Brittany (/ˈbrɪtəni/; French: Bretagne
[bʁətaɲ] ( listen); Breton: Breizh, pronounced [bʁɛjs]
or [bʁɛχ]; Gallo: Bertaèyn, pronounced [bəʁtaɛɲ]) is a
cultural region in the northwest of France, covering the western part
of what was known as
Armorica during the period of Roman occupation.
It became an independent kingdom and then a duchy before being united
with the Kingdom of
France in 1532 as a province governed as if it
were a separate nation under the crown.
Brittany has also been referred to as Less, Lesser or Little Britain
(as opposed to Great Britain, with which it shares an etymology).
It is bordered by the
English Channel to the north, the
Celtic Sea and
Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the
Bay of Biscay
Bay of Biscay to the south.
Its land area is 34,023 km² (13,136 sq mi).
The historical province of
Brittany is now split among five French
Finistère in the west,
Côtes-d'Armor in the north,
Ille-et-Vilaine in the north east,
Loire-Atlantique in the south east
Morbihan in the south on the Bay of Biscay. Since reorganisation
in 1956, the modern administrative region of
Brittany comprises only
four of the five Breton departments, or 80% of historical Brittany.
The remaining area of old Brittany, the
around Nantes, now forms part of the
Pays de la Loire
Pays de la Loire region.
At the 2010 census, the population of historic
Brittany was estimated
to be 4,475,295. Of these, 71% lived in the region of Brittany, while
29% lived in the
Loire-Atlantique department. In 2012, the largest
metropolitan areas were
Nantes (897,713 inhabitants),
inhabitants), and Brest (314,844 inhabitants).
Brittany is the
traditional homeland of the
Breton people and is recognised by the
Celtic League as one of the six Celtic nations, retaining
a distinct cultural identity that reflects its history. A nationalist
movement seeks greater autonomy within the French Republic.
2.1 Prehistoric origins
2.2 Gallic era
2.3 Gallo-Roman era
2.4 Immigration of Britons
2.5 Battle of the Catalaunian Plains
2.7 Middle Ages
2.8 Union with the French Crown and modern period
2.9 Since 1789
3 Government and politics
3.1 Traditional subdivisions
3.2 Capital cities
3.3 Present subdivisions
3.5 Political tendencies
4 Geography and natural history
4.3 Flora and fauna
7.1 Regional identity
7.2 Regional languages
8.2 Fine arts
8.4 Legends and literature
11 Image gallery
12 See also
15 External links
The word Brittany, along with its French, Breton and Gallo equivalents
Bretagne, Breizh and Bertaèyn, derive from the
Latin Britannia, which
means "Britons' land". This word had been used by the Romans since the
1st century to refer to Great Britain, and more specifically the Roman
province of Britain. This word derives from a Greek word,
Πρεττανικη (Prettanike) or Βρεττανίαι
(Brettaniai), used by Pytheas, an explorer from Massalia who visited
British Islands around 320 BC.
The Romans called
Brittany Armorica, together with a quite indefinite
region that extended along the
English Channel coast from the Seine
estuary to the
Loire estuary, and according to several sources, maybe
along the Atlantic coast to the
Garonne estuary. This term probably
comes from a Gallic word, aremorica, which means "close to the
sea". Another name, Letauia (in English "Litavis"), was used until
the 12th century. It possibly means "wide and flat" or "to expand" and
it gave the Welsh name for Brittany: Llydaw.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, many
Britons settled in
western Armorica, and the region started to be called Britannia,
although this name only replaced
Armorica in the sixth century or
perhaps by the end of the fifth. Later, authors like Geoffrey of
Monmouth used the terms
Britannia minor and
Britannia major to
Brittany from Britain.
Breton-speaking people may pronounce the word Breizh in two different
ways, according to their region of origin. Breton can be divided into
two main dialects: the KLT (Kerne-Leon-Tregor) and the dialect of
Vannes. KLT speakers pronounce it [brɛjs] and would write it Breiz,
while the Vannetais speakers pronounce it [brɛχ] and would write it
Breih. The official spelling is a compromise between both variants,
with a z and an h together. In 1941, efforts to unify the dialects led
to the creation of the so-called Breton zh, a standard which has never
been widely accepted. On its side,
Gallo language has never had a
widely accepted writing system and several ones coexist. For instance,
the name of the region in that language can be written Bertaèyn in
ELG script, or Bertègn in MOGA, and a couple of other scripts also
Main article: History of Brittany
Brittany has been inhabited by humans since the Lower Paleolithic. The
first settlers were Neanderthals. This population was scarce and very
similar to the other Neanderthals found in the whole of Western
Europe. Their only original feature was a distinct culture, called
"Colombanian". One of the oldest hearths in the world has been
found in Plouhinec, Finistère. It is 450,000 years old.
Homo sapiens settled in
Brittany around 35,000 years ago. They
replaced or absorbed the Neanderthals and developed local industries,
similar to the
Châtelperronian or to the Magdalenian. After the last
glacial period, the warmer climate allowed the area to become heavily
wooded. At that time,
Brittany was populated by relatively large
communities who started to change their lifestyles from a life of
hunting and gathering, to become settled farmers. Agriculture was
introduced during the
5th millennium BC
5th millennium BC by migrants from the south and
east. However, the
Neolithic Revolution in
Brittany did not happen due
to a radical change of population, but by slow immigration and
exchange of skills.
Brittany is characterised by important megalithic
production, and it is sometimes designated as the "core area" of
megalithic culture. The oldest monuments, cairns, were followed by
princely tombs and stone rows. The
Morbihan département, on the
southern coast, comprises a large share of these structures, including
Carnac stones and the Broken
Menhir of Er Grah in the Locmariaquer
megaliths, the largest single stone erected by Neolithic people.
The five Gallic tribes of Brittany.
During the protohistorical period,
Brittany was inhabited by five
The Curiosolitae, who lived around the present town of Corseul. Their
territory encompassed parts of Côtes-d'Armor,
The Namnetes, who lived in the current
(in today's administrative région of Pays de la Loire), north of the
Loire. They gave their name to the city of Nantes. The south bank of
the river was occupied by an allied tribe, the Ambilatres, whose
existence and territory remain unsure.
The Osismii, who lived in the western part of Brittany. Their
territory comprised the
Finistère département and the western
Côtes-d'Armor and Morbihan.
Redones (or Rhedones), who lived in the eastern part of the
Ille-et-Vilaine département. They gave their name to the city of
Rennes (Roazhon in Breton language, in the center of the département)
and to the town of
Redon (in the south of the département, bordering
the département of
Loire-Atlantique in the administrative région of
Pays de la Loire, where its suburb town of Saint-Nicolas-de-
located; however the city of
Redon was founded around AD 832 under the
initial name of Riedones, long after the
Redones people were
assimilated to Bretons ; the cultural link between Riedones and
Redones people is highly probable but difficult to recover
and the name of Riedones may have been written from a local usage
preserving the name of the former people in the vernacular oral
language from a reading of an ancient Greek othography).
The Veneti, who lived in the present
Morbihan département and gave
their name to the city of Vannes. Despite confusion by the classical
scholar Strabo, they were unrelated to the Adriatic Veneti.
Those people had strong economic ties to the Insular Celts, especially
for the tin trade. Several tribes also belonged to an "Armorican
confederation" which, according to Julius Caesar, gathered the
Curiosolitae, the Redones, the Osismii, the Unelli, the Caletes, the
Lemovices and the Ambibarii. The last four peoples mentioned by
Caesar were respectively located in
Cotentin (Lower-Normandy), pays de
Limousin (Aquitany) and the location of the
Ambibarii is unknown. The
Caletes are sometimes also considered as
Belgians and ″Lemovices″ is probably a mistake for ″Lexovii″
The temple of Mars in Corseul.
The region became part of the
Roman Republic in 51 BC. It was included
in the province of
Gallia Lugdunensis in 13 BC. Gallic towns and
villages were redeveloped according to Roman standards, and several
cities were created. These cities are Condate (Rennes), Vorgium
(Carhaix), Darioritum (Vannes) and Condevincum or Condevicnum
(Nantes). Together with Fanum Martis (Corseul), they were the capitals
of the local civitates. They all had a grid plan and a forum, and
sometimes a temple, a basilica, thermae or an aqueduct, like Carhaix.
The Romans also built three major roads through the region. However,
most of the population remained rural. The free peasants lived in
small huts, whereas the landowners and their employees lived in proper
villae rusticae. The Gallic deities continued to be worshiped, and
were often assimilated to the Roman gods. Only a small number of
statues depicting Roman gods were found in Brittany, and most of the
time they combine Celtic elements.
During the 3rd century AD, the region was attacked several times by
Alamanni and pirates. At the same time, the local economy
collapsed and many farming estates were abandoned. To face the
invasions, many towns and cities were fortified, like Nantes, Rennes
A French map of the traditional regions of
Brittany in Ancien Régime
France. The earlier state of
Domnonée that united
Brittany comprised the counties along the north coast.
