated to his memory. His remains were later repatriated to the Cathedral in Buenos Aires where there is a suburb and a street called “Boulogne-sur-Mer”.
In the French Boulogne-sur-Mer there is an imposing equestrian statue of the General on the waterfront by the Nausicaa aquarium; the town is proud to have been chosen as the place where the famous liberator of south America settled.
Casa San Martin is open all year except January and most of July (usually). Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 12pm and 14pm to 18pm. Closed Sunday, Monday and national holidays
Allow about 30 minutes for a tour.
113, Grande-Rue, 62200 Boulogne-sur-Mer
Boulogne Tourist Office: Website for Casa San Martin
Argentian website: www.efran.mrecic.gov.ar