Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel
Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel

Vannes (Breton: Gwened) is a magical place where earth, sea and sky intermingle, built in the shape of an amphitheatre at the head of the Golfe du Morbihan, where, according to legends, there are 365 islands. The old city is enclosed by ramparts and grouped around the cathedral, very picturesque. Today, this is a pedestrian zone where elegant shops, enticing boutiques and restaurants have established themselves in the tangle of medieval half-timbered town houses, with the daub between the wattle painted in numerous bright colours. On the corner of one of these, the amusing mascots of the city, known as Vannes and his wife, smile down at you. On Wednesdays and Saturdays the market sprawls outwards from the Place des Lices.

Emañ Gwened e deun ar Mor Bihan. A-hed ar c’hantvedoit he deus dalc’het gant he hengounioù hag hec’h obererezhioù. Gent ur glad pinvidik deuet cue ar mare ma oa Gwened kêr an duged, he forzh-bageal hag ar Mor Bihan e-kichen, ez eo Gwened unan eus kreizennoù pennañ arvor Breizh a-fet touristerezh. Kaset e vezer da veajiñ en amzer dre he glad.

Dre glad Gwened e challer ober anaoudegezh gent ouzhpenn 200 vloaz istor. Er 1an kantved a- raok Jezuz Krist e voe savet ur gêr nevez, Darioritum hec’h anv, gant ar Romaned e bro ar Weneted, En IIIvet kantved e voe savet ur c’hreñv a voe diazezet diwarnañ ar gêr mogeriet a rae dek hektar e fin ar Grennamzer. Unan eus ci lec’hioù a blije ar muiañ da duged Breizh bezañ o chom enno e oa Gwened, ha liv ar Grennamzer zo chomet warni en-dro dan iliz-veur: tiez o bannoù koad a gayer a-hed straedoù strizh, ar C’hovu a zegas da soñj d’an den eus ar marc’hadoù hag al Iec’hioù barn er Grennamzer. Gant an osteloù prevez a gayer er su d’ar gêr gozh e c’haller gwelet penaos e teuas ur gêr graet a koad d’unan graet e meim er XVIlvet kantved, eval lakaomp er straed Sant-Visant, a-hed anezhi osteloù prevez a oa graet evit izili Breujoù Breizh a oa bet staliet e Gwenad eus 1675 betek 1690. Dont a reas ar porzh da vazañ kalon armerzh kêr, hag eno a lakaas rnarc’hadourien ha paramantourien sevel o ziez-annez. Gant daou savadur ton ganto, an Ti-kêr hag ar Prefeti, e c’haller gwalet e oa kresket kêr en tu all d’ar mogerioù-tro en XIXvet kantved, d’ur mare ma oa bet tapet lañs adarre gent kêr Wened.

Pa’z eer da-heul pourmenadenn ar Waremm, a-hed ar ramparzhioù eus tu ar reter, e c’haller kaout ur gwel kaer war al liorzhoù hag ar poulloù-kannañ kozh, ar mogerioiù, an tourioù hag an toennnù a zo er gêr gloz. En to all d’ar mogerioù-tro eo-hi stummedt eve! un añfiteatr betek an iliz-veur, gant savadurioù o bannoù koad kizellet eus ar Gmannamzer ha savadurioù maen-ben klasel a bep eil. Ouzh talbenn un ti e kaver delwenn “Gwened hag e vaouez” a vaz o saludiñ ar vizitourien. lzeloc’h, pelloch eget porzh Sant-Visant, emañ reper ar porzh bet kempennet evel zo dleet ha digor war ar Mor Bihan. Mont a ra an hollad kêrel kempennet pizh-se d’ober ul lec’h a-zoare evit aozaù festivalioù ha gouelioù istorel Gwned
Situated in the heart of the Gulf of Morbihan, Vannes has maintained its historic traditions and activities down through the centuries. The richness of its ducal heritage, its marina and its proximity to the Gulf, as well as the diversity of its major cultural events, make Vannes a key Brittany coastal tourist attraction. Its heritage is an invitation to make a journey into the past.

Vannes’s heritage allows you to look back on 2,000 years of history. It was in the lands of the Veneti tribe that, during the first century BC, the Romans chose to found a new town that they called Darioritüm, In the 3rd century the building of a castrum laid the foundations for a fortified town which, by the end of the Middle Ages, covered an area of ten hectares. Around the cathedral, the town, which was the favoured residence of the Dukes of Brittany, shows many signs of its medieval past. Half-timbered houses are dotted here and there along the narrow streets. The Cohue (traditional Breton market hall) recalls the markets and court houses of the Middle Ages. In the south of the old town, private mansions bear witness to the 17th-century transformation of a town built of wood into a town built of stone, in particular the Rue Saint Vincent, lined with private residences constructed for members of the Parliament which sat in Vannes from 1675 to 1690. The port became the economic heart of the city. Merchants and ship-owners had their houses built there. Two buildings of great architectural merit, the Town Hall and the Prefecture, recall the spreading of the town outside the walls in the 19th century as well as the growth in trade and industry during that period.