Immigration of Britons
Toward the end of the 4th century, the
Britons of what is now Wales
and the South-Western peninsula of
Great Britain began to emigrate to
Armorica. The history behind such an establishment is unclear, but
medieval Breton, Angevin and Welsh sources connect it to a figure
known as Conan Meriadoc. Welsh literary sources assert that Conan came
Armorica on the orders of the Roman usurper Magnus Maximus,[a] who
sent some of his British troops to
Gaul to enforce his claims and
settled them in Armorica. This account was supported by the Counts of
Anjou, who claimed descent from a Roman soldier[b] expelled from Lower
Brittany by Conan on Magnus's orders. Regardless of the truth of this
story, Brythonic (British Celtic) settlement probably increased during
Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain
Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries.
Scholars such as
Léon Fleuriot have suggested a two-wave model of
migration from Britain which saw the emergence of an independent
Breton people and established the dominance of the Brythonic Breton
language in Armorica. Their petty kingdoms are now known by the
names of the French counties that succeeded them—
Cornouaille (Cornwall), Léon (Caerleon); but these names in Breton
Latin are in most cases identical to their British homelands. (In
Breton and French, however, Gwened or Vannetais continued the name of
the indigenous Veneti.) Although the details remain confused, these
colonies consisted of related and intermarried dynasties which
repeatedly unified (as by the 7th-century
Saint Judicaël) before
splintering again according to Celtic inheritance practices. The area
was finally consolidated in the 840s under
Nominoe in resistance to
Frankish control. Among the immigrant Britons, there were some
clergymen who helped the evangelisation of the region, which was still
pagan, particularly in rural areas.
The Brythonic community around the 6th century. The sea was a
communication medium rather than a barrier.
Battle of the Catalaunian Plains
The army recruited for
Flavius Aetius to combat
Attila the Hun
Attila the Hun at the
Battle of the Catalaunian Plains
Battle of the Catalaunian Plains included Romans, Visigoths, Franks,
Alans and Armoricans, amongst others. The Alans were placed front and
centre, opposite the Huns. The Armoricans supplied archers who
attacked the Huns' front lines during the main battle and thwarted
Attila's night assault on the Roman camp with a hail of arrows "like
rain". After the battle was won, Aetius sent the Alans to
The late 5th century Brittonic leader
correspondence from the eminent Roman jurist
Sidonius Apollinaris and
was called "King of the Britons" by Jordanes. Some suggest that he was
a Breton, though others believe that he was from Britain, pointing to
the passage that he arrived in the land of the Biturges "by way of
Ocean", which would hardly have been efficient or required for a
Breton. Both historians describe Riothamus's losing battle against
Euric of the Visigoths at
Déols around the year 470. In response
to a plea from the Roman Emperor Anthemius,
Riothamus had led twelve
thousand men to establish a military presence in
Bourges in central
Gaul, but was betrayed by Arvandus, the Praetorian Prefect of Gaul,
and subsequently ambushed by Euric's army.[c] After a long battle, the
Armorican survivors escaped to
Avallon in Burgundy, after which they
are lost to history. According to Breton king-lists, Riotham survived
and reigned as Prince of
Domnonia until his death sometime between 500
and 520, though this may have been a different person.
A 1922 nationalist engraving of Nominoe, first king of Brittany.
Battle of Ar Roc'h-Derrien during the War of the Breton Succession
At the beginning of the medieval era,
Brittany was divided between
three kingdoms, Domnonea,
Cornouaille and Broërec. These realms
eventually merged into a single state during the 9th century.
The unification of
Brittany was carried out by Nominoe, king between
845 and 851 and considered as the Breton pater patriae. His son
Erispoe secured the independence of the new kingdom of
Battle of Jengland against Charles the Bald. The
another war in 867, and the kingdom reached then its maximum extent:
it received parts of Normandy, Maine and
Anjou and the Channel
Brittany was heavily attacked by the
Vikings at the beginning of the
10th century. The kingdom lost its eastern territories, including
Normandy and Anjou, and the county of
Nantes was given to Fulk I of
Anjou in 909. However,
Nantes was seized by the
Vikings in 914, and
was eventually liberated by Alan II of
Brittany in 937 with the
support of his god-brother King
Æthelstan of England. Alan II totally
Brittany and recreated a strong Breton
state. He paid homage to Louis IV of
France (who was Æthelstan's
nephew and had returned from England in the same year as Alan II) and
Brittany ceased to be a kingdom and became a duchy.
Several Breton lords helped
William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror to invade England
and received large estates there (e.g. William's double-second cousin
Alan Rufus and the latter's brother Brian of Brittany). Some of these
lords were powerful rivals. Medieval
Brittany was far from being a
united nation. The French king maintained envoys in Brittany,
alliances contracted by local lords often overlapped and there was no
specific Breton consciousness. For example,
Brittany replaced Latin
with French as its official language in the 13th century, 300 years
France did so itself, and the
Breton language never had any
formal status. The foreign policy of the duchy changed many times; the
dukes were usually independent but they often contracted alliances
with England or France. Their support for each nation became very
important during the 14th century, because the English kings then
started to claim the French throne.
The Breton War of Succession, a local episode of the Hundred Years'
War, saw the House of Blois, backed by the French, fighting with the
House of Montfort, backed by the English. The Montforts won in 1364
and enjoyed a period of total independence until the end of the
Hundred Years' War, because
France was weakened and stopped sending
royal envoys to the Court of Brittany. English diplomatic failures led
to the Breton cavalry commanders Arthur, Comte de Richemont (later to
become Arthur III, Duke of Brittany) and his nephew Peter II, Duke of
Brittany playing key roles on the French side during the deciding
stages of the War (the Battle of Patay, the Treaty of Arras (1435),
Battle of Formigny
Battle of Formigny and the Battle of Castillon). However, Brittany
Mad War against
France in 1488, mostly because of its
internal divisions which were exacerbated by the corruption at the
court of Francis II, Duke of Brittany. Indeed, some Breton lords were
fighting on the French side.
Union with the French Crown and modern period
Main article: Union of
Brittany and France
Anne of Brittany
Anne of Brittany is regarded in
Brittany as a conscientious ruler who
defended the duchy against France.
After the Mad War, the duke Francis II could not marry off his
daughter Anne without the King of France's consent. Nonetheless, she
married the Holy Roman Emperor in 1490, but this led to a severe
crisis with France. Charles VIII of
Rennes and had the
marriage cancelled. He eventually married Anne of Brittany. After he
died childless, the duchess had to marry his heir and cousin Louis
XII. Anne unsuccessfully tried to preserve Breton independence, but
she died in 1514 and the union between the two crowns was formally
carried out by Francis I in 1532. He granted several privileges to
Brittany, such as exemption from the gabelle, a tax on salt which was
very unpopular in France. Under the Ancien Régime,
France were governed as separate countries under the same crown, so
Breton aristocrats in the French royal court were classed as Princes
étrangers (foreign princes).
From the 15th to the 18th century,
Brittany reached an economic golden
age.[d] The region was located on the seaways between Spain, England
Netherlands and it greatly benefited from the creation of a
French colonial empire. Local seaports like Brest and Saint-Brieuc
quickly expanded, and Lorient, first spelled "L'Orient", was founded
in the 17th century.
Saint-Malo was then known for its corsairs, Brest
was a major base for the
French Navy and
Nantes flourished with the
Atlantic slave trade. On its side, the inland provided hemp ropes and
canvas and linen sheets. However, Colbertism, which encouraged the
creation of many factories, did not favour the Breton industry because
most of the royal factories were opened in other provinces. Moreover,
several conflicts between
France and England led the latter to
restrain its trade, and the Breton economy went into recession during
the 18th century.
Two significant revolts occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries: the
Revolt of the papier timbré
Revolt of the papier timbré (1675) and the Pontcallec Conspiracy
(1719). Both arose from attempts to resist centralisation and assert
Breton constitutional exceptions to tax.
Bretons crossed the Atlantic to support the American War of
Independence. These included many sailors such as Armand de
Kersaint and soldiers such as Charles Armand Tuffin, marquis de la
The mutineers of
Fouesnant arrested by the National Guard of Quimper
The Duchy was legally abolished during the French Revolution, in 1789,
and divided into five departments.
Brittany also lost all its
privileges. Three years later, the area became a centre of royalist
and Catholic resistance to the Revolution during the Chouannerie.
During the 19th century,
Brittany remained in economic recession, and
Bretons emigrated to other French regions, particularly to Paris.
This trend remained strong until the beginning of the 20th century.
Nonetheless, the region was also modernising, with new roads and
railways being built, and some places being industrialised. Nantes
specialised in shipbuilding and food processing (sugar, exotic fruits
and vegetables, fish...),
Fougères in glass and shoe production, and
metallurgy was practised in small towns such as
Lochrist, known for its labour movements.
