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History of the town

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  • History of the town
  • ©Ville-de-Vannes-Marc-Gallic
  • ©CRTB -LE GAL Yannick
  • ©CRTB -LE DIVENAH François
  • ©CRTB -LE GAL Yannick

Created at the end of a ria (drowned river valley), the medieval town of Vannes owes the foundations of its fortified town to the Romans. At the end of the 14th century, the town became one of the favourite residences of the dukes of Brittany. The enclosed area was extended towards the port and doubled the size of the walled town.

Within the walls, numerous wooden beamed houses dotted the narrow streets surrounding the cathedral, which was rebuilt at the beginning of the 15th century.  This “ville de bois” (town of wood) was completed by a “ville de pierre” (town of stone) in the classic style.  Maritime trade was at its peak; the port was developed with new quays.

But maritime activity came to an end during the 19th century. Starting in the 1860s and 1870s, the Morbihan prefecture created new public buildings and saw an increase in activity with the arrival of the railway and the stationing of two regiments.

Some monuments

Les Lavoirs

The washhouses were built between 1817 and 1821 and are today one of the most well known monuments of Vannes. The laundresses found shelter under its wooden galleries whilst washing the laundry of the town in the Marle. The washhouses have been refurbished in 2006. Arriving here, you are at the foot of the bastion de la Garenne (17th century), the youngest element of the for tifications. The adjacent gardens “à la française” are nowadays used as open-air tribune during the numerous processions in the summer month

The house of “Vannes et sa femme”

On the corner of a half-timbered house sits the figurehead of Vannes et sa femme (Vannes and his wife). Before becoming a popular motive for snapshots they might have been a simple company label but nowadays nobody really knows anymore. They have been called Vannes et sa femme by the population of Vannes since the 19th century. A little bit higher on the building, just under the roof can be observed a statue of Francis of Assisi.

The town hall

Approaching the town hall the atmosphere changes. You are no longer in the medieval city, the streets become larger, there are sidewalks and according to town planning principles of the 19th century the buildings are placed in straight rows. The town hall was build between 1881 and 1886 and is a smaller copy of the Parisian town hall. The richly decorated façade symbolizes the prestige and the place of Vannes at that time.

The cathedral St Pierre

The cathedral that shows a large variety of different styles has been reconstructed throughout the 12th century on the ruins of the former edif ice. The oldest par t is the Romanesque belfry from the 13th century whereas the neo-Gothic façade was erected in the 14th century. The central nave and the sanctuary are from the 15th century and the transept was completed in the 16th century. The Renaissance chapel of the holy sacrament has been added in 1536/7. Here one f inds the grave of the Spanish monk St Vincent de Ferrier, who died 1419 in Vannes and was canonised in 1456.

Porte St Vincent Ferrier

The gate of St. Vincent built in the beginning of the 17th century and rebuilt after its destruction in the 18th century, is the most central of Vannes’ town gates. Since 1840 it is surrounded by buildings on its right and left hand side. These town houses form a semicircle around the popular place Gambetta with its cafes. Under the statue of St. Vincent Ferrier the patron saint of Vannes, one can see the city arms with the ermine, symbol of Brittany, crowned with three towers. These towers symbolize the for tif ied town and are surrounded by two greyhounds. The dogs have been given as a present from the Bretons to the French King Francois II in 1532 when he stayed in Vannes.

Translation : Emma Paulo

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