The Promenade de Ia Garenne, bordering the ramparts to the east, offers panoramic views over the gardens and old wash-houses, the wells, towers and roofs of the former walled town. Beyond the fortifications, the inner town is built like an amphitheatre as ar as the cathedral, with medieval care half-timbering alternating with classical sculpted stone. Visitors are greeted by Vannes and his wife, caned on the façade of a house. Below this, after the Saint-Vincent Gate, the port’s magnificently developed esplanade opens out onto the gulf. This beautifully-conceived urban development is a perfect setting for the city’s historic festival and events.

The History

Darioritum, as the original settlement was called in Roman times dominated an area that was the junction between land and sea, the name coming from roritum, a ford on the River Marle, which flows into the Gulf of Morbihan in Vannes. The Armoricans (Vénèti), a tribe of outstandingly fiendish sailors, fiercely resisted the Roman invasion under Julius Caesar to the point whereby Caesar realized that he had to dominate the water if he was to ever subdue them. So, he allied himself with the Namnete tribe (that gave its name to Nantes) in the hope of gaining an advantage as the Armoricans (Vénèti), who, if they felt threatened, immediately took to the sea. This tribe were so ferocious that they became the model for the fractious Astérix tribe in modern comic books. Eventually the town became capital of the Vénèti and a Gallo-Roman town was established around a vast forum, which was the administrative and political centre of the whole territory and it was the Romans that brought the art of winemaking and salt extraction to the area. At the end of the third century, a castrum was built around which is the basis of the fortified city that was built in the Middle Ages. What actually developed was a double city:

- Intra-Muros around the Cathedral (inside the Ramparts)
- the other on the site of the Gallo-Roman city around the Saint Patern church (outside the ramparts).

During the time of the Vénèti the town prospered, or at least until the Barbarian invasions of the third and fourth centuries. It was then that Waroc'h leading the Bretons from the other side of the English Channel; took possession of the town and during the fifth century the bishop's palace was built.

Nomlnoe: founder of Breton unity (ninth century) – was a Breton of modest origin, who was discovered by Charlemagne and made Count of Vannes. Becoming Duc de Bretagne in 826AD under Louis the Pious, he decided to unite all the Bretons into an independent kingdom. When Louis died. He implemented his plan and in ten years unity was achieved: the Duchy reached the boundaries, which were to be those of the Province until January 1790. From the first, Vannes was the capital of the new Breton kingdom, which reverted later to the status of a Duchy. As the town developed during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the maintenance and expansion of the ramparts became a major headache for the Breton Duke. During this time a court of justice was built in the Cohue, which is situated opposite the Cathedral.

The union with France (16C) -Anne of Brittany, who married successively Charles VIII and Louis XII, remained the sovereign of her duchy. When she died in 1514 at the age of 37 without leaving a male heir, Claude of France, one of her daughters, inherited Brittany. A few months later Claude married the heir to the throne of France, François of Angoulême, and after a few months, on 1 January 1515, became Queen of France. The King easily persuaded her to yield her duchy to their son, the Dauphin. Thus Brittany and France would be reunited in the person of the future king.

In Vannes in 1532, The States (councils), proclaimed "the perpetual union of the Country and Duchy of Brittany with the Kingdom and Crown of France", The rights and privileges of the duchy were maintained: taxes had to be approved by the States; the Breton Parliament kept its judicial sovereignty and the province could maintain an army.

In the late seventeenth century, Louis XIV transferred the parliament from Rennes to Vannes as he suspected members of the Breton parliament of supporting a revolt against taxes imposed by Colbert to fund the war against the Netherlands. This was a logical move as Vannes was one of Brittany’s oldest cities and had on numerous occasions hosted the Breton Parliament. During this time there was a flurry of new buildings to cater for the increased population, as people flocked to the temporary Breton capital. The merchants enjoyed an economic boom whilst other towns were in the depths of a depression

Even when the parliament returned to Rennes, the population of Vannes remained fairly stable.

The parliament building was in Rue Saint-Vincent opposite what is today the Vieux Port. Here and around the church of Saint-Patern, you can still see the fine houses belonging to members of parliament, their granite walls and slate roofs
contrasting with the wattle and daub of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

In the nineteenth century two elements generated a development of the urban fabric in a town that seemed to be at a standstill: the arrival of the railways in 1862 then the establishment of two artillery regiments. Small industries and housing estates developed close to the railway station then the western districts became residential. Many efforts are devoted from the Second Empire onwards to the construction of public buildings like the prefecture or town hall. An important growth began after the Second World War. In the 1960's and 1970's the creation of priority urban zones like Kercado and Menimur, the building of the northern bypass that radically changed the urban influence that developed beyond the city boundaries. Yet Vannes has been able to protect and give importance to its ancient heart with the help of a protection plan that was approved in 1982.