The region remained deeply Catholic, and during the Second Empire, the
conservative values were strongly reasserted. When the Republic was
re-established in 1871, there were rumours that Breton troops were
mistrusted and mistreated at
Camp Conlie during the Franco-Prussian
War because of fears that they were a threat to the Republic.
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force attack on
Saint-Malo in 1942.
During the 19th century, the
Breton language started to decline
precipitously, mainly because of the
Francization policy conducted
under the Third Republic. On one hand, children were not allowed to
speak Breton at school, and were punished by teachers if they did.
Famously, signs in schools read: "It is forbidden to speak Breton and
to spit on the floor" ("Il est interdit de parler Breton et de cracher
par terre"). On the other hand, Breton (like Latin) was considered
as a language that kept
Brittany in the hands of the Roman Catholic
church and learning French was a way, especially for women, to free
themselves from the influence of the church.
Amoco Cadiz oil spill
Amoco Cadiz oil spill in 1978 deeply marked Breton people.
At the same time, the
Celtic Revival led to the foundation of the
Breton Regionalist Union
Breton Regionalist Union (URB) and later to independence movements
linked to Irish, Welsh and Scottish independence parties in the UK and
to pan-Celticism. However, the audience of these movements remained
very low and their ideas did not reach a large public until the 20th
Seiz Breur movement, created in 1923, permitted a Breton
artistic revival but its ties with
Nazism and the collaborationism
Breton National Party during World War II weakened Breton
nationalism in the post-war period.
Brittany lost 240,000 men during the First World War. The Second
World War was also catastrophic for the region. It was invaded by Nazi
Germany in 1940 and freed after
Operation Cobra in August 1944.
However, the areas around
Lorient only surrendered
on 10 and 11 May 1945, several days after the German capitulation. The
two port towns had been virtually destroyed by Allied air raids, like
Brest and Saint-Malo, and other towns, such as
Nantes and Rennes, had
Brittany was legally reconstituted as the Region of Brittany,
although the region excluded the ducal capital of
Nantes and the
surrounding area. Nevertheless,
Brittany retained its cultural
distinctiveness, and a new cultural revival emerged during the 1960s
and 1970s. Bilingual schools were opened, singers started to write
songs in Breton, and ecological catastrophes such as the Amoco Cadiz
oil spill or the Erika oil spill and water pollution because of
intensive pig farming favoured new movements to protect the natural
Government and politics
See also: Politics of France
Brittany as a political entity disappeared in 1790, when it was
divided into five départements. The Breton départements more or less
correspond to the nine Catholic dioceses that appeared at the
beginning of the Middle Ages. They were often called "pays" or "bro"
("country" in French and Breton) and they also served as fiscal and
Brittany is also divided between Lower
Brittany ("Basse Bretagne" and "Breizh Izel"), corresponding to the
western half, where Breton is traditionally spoken, and Upper Brittany
("Haute Bretagne" and "Breizh Uhel"), corresponding to the eastern
half, where Gallo is traditionally spoken. The historical Breton
The Pays nantais, around Nantes, corresponding to the Loire-Atlantique
The Pays rennais, around Rennes, forming part of the Ille-et-Vilaine
The Pays de Dol, around Dol-de-Bretagne, corresponding to the northern
part of the
The Pays de Saint-Brieuc, around Saint-Brieuc, forming part of the
The Pays de Saint-Malo, around Saint-Malo, divided between
Côtes-d'Armor and Morbihan.
The Pays vannetais, around Vannes, corresponding to the Morbihan
The Cornouaille, around Quimper, divided between
The Léon, around Saint-Pol-de-Léon, corresponding to the northern
part of the
The Trégor, around Tréguier, forming part of the Côtes-d'Armor
During the French Revolution, four dioceses were suppressed and the
five remaining ones were modified to have the same administrative
borders as the départements.
The château des ducs de Bretagne in Nantes, permanent residence of
the last dukes.
Brittany has several historical capital cities. When it was an
independent duchy, the Estates of Brittany, which can be compared to a
parliament, met in various towns: Dinan, Ploërmel, Redon, Rennes,
Vitré, Guérande, and, most of all, Vannes, where they met 19 times,
and Nantes, 17 times. The Court and the government were also very
mobile, and each dynasty favoured its own castles and estates. The
dukes mostly lived in Nantes, Vannes, Redon, Rennes, Fougères,
Dinan and Guérande. It is interesting to notice that
all these towns except
Vannes are located in Upper Brittany, thus not
in the Breton speaking area.
Among all these towns, only Nantes,
Rennes and Vannes, which were the
biggest ones, could really pretend to the capital status. The dukes
were crowned in
Rennes and they had a large castle there; it was
however destroyed during the 15th century. Vannes, on its side, was
the seat of the Chamber of Accounts and of the Parliament until the
union with France. The Parliament was then transferred to Rennes, and
the Chamber of Accounts to Nantes. Nantes, nicknamed "the city of the
Dukes of Brittany", was also the permanent residence of the last
Château des ducs de Bretagne
Château des ducs de Bretagne still stands in the city
Rennes is the only official capital of the region of
Brittany. It is also the seat of an ecclesiastical province
Brittany and the
Pays de la Loire
Pays de la Loire region.
See also: Administrative divisions of France,
region), and Loire-Atlantique
Brittany comprises four historical Breton départements.
Loire-Atlantique, in light blue, is part of the Pays de la Loire
During the French Revolution,
Brittany was divided into five
départements, each made up of three or four arrondissements. The
arrondissements are further divided in cantons, which are themselves
made up of one or several communes. The communes and the départements
have a local council elected by their citizens, but arrondissements
and cantons are not run by elected officials. The cantons serve as an
electoral district for the election of the département councils and
arrondissements are run by a subprefect appointed by the French
president. The president also appoints a prefect in each département.
Because the départements are small and numerous, the French
government tried to create wider regions during the 20th century. For
the Breton nationalists, it was an occasion to recreate
Brittany as a
political and administrative entity, but the new region had to be
Nantes and its département, Loire-Atlantique,
raised concerns because they were off-centered, more integrated with
Loire Valley than with the Breton peninsula. The French government
and local politicians also feared that Nantes, because of its
population and its former Breton capital status, would have maintained
a harmful competition with
Rennes to get the regional institutions and
Several drafts for French regions had been proposed since the 1920s,
and the definitive regions were drawn in 1956. The new
four départements, and
Loire-Atlantique formed the Pays de la Loire
region together with parts of Anjou, Maine and Poitou. In 1972, the
regions received their present competencies, with an elected regional
council. Since then, the region of
Brittany has had its own council
and administrative bodies.
See also: Bretagne Réunie
Loire-Atlantique road sign reads "welcome to historical
When the region of
Brittany was created, several local politicians
opposed the exclusion of Loire-Atlantique, and the question still
The obstacles to reunification are the same as in 1956: having Nantes
Brittany could harm the position of
Rennes and create an economic
imbalance between Lower and Upper Brittany. Moreover, the Pays de la
Loire region could not exist without Loire-Atlantique, because it
would lose its political and economic capital. Without
Loire-Atlantique, the other départements would not form an efficient
region any more, and would have to integrate neighbouring regions such
as the Centre-Val de
Loire and Poitou-Charentes.
However, several institutions have backed the reunification, such as
the regional council of
Brittany since 2008 and the Loire-Atlantique
council since 2001. Some politicians like Jean-Marc Ayrault, the
French prime minister and former mayor of Nantes, favour instead the
creation of a "Greater West region", which would encompass Brittany
Pays de la Loire
Pays de la Loire region. Polls show that 58% of the Bretons
and 62% of the inhabitants in
Loire-Atlantique favour the
Main article: Politics of Brittany
Until the end of the 20th century,
Brittany had been characterised by
a strong Catholic and conservative influence. However, some areas such
as the industrial region around
Lorient and the
Tréguier are traditional Socialist and Communist
Left-wing parties, mainly the Socialist party and the
Greens, have become more and more powerful after the 1970s and they
have formed a majority in the
Regional Council of Brittany
Regional Council of Brittany since 2004.
Ille-et-Vilaine councils have also been held
by the left since 2004. The Socialist party has held the
Côtes-d'Armor council since 1976, and the
Finistère council since
1998. On its side,
Morbihan remains a right-wing stronghold. The local
parties have a very small audience, except the Union Démocratique
Bretonne which has seats at the Regional Council and in other local
assemblies. It advocates more autonomy for the region and its
positions are very close to the Socialist parties. It also has a
strong ecological orientation. The audience of far-right parties is
Brittany than in the rest of France.
Geography and natural history
Granite Coast around Trégastel.
Brittany is the largest French peninsula. It is around 34,030 km2
(13,140 sq mi) and stretches towards the northwest and the
Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered to the north by the English Channel, to
the south by the
Bay of Biscay
Bay of Biscay and the waters located between the
western coast and
Ushant island form the Iroise Sea.
The Breton coast is very indented, with many cliffs, rias and capes.
The Gulf of
Morbihan is a vast natural harbour with some forty islands
that is almost a closed sea. In total, around 800 islands lie off the
mainland; the largest being Belle Île, in the south.
over 2,860 km (1,780 mi) of coastline; it represents a third
of the total French coastline.
The region is generally hilly because it corresponds to the western
end of the Armorican massif, a very old range that also extends in
Normandy and the
Pays de la Loire
Pays de la Loire region. Because of this continuity,
the Breton border with the rest of
France is not marked by any strong
geographical landmark, apart from the river Couesnon, which separates
Brittany from Normandy.
A bog around the Monts d'Arrée.
Armorican massif reaches its maximal elevation outside of
Brittany, in neighbouring Mayenne, at 417 m, and slopes towards the
west before straightening on its western extremity, with the Montagnes
Noires and the Monts d'Arrée. The highest hill in
Brittany is the
Roc'h Ruz in the Monts d'Arrée, at 385 m (1,263 ft). It is
closely followed by several neighbouring hills culminating at around
384 m above sea level.
Coastal areas are usually named Armor or Arvor ("by the sea" in
Breton), and the inland is called Argoat ("by the forest"). The best
soils were primitively covered by large forests which had been
progressively replaced by bocage during the Middle Ages. The Breton
bocage, with its small fields enclosed by thick hedgerows, has almost
disappeared since the 1960s to fit the modern agricultural needs and
methods, particularly mechanisation.
Several forests still exist, such as the Paimpont forest, sometimes
said to be the Arthurian Brocéliande. The poor and rocky areas are
covered by large heathland and moorlands, and
Brittany has several
marshes, like the Brière, included in a regional natural park.
Another regional park encompasses the
Monts d'Arrée and the Iroise
Iroise Sea is also a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
The Pointe du Raz, one of the westernmost extents of both
The Breton peninsula appeared during the Cadomian Orogeny, which
formed its northern coastline, between
Guingamp and Fougères. The
southern part emerged during the Hercynian orogeny. At the same time,
an intense volcanic activity left large quantities of granite. Between
the Cadomian and Hercynian periods, the region was submerged several
times and the sea left fossils and sedimentary rocks, mostly schist
and sandstone. Because of the absence of limestone, soils in Brittany
are usually acid. The
Armorican massif straightened and flattened
several times during the formation of the
Pyrenees and the Alps.
Changes in sea levels and climate led to a strong erosion and to the
formation of more sedimentary rocks.
Metamorphism is responsible for
the distinctive local blue schist and for the rich subsoil of the
Groix island, which comprises glaucophane and epidote.
Brittany was covered by loess and
rivers started to fill the valleys with alluvial deposits. The valleys
themselves were a result of a strong tectonic activity between the
African and the Eurasian plate. The present Breton landscape did not
acquired its final shape before one million years ago. The Breton
subsoil is characterised by a huge amount of fractures that form a
large aquifer containing several millions square meters of water.
Brittany lies within the north temperate zone. It has a changeable,
maritime climate, similar to Cornwall. Rainfall occurs regularly but
sunny, cloudless days are also common. In the summer months,
temperatures in the region can reach 30 °C (86 °F), yet
the climate remains comfortable, especially when compared to the
French regions located south of the Loire. The temperature difference
between summer and winter is about fifteen degrees, but it varies
depending on the proximity of the sea. The weather is generally milder
on the seacoast than inland but rainfall occurs with the same
intensity on both. The Monts d'Arrée, despite their low elevation,
have much more rainfall than the rest of the region. The south coast,
Lorient and Pornic, enjoys more than 2,000 hours of sunshine
Flora and fauna
An ocean sunfish exhibiting its characteristic horizontal basking
behaviour several miles off Penmarch.
Brittany's wildlife is typical of
France with several distinctions. On
one hand, the region, due to its long coastline, has a rich oceanic
fauna, and some birds cannot be seen in other French regions. On the
other hand, the species found in the inland are usually common for
France, and because
Brittany is a peninsula, the number of species is
lower in its western extremity than in the eastern part.
A variety of seabirds can be seen close to the seaside, which is home
to colonies of cormorants, gulls, razorbills, northern gannets, common
murres and Atlantic puffins. Most of these birds breed on isolated
islands and rocks and thus are hard to observe. The inland is home to
common European species: pheasants, swallows, woodcocks, common
A Breton horse.
Wales and Ireland, the waters of
marine animals including basking sharks, grey seals, leatherback
turtles, dolphins, porpoises, jellyfish, crabs and lobsters. Bass is
common along the coast, small-spotted catsharks live on the
continental shelf, rattails and anglerfish populate the deep waters.
River fish of note include trout, Atlantic salmon, pikes, shades and
lampreys. The Breton rivers are also home to beavers and otters and to
some invasive American species, such as the coypu which destroys the
ecosystem and accelerated the extinction of the European mink.
Among the invertebrates,
Brittany is notably home to the escargot de
Quimper, the freshwater pearl mussel and the white-clawed
crayfish. The larger Breton mammals died out during the modern
period, including the wolf. Today, mammals of note include roe deer,
wild boar, foxes, hares and several species of bat.
Brittany is widely known for the Breton horse, a local breed of draft
horse, and for the
Brittany gun dog. The region also has its own
breeds of cattle, some of which are on the brink of extinction: the
Bretonne pie noir, the Froment du Léon, the Armorican and the
The Breton forests, dunes, moorlands and marshes are home to several
iconic plants, such as endemic cistus, aster and linaria varieties,
the horseshoe vetch and the lotus maritimus.
See also: Education in France
A battalion of the Saint-Cyr-
Coëtquidan military academy
Brittany has the same education system as the rest of France. As in
other French regions, formal education before the 19th century was the
preserve of the elite. Before 1460,
Brittany did not have a
university, and Breton students had to go to Angers,
Poitiers or Caen.
The University of
Nantes was founded under the duke Francis II, who
wanted to affirm the Breton independence from France. All the
traditional disciplines were taught there: arts, theology, law and
medicine. During the 17th century, it had around 1,500 students. It
declined during the 18th century, mostly because
flourishing with the
Atlantic slave trade
Atlantic slave trade and paid no attention to its
cultural institutions. A mayor eventually asked the university to be
relocated to Rennes, more devoted to culture and science, and the
faculties progressively moved there after 1735. The transfer was
interrupted by the French Revolution, and all the French universities
were dissolved in 1793.
Napoleon reorganised the French education system in 1808. He created
new universities and invented two secondary education institutions:
the "collèges" and the "lycées" which were opened in numerous towns
to educate boys and form a new elite. A new University of
progressively recreated during the 19th century. In the meantime,
several laws were promoted to open schools, notably for girls. In
Jules Ferry succeeded in passing a law which made primary
France free, non-clerical (laïque) and mandatory. Thus,
free schools were opened in almost every villages of Brittany. Jules
Ferry also promoted education policies establishing
French language as
the language of the Republic, and mandatory education was a mean to
eradicate regional languages and dialects. In Brittany, it was
forbidden for the pupils to speak Breton or Gallo, and the two were
strongly depreciated. Humiliating practices aimed at stamping out the
Breton language and culture prevailed in state schools until the late
1960s. In response, the Diwan schools were founded in 1977 to
teach Breton by immersion. They have taught a few thousand young
people from elementary school to high school, and they have gained
more and more fame owing to their high level of results in school
exams. A bilingual approach has also been implemented in some
state schools after 1979, and some Catholic schools have done the same
after 1990. Besides, Brittany, with the neighbouring Pays de la Loire
region, remains a stronghold for Catholic private education with
around 1,400 schools.
During the 20th century, tertiary education was developed with the
creation of the École centrale de
Nantes in 1919, the University of
Nantes in 1961, the
ESC Bretagne Brest in 1962, the University of
Brittany in 1971 and the
University of Southern Brittany
University of Southern Brittany in
1995. The Catholic University of the West, based in Angers, also
opened classes in several Breton towns. In 1969, the University of
Rennes was divided between the University of
Rennes 1 and the
Rennes 2 – Upper Brittany. After the Second World War,
the Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, the foremost French
military academy, settled in Coëtquidan.
RMS Queen Mary 2, once the world's largest passenger ship, was built
Brittany, apart from some areas such as Lorient,
Saint-Nazaire, has never been heavily industrialised. Today, fishing
and agriculture remain important activities.
Brittany has more than
40,000 agricultural exploitations, mostly oriented towards cattle, pig
and poultry breeding, and cereals and vegetables production. The
number of exploitations tends to diminish, but as a result, they are
merged into very large estates.