Start your stroll around the Old Town from Place Gambetta, a semi-circular square that faces the Vieux Port and built in the nineteenth century. Here you will find a multitude of cafés, bars and restaurants, somewhere for a coffee or maybe lunch en terrasse! In the centre of this semi-circle is Porte Saint-Vincent (Saint-Vincent Gateway), which leads into Ville Close (Enclosed Town) along a road of this name and lined with exquisite seventeenth century mansions. Make sure you have a good look at the Hotel Dondel (4, Porte Saint-Vincent) this was the headquarters of Louis Lazare Hoche in 1795, the French Général, who inflicted crushing defeats on the Royalists during the French Revolution.

To your right is a small alleyway; this will take you to Rue Alexandre Le-Pontois over Porte Calmont Bridge. You now crossed the Marle River, which flows, today, gently through the gardens in front of the ramparts on its way to the Golfe de Morbhian.

From here there is a spectacular view of the old Ducal Chateau d’Hermine (rebuilt around 1800) with a very pretty flower garden in front of it, today it is the Law School.

As you walk beside the river there is a small bridge leading to another gateway, go to the right-hand parapet, which overlooks some the lavoirs (old wash-houses) with very unusual roofing. From here you will get a view of the most picturesque corner of Vannes, with the stream (the Marle) that flows at the foot of the ramparts (built in the thirteenth century on top of Gallo-Roman ruins and remodelled repeatedly until the seventeenth century), the formal gardens and the cathedral in the background.

Walking along the promenade, you cannot help but wonder in amazement at the 600 metres of fortifications dating back to the Gallo-Roman period (fourteenth/fifteenth century). When you reach the end of the promenade, turn right and follow Rue Francis Decker, bordered by the Prefecture's gardens (Jardin de la Prefecture). Then left into the Saint-Patern district where you will find the site of the Roman city of Darioritum and the Paroisse Sant Patern (Cathedral).

Leaving the cathedral, you re-enter Ville Close by Porte de Prison that is flanked by a machicolated tower. Rue des Vergers and a narrow passage lead you to small section of ramparts where you will have a beautiful view of the gardens.

Retracing your steps and walking down Rue de la Bienfaisance and Rue Saint-Guenhaël, lined with old houses, brings you out in Place Saint-Pierre where you will see the Cathédral St-Pierre, the original was burnt down in the tenth century. The building you see today spans the centuries, albeit that little remains of the original second structure, having been remodelled many times over a 600-year period. However, it is possible to see some of the early work:

16th century cloisters in the garden on the north side of the cathedral.
The 13th century façade on the North Tower facing Place St-Pierre that is surmounted by a modern steeple.

The rotunda chapel that was built in 1537 in the Italian Renaissance style, a style rarely found in Brittany.

You must allow time to look around the cathedral, after entering through a flamboyant Gothic door with Renaissance Niches you will see, to your left, a painting representing the death of St Vincent Ferrier with the Duchess of Brittany in attendance. This Dominican Catalan monk, a great preacher, died in Vannes in 1419 and was canonised in 1455. To your right is another painting of the saint preaching in Granada.

In the second chapel of the north aisle, a rotunda chapel you will find the tomb of the saint. On the walls there is a magnificent seventeenth century tapestry depicting the miraculous cures made by Vincent and his canonisation.

In the apsidal chapel or Chapel of the Holy Sacrament and nave chapels there are altars, altarpieces, tombs and statues from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the Baptismal Chapel there is a sixteenth century altar frontal in stone depicting the Last Supper. The fifteenth century nave has lost some of its original character as the heavy eighteenth century vaulting has reduced its height and masked the panelled woodwork. The cathedral treasures are exhibited in the old chapter house, which is ornamented with 18C woodwork. It includes a remarkable 12-13C painted chest, a 12C reliquary cross, an ivory cross and pyx, Chalices and other vessels.

Opposite the cathedral is La Cohue - This term (literally means -bustling crowd) is commonly used in Brittany to designate a marketplace, an area where traders and the courts of law were found, In the thirteenth century markets were held in the lower part of the building and the upper floor was reserved for legal affairs, in 1675, the exiled Parliament of Brittany held its meetings there. During the French Revolution the building became a theatre, and functioned as such until the 1950’s when it was fully restored and became the Musée de la Cohue allowing visitors the opportunity to view a magnificent collection of paintings.

The first floor, sixteenth century, courtroom with its fine oak timber ceiling, the former seat of the Presidlal Court of Justice has become Galerle des Beaux-Arts that houses mainly nineteenth and twentieth century works of art by local painters (Jules Noel. Henri Moret, Flavlen Peslin, Felix Bouchor): who were inspired by Brittany and its folklore. Folk art is represented by a collection of polychrome wood statues.

After leaving La Cohue turn left and you will come into Place Henri IV with its many splendid sixteenth century half-timbered buildings. Make sure you take a look down Rue de Chanoines before continuing on down Rue de St-Salomon and into Rue des Halles and Place Valencia. Make sure you have a look at No.17, a remodelled timber-framed house with a ground floor of stone. This was the home of Vincent Ferrier and where you will find another statue of the saint.

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