Brittany is the first producer in
France for vegetables (green beans, onions, artichokes, potatoes,
tomatoes...). Cereals are mostly grown for cattle feeding. Wine,
especially muscadet, is made in a small region south of Nantes.
Brittany is the first region in
France for fishing. The activity
employs around 9,000 people, and more than 60 firms work in fish and
A fishing trawler from Le Guilvinec.
Although relatively new, the Breton industry has been constantly
growing since 1980. Food processing (meat, vegetables...) represents a
third of the industrial jobs, but other activities are also important
for the local economy. Shipbuilding, both commercial and military, is
Saint-Nazaire (Chantiers de l'Atlantique),
Airbus has plants in
Saint-Nazaire and Nantes; and
a large factory in Rennes.
Brittany is the second French region for
telecommunication and the fifth for electronics, two activities mainly
developed in Rennes,
Lannion and Brest. Tourism is particularly
important for the seacoast and
Brittany is one of the most visited
regions in France.
The unemployment rate in
Brittany is lower than in other French
regions and it is usually around 6 or 7% of the active population.
Because of the global financial crisis started in 2007, unemployment
has arisen to 8.7% in the Region
Brittany and 8.4% in Loire-Atlantique
in late 2012. However, these results remain under the French national
rate (9.9% at the same period). Some activities, such as
construction, industry, catering or transport, usually have
difficulties to find employees.
In 2009, Region Brittany's gross domestic product reached 82 billion
euros. It was the seventh richest region in
France and it produced
4.4% of the national GDP. The Breton
GDP per capita
GDP per capita was around 25,739
euros in 2009. It was lower than the French result, 29,897 euros,
but higher than the European one, 23,500 euros. The GDP of the
Loire-Atlantique département is around 26 billion euros, and the GDP
of the five historical Breton départements would be at around 108
See also: Demography of France
Rennes, the most populated city in Region
Brittany and the second in
historical Brittany, behind Nantes.
In 2012, the population in Region
Brittany was estimated to 3,195,317
Loire-Atlantique had around 1,303,103 inhabitants, thus historical
Brittany's population can be estimated at 4,552,918, the highest in
its history. The population in Region
Brittany had grown by
0.9% between 1999 and 2000, and the growth rate reached more than 1%
Ille-et-Vilaine and Morbihan. The region around
Rennes and the
south are the more attractive areas, whereas the population is
declining in the centre and in the westernmost parts. While most of
the metropolitan areas are growing, the cities themselves tend to
stagnate or regress, such as for Brest, Lorient,
Saint-Malo. In 2008,
Ille-et-Vilaine had 967,588 inhabitants, it was
followed by Morbihan, 710,034 inhabitants,
inhabitants, and Côtes-d'Armor, with 581,570 inhabitants. The largest
cities in Region
Brittany were Rennes, with 206,655, Brest, 142,097,
Quimper, 63,929, Lorient, 58,148, Vannes, 52,983, Saint-Malo, 48,211,
and Saint-Brieuc, 45,879. All the other communes had under 20,000
Brittany is also characterised by a great number of small
towns, such as Vitré, Concarneau,
Morlaix or Auray. Loire-Atlantique
has two major cities, Nantes, with 283,288 inhabitants and an urban
area encompassing 873,133, and Saint-Nazaire, with 67,031 inhabitants.
Loire-Atlantique's population is more rapidly growing than Region
Brittany's and it is the 12th most populated French département.
Nevertheless, since the 1990s,
Rennes has consistently ranked as one
of France's fastest growing metropolitan areas.
Brittany had around 2.7 million inhabitants and the
demographic growth stayed low until the second half of the 20th
century, mainly because of an important emigration.
Brittany had 3.2
million inhabitants in 1962 and the growth was mainly due to
Loire-Atlantique and the steady growth of Nantes. Without the
Loire-Atlantique's figures, the Breton population only numbered 2.4
million in 1962, nearly unchanged from its population of 2.3 million
in 1851. After the 1960s, the whole region has had a strong
demographic growth because of the decline of the traditional
emigration to richer French regions. Instead,
Brittany has become
attractive, particularly for families, young retired persons and
active people over 35 years old.
Brittany does not have a strong share of foreign residents. Together
with naturalised French people, they form approximately 2% of the
total population. They mainly come from European countries such as the
Portugal and Spain, from former French colonies like
Morocco, Algeria, Vietnam,
Ivory Coast or Senegal, and from
Brittany is the region of
France that has the smallest
proportion of immigrants.
Breton women wearing the
Bigouden distinctive headdress, one of the
symbols of Breton identity.
Breton political parties do not have wide support and their electoral
success is small. However,
Bretons have a strong cultural identity.
According to a poll made in 2008, 50% of the inhabitants of the Region
Brittany consider themselves as much Breton as French, 22.5% feel more
Breton than French, and 15.4% more French than Breton. A minority,
1.5%, considers itself Breton but not French, while 9.3% do not
consider themselves to be Breton at all.
51.9% of the poll respondents agreed that
Brittany should have more
political power, and 31.1% thought that it should stay the same. Only
4.6% favoured independence, and 9.4% were undecided.
A 2012 poll taken in the five departments of historical Brittany
showed that 48% of the respondents considered themselves belonging
first to France, 37% to Brittany, and 10% to Europe. It also showed
that Breton identity is stronger among people younger than 35. 53% of
them considering themselves to belong first to Brittany. 50% of the
older respondents considered themselves belonging first to France.
Primary Breton identity is at its lowest among the respondents over
65: 58% consider themselves to belong first to France, with European
identify secondary. 21% of the respondents over 65 considering
themselves to be European first. Breton self-identification is
stronger among people who vote left-wing. It is stronger among
employees than employers.
Lower Brittany (in colours), where the
Breton language is
traditionally spoken and
Upper Brittany (in shades of grey), where the
Gallo language is traditionally spoken. The changing shades indicate
the advance of Gallo and French, and retreat of Breton from 900 AD.
Main article: Linguistic boundary of Brittany
French, the only official language of the French Republic, is spoken
today by everybody in Brittany, and it is the mother tongue of most
people. Nonetheless, French was not widely known before the 19th
century, and two regional languages exist in Brittany: Breton and
Gallo. They are separated by a language border that has constantly
moved back since the Middle Ages. The current border runs from Plouha
English Channel to the Rhuys
Peninsula on the Bay of Biscay.
Because of their origins and practice, Breton and Gallo can be
Scottish Gaelic and
Scots language in Scotland. Both have
been recognised as "Langues de Bretagne" ("languages of Brittany") by
Regional Council of Brittany
Regional Council of Brittany since 2004.
Main article: Breton language
Bilingual road signs can be seen in traditional Breton-speaking areas.
Breton is a
Celtic language derived from the historical Common
Brittonic language, and is most closely related to Cornish and Welsh.
It was imported in Western
Armorica during the 5th century by Britons
fleeing the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain. Since the 13th century,
long before the union of
Brittany and France, the main administrative
language of the
Duchy of Brittany
Duchy of Brittany had been French, which had replaced
Latin. Breton remained the language of the rural population, but since
Middle Ages the bourgeoisie, the nobility, and the higher clergy
have spoken French.
Government policies in the 19th and 20th centuries made education
compulsory and, at the same time, forbade the use of Breton in schools
to push non-French speakers into adopting the French language.
Nevertheless, until the 1960s Breton was spoken or understood by many
of the inhabitants of western Brittany. During the 1970s, Breton
schools were opened and the local authorities started to promote the
language, which was on the brink of extinction because parents had
stopped teaching it to their children.
Having declined from more than one million speakers around 1950 to
about 200,000 in the first decade of the 21st century, of whom 61% are
more than 60 years old, Breton is classified as "severely endangered"
by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger. However, the
number of children attending bilingual classes has risen 33% between
2006 and 2012 to 14,709.
Breton language has several dialects which have no precise limits
but rather form a continuum. Most of them are very similar to each
other, with only some phonetic and lexical differences. The three main
dialects spoken in the western end of Brittany, the 'Cornouillais,
around Quimper, the Léonard, around Saint-Pol-de-Léon, and the
Trégorrois, around Tréguier, are grouped into the KLT group
(Kerne-Leon-Treger), in opposition to the Vannetais, spoken around
Vannes, which is the most differentiated Breton dialect.
According to a 1999 INSEE survey, 12% of the adults of
Main article: Gallo language
Signs in Gallo are very rare and the writing systems they use are
unknown by most of the speakers.
Gallo is spoken on the eastern half of Brittany. It is one of the
romance Langues d'oïl, but has some Celtic influences, particularly
in its vocabulary.
Unlike Breton, Gallo does not have a long promotion history and it is
still often perceived as a poor rural dialect. Moreover, because of
its similarities with Gallo, French imposed itself more easily as the
main language in
Upper Brittany than in Breton speaking areas. Gallo
was felt to be an incorrect way of speaking French more than a proper
dialect or language. Gallo transmission from parents to children is
extremely low and efforts to standardise and publish books in Gallo
did not reverse the decline of the language and its lack of
Gallo is also threatened by the
Breton language revival, because
Breton is gaining ground in territories that were not previously part
of the main Breton-speaking area, and most of all because Breton
appears as the national language of Brittany, thus leaving no place
Gallo had never been written before the 20th century, and several
writing systems were created. They are however rarely known by the
population and signs in Gallo are often unreadable, even for fluent
speakers. In Loire-Atlantique, where Gallo is not promoted at all by
the local authorities, many people do not even know the word "Gallo"
and have no idea that it has writing systems and publications.
The Gallo community is estimated at between 28,300 and 200,000
speakers. The language is taught on a non-compulsory basis in some
schools, high-schools and universities, particularly in
Sculpted "calvaries" can be found in many villages in Lower Brittany.
Bretons are mainly Catholic and the Christianisation occurred during
Gaul and Frank era. During the Briton emigration to
Brittany, several Christian missionaries, mostly Welsh, came in the
region and founded dioceses. They are known as the "Seven founder
Paol Aoreliann, at Saint-Pol-de-Léon,
Tudwal, at Tréguier,
Brieg, at Saint-Brieuc,
Maloù, at Saint-Malo,
Samsun of Dol, at Dol-de-Bretagne,
Padarn, at Vannes,
Kaourintin, at Quimper.
Other notable early missionaries are
Gildas and the Irish saint
Columbanus. In total,
Brittany numbers more than 300 "saints" (only a
few recognised by the Catholic Church) and, since the 19th century at
least, it has been known as one of the most devoutly Catholic regions
in France, together with the neighbouring
Pays de la Loire
Pays de la Loire region. The
proportion of students attending Catholic private schools is the
highest in France. The patron saint of
Saint Anne, the
Virgin's mother, but Ivo of Kermartin, a 13th-century priest, called
Saint-Yves in French and Sant-Erwan in Breton, can also be considered
as a patron saint. His feast, the 19 May, is Brittany's national day.
A chapel and a calvary in Locronan, Finistère.
Many distinctive traditions and customs have also been preserved in
Brittany. Among them, the "Pardons" are one of the most traditional
demonstrations of popular Catholicism. These penitential ceremonies
occur in some villages in
Lower Brittany on the feast day of the
parish's saint. The penitents form a procession and they walk together
to a shrine, a church or any sacred place. Some Pardons are reputed
for their length, and they all finish by large meals and popular
Ankou in Ploudiry.
There is a very old pilgrimage called the
Tro Breizh (tour of
Brittany), where the pilgrims walk around
Brittany from the grave of
one of the seven founder saints to another. Historically, the
pilgrimage was made in one trip (a total distance of around
600 km) for all seven saints. Nowadays, however, pilgrims
complete the circuit over the course of several years. In 2002, the
Tro Breizh included a special pilgrimage to Wales, symbolically making
the reverse journey of the Welshmen Sant Paol, Sant Brieg, and Sant
The most powerful folk figure is the
Ankou or the "Reaper of Death".
Sometimes a skeleton wrapped in a shroud with the Breton flat hat,
sometimes described as a real human being (the last dead of the year,
devoted to bring the dead to Death), he makes his journeys by night
carrying an upturned scythe which he throws before him to reap his
harvest. Sometimes he is on foot but mostly he travels with a cart,
the Karrig an Ankou, drawn by two oxen and a lean horse. Two servants
dressed in the same shroud and hat as the
Ankou pile the dead into the
cart, and to hear it creaking at night means you have little time left
As official religious statistics are forbidden in France, there are no
official figures about religious practices in Brittany. However,
successive polls show that the region tends to be more and more
nonreligious. Catholic religion has started to decline after the
Second World War, during the urbanisation of Brittany. A poll
conducted in 2006 showed that
Morbihan was the only département to
have a strong Catholic population, around 70% of its inhabitants
belonging to that religion.
among the least Catholic French départements, with only 50% of
Finistère were at around 65%.
Other religions are almost non-existent, apart from
gathers between 1 and 3% of the inhabitants in
Brittany is home to many megalithic monuments; the words menhir and
dolmen come from the Breton language. The largest menhir alignments
Carnac stones. Other major sites include the
the Locmariaquer megaliths, the
Menhir de Champ-Dolent, the Mane Braz
tumulus and the
Gavrinis tomb. Monuments from the Roman period are
rare, but include a large temple in
Corseul and scarce ruins of villas
and city walls in
Rennes and Nantes.
Brittany has a large quantity of medieval buildings. They include
numerous Romanesque and French Gothic churches, usually built in local
sandstone and granit, castles and half-timbered houses visible in
villages, towns and cities. Several Breton towns still have their
medieval walls, such as Guérande, Concarneau, Saint-Malo, Vannes,
Fougères and Dinan. Major churches include Saint-Pol-de-Léon
Tréguier Cathedral, Dol Cathedral,
Nantes Cathedral and
the Kreisker chapel. Most of the Breton castles were rebuilt between
the 13th and the 15th century, such as the Château de Suscinio, the
Château de Dinan, the Château de Combourg, the Château de Largoët,
the Château de Tonquédec, the
Josselin Castle and the Château de
Trécesson. The most impressive castles can be seen along the border
with France, where stand the Château de Fougères, the Château de
Vitré, the Château de
Châteaubriant and the Château de Clisson.
A traditional house in Plougoumelen.
French Renaissance occurred when
Brittany lost its independence.
The Renaissance architecture is almost absent in the region, apart in
Upper Brittany, close to the border with France. Major sites include
the Château des ducs de Bretagne, the last permanent residence of the
dukes, which displays the transition from late Gothic to Renaissance
style. The Château de Châteaubriant, a former fortress, was
transformed into a vast palace in the Italian style.
Art Deco villa in Bénodet.
In Lower Brittany, the medieval style never totally disappeared.
However, local innovations permitted some changes and the birth of a
particular style. Its most distinctive feature is the parish close,
which displays an elaborately decorated church surrounded by an
entirely walled churchyard. Many villages still have their closes,
they date from the 16th and 17th centuries and sometimes include an
elaborately carved calvary sculpture.
During the 17th and the 18th centuries, the main seaports and towns
obtained a typical French look, with baroque and neoclassical
buildings. Nantes, which was at the time the biggest French harbour,
received a theatre, large avenues and quays, and
Rennes was redesigned
after a fire in 1720. At the same period, the wealthy ship-owners from
Saint-Malo built many mansions called "Malouinières" around their
town. Along the coast,
Vauban and other French architects designed
several citadels, such as in
Le Palais and Port-Louis. In rural areas,
Breton houses remained simple, with a single floor and a longhouse
pattern. They were built with local materials: mostly granit in Lower
Brittany and schist in Upper Brittany. Slates and reeds were usually
used for roofing. During the 19th century, the Breton architecture was
mainly characterised by the Gothic Revival and Eclecticism. Clisson,
the southernmost Breton town, was rebuilt in an Italian Romantic style
around 1820. The Breton lighthouses were mostly built during the 19th
century. The most famous are Ar Men, Phare d'Eckmühl,
La Vieille and
La Jument. The lighthouse on the
Île Vierge is, with 77 meters, the
highest in Europe.
At the end of the 19th century, several seaside resorts were created
along the coast and villas and hotels were built in historicist, Art
Nouveau, and later in the
Art Deco styles. These architectures are
particularly present in Dinard,
La Baule and Bénodet. Architecture
from the 20th century can be seen in Saint-Nazaire, Brest and Lorient,
three cities destroyed during the
Second World War
Second World War and rebuilt
afterwards, and in the works of the Breton nationalist architects like
James Bouillé and Olier Mordrel.
The Beautiful Angèle by Paul Gauguin.
Until the 19th century,
Catholicism had been the main inspiration for
Breton artists. The region has a great number of baroque retables,
made between the 17th and the 19th century. Breton sculptors were also
famous for their ship models that served as ex-votos and for their
richly decorated furniture, which features naïve Breton characters
and traditional patterns. The box-bed is the most famous Breton piece
of furniture. The Breton style had a strong revival between 1900 and
Second World War
Second World War and it was used by the
Seiz Breur movement. The
Seiz Breur artists also tried to invent a modern Breton art by
rejecting French standards and mixing traditional techniques with new
materials. The leading artists of that period were the designer
René-Yves Creston, the illustrators
Jeanne Malivel and Xavier Haas,
and the sculptors Raffig Tullou, Francis Renaud, Georges Robin, Joseph
Jules-Charles Le Bozec
Jules-Charles Le Bozec and Jean Fréour.
Brittany is also known for its needlework, which can be seen on its
numerous headdress models, and for its faience production, which
started at the beginning of the 18th century.
Quimper faience is known
worldwide for its bowls and plates painted by hand, and other towns,
such as Pornic, also maintain a similar tradition. The potteries
usually feature naïve Breton characters in traditional clothing and
daily scenes. The designs have a strong traditional Breton influence,
Art Deco have also been used.
Because of its distinct culture and beautiful landscapes,
inspired many French artists since the 19th century. The Pont-Aven
School, which started to emerge in the 1850s and lasted until the
beginning of the 20th century, had a decisive influence on modern
painting. The artists who settled in
Pont-Aven wanted to break away
from the Academic style of the
École des Beaux-Arts
École des Beaux-Arts and later from
Impressionism when it began to decline. Among them were Paul Gauguin,
Paul Signac, Marc Chagall,
Paul Sérusier and Raymond Wintz. Before
Brittany had also been visited by Academic and Romantic painters
Jean Antoine Théodore de Gudin and
Jules Achille Noël
Jules Achille Noël who were
looking for dramatic seascapes and storms.
Music of Brittany
Music of Brittany and Breton dance
Since the early 1970s,
Brittany has experienced a tremendous revival
of its folk music. Numerous festivals were created, along with smaller
fest-noz (popular feasts). The bagadoù, bands composed of bagpipes,
bombards and drums (including snare), are also a modern creation,
inspired by the Scottish pipe bands. The
Lann-Bihoué bagad, one of
the most well-known, belongs to the French Navy. It is the only one
that does not take part to the annual bagadoù competitions. Celtic
harp is also common, as are vocals and dances. The
Kan ha diskan
Kan ha diskan is
the most common type of singing. The performers sing calls and
responses while dancing. Breton dances usually imply circles, chains
or couples and they are different in every region. The oldest dances
seem to be the passepied and the gavotte, and the newest ones derive
from the quadrille and
French Renaissance dances.
Nolwenn Leroy and
Alan Stivell (2012).
In the 1960s, several Breton artists started to use contemporary
patterns to create a Breton pop music. Among them,
Alan Stivell highly
contributed to popularise the
Celtic harp and Breton music in the
world. He also used
American rock and roll in his works and influenced
1970s Breton bands such as Kornog,
Gwerz and Tri Yann, who revived
traditional songs and made them popular across France.
Soldat Louis is
the main Breton rock band and the most famous [according to whom?]
Breton singers are Gilles Servat, Glenmor, Dan Ar Braz, Yann-Fañch
Kemener, Denez Prigent,
Nolwenn Korbell and Nolwenn Leroy. The Manau
Hip hop group from Paris has strong Breton and Celtic inspirations.
Yann Tiersen, who composed the soundtrack for Amélie, the Electro
Yelle and the avant-garde singer
Brigitte Fontaine are also from
Brittany. The 19th-century composer Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray
was one of the first western European composers to be influenced by
what is now known as world music.
Legends and literature
Théodore Botrel dressed in traditional Breton
Brittany is closely associated with the
Matter of Britain
Matter of Britain and King
Arthur. According to Wace,
Brocéliande is located in
Brittany and it
is nowadays considered to be Paimpont forest. There, ruins of a castle
surrounded by a lake are associated with the Lady of the Lake, a
dolmen is said to be Merlin's tomb and a path is presented as Morgan
le Fay's Val sans Retour.
Tristan and Iseult
Tristan and Iseult are also said to have
lived in Brittany. Another major Breton legend is the story about Ys,
a city swallowed by the ocean.
Breton literature before the 19th century was mostly oral. The oral
tradition entertained by medieval poets died out during the 15th
century and books in Breton were very rare before 1850. At that time,
local writers started to collect and publish local tales and legends
and wrote original works. Published between 1925 and the Second World
War, the literary journal
Gwalarn favoured a modern Breton literature
and helped translating widely known novels into Breton. After the war,
the journal Al Liamm pursued that mission. Among the authors writing
in Breton are Auguste Brizeux, a Romantic poet, the neo-Druidic bard
Erwan Berthou, Théodore Hersart de La Villemarqué, who collected the
local legends about King Arthur, Roparz Hemon, founder of Gwalarn,
Pêr-Jakez Helias, Glenmor,
Pêr Denez and Meavenn.
Breton literature in French includes 19th-century historical novels by
Émile Souvestre, travel journals by Anatole Le Braz, poems and novels
by Charles Le Goffic, the works of the singer-songwriter Théodore
Botrel and of the maritime writer Henri Queffélec.
Brittany is also
the birthplace of many French writers like François-René de
Chateaubriand, Jules Verne, Ernest Renan, Félicité Robert de
Lamennais and Pierre Abélard.
Asterix comics, set during the time of
Julius Caesar and written
in the second half of the twentieth century, are set in Armorica, now
The Museum of Brittany, located in Rennes, was founded in 1856. Its
collections are mainly dedicated to the history of the region. Museums
Prehistory and local megaliths are located in
Penmarch, while several towns like
Nantes have a museum
presenting their own history.
The Museum of Fine Arts of
Rennes owns a large collection of Egyptian,
Greek and Roman antiquities as well as drawings and engravings by
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Parmigianino,
Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt. Its
French art collection gathers works by Georges de La Tour, François
Boucher, Paul Gauguin, Auguste Rodin,
Camille Corot and Robert
Delaunay. It has also works by Pablo Picasso, Rubens,
Peter Lely and
Paolo Veronese. The collections of the Museum of Fine Arts of Nantes
are more dedicated to modern and contemporary art and contain works by
Edward Burne-Jones, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Eugène Delacroix,
Gustave Courbet, Paul Signac, Tamara de Lempicka, Wassily Kandinsky,
Pierre Soulages and Piero Manzoni. The Museums of Fine Arts
of Brest and
Quimper offer similar collections, with large quantities
of French painting together with the works of some Italian and Dutch
artists. The Museum of Fine Arts
Pont-Aven is dedicated to the School
of Pont-Aven. Contemporary sculptures can be seen in the park around
the Château de Kerguéhennec, in Bignan.
Museums in Saint-Malo,
Douarnenez are dedicated to ships
and maritime traditions and history. The Musée national de la Marine
has a large annexe in Brest and a submarine is opened to visitors in
Lorient. In the same town, it is also possible to visit the Keroman
Submarine Base built in 1942, and the Cité de la voile Éric Tabarly,
a museum dedicated to sailing. In Saint-Nazaire, where many
transatlantic ships where built, including
SS Normandie and SS France,
a museum showing transatlantic interiors was installed in a Second
World War base.
Nantes has a museum dedicated to Jules Verne, a
Natural History Museum and a museum of archaeology and design, the
The Götheborg ship replica at the Brest tall ship meeting in 2012.
Brittany has a vibrant calendar of festivals and events. It hosts some
of France's biggest contemporary music festivals, such as La Route du
Rock in Saint-Malo, the Vieilles Charrues in Carhaix, the Rencontres
Trans Musicales in Rennes, the Festival du Bout du Monde in Crozon,
the Hellfest in
Clisson and the Astropolis in Brest. The Festival
Lorient welcomes each year participants all the
Celtic nations and their diasporas. La Folle Journée, in Nantes, is
the largest classical music festival in France.
The Breton culture is highlighted during the Fête de la Bretagne,
which occurs in many places around Saint-Yves's day (19 May), and
during the Festival de
Cornouaille in Quimper. Several towns also
organise historical re-enactments and events celebrating local
traditions, such as the Filets Bleus in
Concarneau which celebrates
Brittany also has some film festivals like the Three Continents
Festival in Nantes. The
Utopiales international science fiction
festival is held in the same city. Brest and
Douarnenez both organise
large tall ship meetings.
Football, cycling and sailing are the three most popular sports in
Brittany. Major football teams are the FC Nantes, the Stade Rennais
F.C., the FC Lorient, the Stade Brestois 29, the
Vannes OC and the En
Avant de Guingamp. Professional footballers coming from the region
also form the
Brittany national football team
Brittany national football team which sometimes plays
with national teams.
Bretons have won the Tour de France: Bernard Hinault, Louison
Jean Robic and
Lucien Petit-Breton as riders, and Cyrille
Guimard as a directeur sportif.
Sailing is particularly important for sea-resorts like La
Trinité-sur-Mer, Pornichet, Concarneau,
Lorient and the îles de
Glénan, where a prestigious school is located. A great number of
Bretons have become acclaimed sailors, such as: Éric Tabarly, Loïck
Peyron, Jean Le Cam, Michel Desjoyeaux, Olivier de Kersauson, Thomas
Vincent Riou and Marc Pajot. The Route du Rhum, the Transat
Jules Verne Trophy are the main Breton sailing
Solitaire du Figaro
Solitaire du Figaro stages often start in Brittany.
Gouren, a style of folk wrestling, is the most popular Breton sport.
Boule bretonne is related to pétanque. The Palets, common in
Upper Brittany and in other French regions, is also related to
pétanque, but players use iron disks instead of balls and they have
to throw them on a wooden board.
Galettes served with eggs and sausages.
Muscadet and Gros Plant white wines are produced south of the
Loire, the traditional drink of
Brittany is cider.
Brittany is the
second-largest cider-producing region in France. Breton cider is
traditionally served in a bowl or a cup.
Brittany also has a long
beer-brewing tradition, tracing its roots back to the 17th century.
Young artisanal brewers are keeping a variety of beer types alive,
such as Coreff de Morlaix, Tri Martolod and Britt. Stronger alcohols
include the chouchen, a sort of mead made with wild honey, and an
apple eau de vie called lambig.
Crêpes and galettes are the two most iconic Breton dishes. The
crêpes, made and served with butter, are eaten for dessert and the
galettes are usually salty and made with buckwheat. They traditionally
replaced bread as basic food and they can be served with cheese,
sausages, bacon, mushrooms or eggs. They can be accompanied by Breton
buttermilk called lait ribot.
Brittany also has a dish similar to the
pot-au-feu known as the kig ha farz, which consists of stewed pork or
beef with buckwheat dumplings.
Surrounded by the sea,
Brittany offers a wide range of fresh seafood
and fish, especially mussels and oysters. Among the seafood
specialities is a fish stew called cotriade. The beurre blanc sauce,
invented in Saint-Julien-de-Concelles, close to Nantes, is often
served with fish.
Brittany is also known for its salt, mainly
Guérande and used in butter and milk caramels. The
region is notable for its biscuit factories, many towns having their
own: Quimper, Lorient, Pont-Aven, Saint-Brieuc, BN and LU in Nantes,
La Trinitaine in La Trinité-sur-Mer, and Galettes Saint-Michel in
Saint-Michel-Chef-Chef. They usually make their biscuits with salted
butter and sell them in iron boxes. Famous Breton pastries include the
kouign amann ("butter cake" in Breton) made with bread dough and high
quantities of butter and sugar, and the far, a sort of sweet Yorkshire
pudding usually made with plums.
An old road sign on the Route Nationale 786 in Tréveneuc.
Until the 1970s, the Breton road network was poor because maritime and
rail transport prevailed. The French president Charles de Gaulle
implemented a major road construction plan in the 1970 and Brittany
received over 10 billion francs of investments during 25 years.
More than 10,000 km of motorways were built, permitting Breton
road transport to multiply by four. The Breton motorways are not toll
roads, contrarily to the usual French highways.
The main road artery linking cities and other settlements along the
north coast is the
Route nationale 12 which connects the cities of
Morlaix and Brest. It also provides a link to
southern Normandy, terminating in Paris. In south
Brittany the Route
nationale 165 performs a similar role along the south coast providing
connections between Nantes, Vannes, Lorient,
Quimper and Brest. The
Route nationale 164 crosses the centre of the peninsula and connects
Rennes to Loudéac,
Morlaix and Châteaulin, and the Route nationale
Rennes to Vannes. The Route nationale 137 provides
connections between Saint-Malo,
Nantes and terminates in
Nantes is linked to Paris by the A11 autoroute, and
Rennes is both on
A81 autoroute to Paris and the
A84 autoroute to Caen. These
highways are standard French toll road.
Morlaix railway viaduct is one of the highest in France.
The biggest Breton airport is
Nantes Atlantique Airport. It serves
destinations in the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Ireland,
Morocco... It will be replaced around 2017 by the new Aéroport du
Grand Ouest, located 30 km to the north-west of Nantes. The Brest
Bretagne Airport is the second airport in Brittany. It is followed by
Rennes – Saint-Jacques,
Saint-Brieuc – Armor airport serves flights between
Brittany and the Channel Islands. Others smaller airport operates
domestic flights in Quimper, and Lannion.
Brittany Ferries MS Bretagne off Saint-Malo.
Brittany is on two major
TGV lines, one linking Paris to
Nantes and Le
Croisic, on the south coast, and another linking Paris to
LGV Atlantique which stops at Le Mans will be extended to
Rennes in 2017, providing faster connections between Paris and
TGV train services also link the region with cities such as
Lyon, Strasbourg, Marseille, and Lille. Secondary train services are
TER Bretagne which provides connections between small
towns such as Vannes, Carhaix,
Roscoff and Paimpol.
TER Bretagne also
manages coach lines and connections between
Rennes and Nantes. TER
Pays de la Loire
Pays de la Loire operates trains between
Nantes and smaller towns in
There are ferry services that take passengers, vehicles and freight to
Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands. The main
Brittany Ferries which operates lines between Plymouth
Portsmouth and Saint-Malo, and
Roscoff and Cork. Irish
Ferries operates the route Rosslare-
Condor Ferries link
Saint-Malo with Jersey.
Cycling has always been one of the main sports of Brittany, but
leisure cycling and the infrastructure to support it have been growing
extremely rapidly. An extensive network of cyclepaths and recommended
cycleroutes has opened up all over the region. Some of these are
routes using mainly smaller roads and both signposted and maintained
by communes individually, but many are based on dedicated cyclepaths
often formed by converting disused railway tracks. These help form
routes such as 'Vélodyssée' from
Nantes and several major
routes under the 'V' label (following signs V1, V2 etc.). The old
tow-path of the Nantes-Brest canal is now open to cyclists along its
entire 385 km length though in places (unlike rail-based
cyclepaths) it is very meandering and leaving the path will both
shorten the distance and provide variety
As a general rule cyclists are very well respected in the region and
many larger towns have cycle-lanes - however traffic is 'cycle
friendly' even in their absence.
The modern flag of Brittany.
The modern flag of
Brittany was designed in 1923. It is called Gwenn
ha Du ("white and black" in Breton) and it features eleven ermine
spots (their number may vary) and nine stripes, the black ones
represent the Breton speaking historical dioceses, and the white ones
symbolise the gallo speaking dioceses. The flag was created to replace
the traditional ermine plain standard, considered too aristocratic and
royalist. It was inspired by the American flag and the British Red
Ensign. Since the 1920s, the flag has become very popular and it
is flown from a large number of institutions. Apart from the ermine
flag, Breton historic banners include the Kroaz Du, a white flag with
a black cross, the perfect negative of the Cornish flag.
The ermine was the badge of several dukes of Brittany.
The coat of arms of Brittany, ermine plain, was adopted by John III in
Ermine had been used in
Brittany long before, and there is no
clue about its origin. It was probably chosen by the dukes because of
its similarity with the French fleur-de-lis. The ermine, or stoat, as
an animal became the badge of John IV at the end of the 14th century.
It appeared later on numerous locations, including churches and
castles. According to popular traditions,
Anne of Brittany
Anne of Brittany was hunting
with her court when she saw a white ermine who preferred to die than
to cross a dirty marsh. This episode would have inspired the duchess'
motto : "Potius mori quam foedari" ("rather death than
dishonour"). The motto has later been reused by Breton regiments,
local World War II Resistants and cultural movements.
The Breton anthem, although not official, is
Bro Gozh ma Zadoù -
("Old Land of My Fathers"). It re-employs both the Welsh anthem's
music and that of "Bro Goth agan Tasow" (the national anthem of
Cornwall; its lyrics were written at the end of the 19th century.
Colloquial Breton emblems include the Celtic triskelion, the menhirs
and dolmens, local dishes such as the galettes, the
and the traditional black round hat, the fisherman and his yellow
raincoat, etc. BZH is a common abbreviation for "Breizh" ("Brittany"
in Breton) and people often put BZH stickers on their car-plates,
although it is forbidden under French laws.
.bzh is an approved
Internet top level domain for the Breton culture and
Merlin's tomb in the
Brocéliande forest, Paimpont
A dolmen in Plouharnel
The city wall of Guérande
Castle of Saint-Malo, Qui Qu'en Grogne Tower
Château de Suscinio
Île Vierge lighthouse
Brittany in Rennes
Abbey and lighthouse of Saint-Mathieu
Ar Meilhoù Glaz, a
Bagad from Quimper
Festival du chant de marin, sea songs festival in Paimpol
A Breton headdress from Batz-sur-Mer
Brittany - Illustration from Legends & Romances of Brittany
by Lewis Spence, illustrated by W. Otway Cannell.
Brittany (administrative region)
Politics of Brittany
Magnus Maximus was a native of Galicia in Spain, being born on the
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Brittany.
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Brittany : in the West, the end of the world – Official French
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Brittany at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
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Celtic League definition
Isle of Man
Breton nationalism (history)
Irish nationalism (incl. Republicanism)
Brythonic (Breton, Cornish & Welsh)
Goidelic (Irish, Manx & Scottish Gaelic)
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Britons (Bretons, Cornish & Welsh)
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Isle of Man
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Historical provinces of France
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Coordinates: 48°00′N 3°00′W / 48.000°N 3.000°W /