Rennes ,capital of Bretagne/Brittany!!!

I was just reading my Le Figaro newspaper and saw a nice article on Rennes, I know it brought many memories of been the first town ever visited in Brittany while living in Versailles and it was a business trip ! Once in the Morbihan of the region of Brittany had visited many times even for lunch ! Then, a memorable trip to get a second opinion on my dear late wife Martine cancer treatment, Always will remember, Rennes and with the article made me update this older instroductory post on the city capital of Brittany, Rennes. You can search my other entries on Rennes in my blog. I will just tell you a bit more on Rennes and hope you like it as I. I will minimize the pictures unless not shown elsewhere ok. Bear with me is long and useful me think.

Rennes is the capital city of the department Ille-et-Vilaine (no. 35) and as well the region of Brittany . The city is located in the upper Brittany at the confluence of Ille and Vilaine rivers from which the department takes its name. It is at 55 km from the coast of La Manche closest to the sea. Rennes is located 63 km from Saint Malo, 128 km from Angers , 210 km from Brest, 154 km from Caen , and 129 km from my house. Rennes is located at a more or less equal distance from the large seaports of the West which are Le Havre at 204 km and La Rochelle at 220 km , also located 120 km from the great seaport of Nantes-Saint-Nazaire. The only Breton city of more than 25 000 inhabitants that is not located on the seaside or estuary. So as you can see it is pretty fairly central to all.

The city is very easily accessible as it is located at the crossroads of a star network of expressways such as the N157 to the east to Vitré, Laval, le Mans and Paris. The N 137 to the south towards Nantes, La Rochelle and Bordeaux.  The N 24 to the west towards Vannes, Lorient, Quimper and me. The N 12 to the north-west towards Saint-Brieuc and Brest.  The D 137 to the north towards Dinan, Dinard and Saint-Malo.  The A84 to the north is towards Fougères, Caen, Rouen and Lille. The TGV Brittany, takes you from the train station or Gare de Rennes to Paris Montparnasse in about 1H25 (taken connections here to Paris and CDG )and 45 minutes from Le Mans by TGV. Rennes is also accessible in  about 2h22 from Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle Airport (TGV station), 1H22 from Massy TGV, 2H05 from Marne-la-Vallée (Disneyland), the Rennes-Saint-Jacques Airport, located 7 km from the city center, on the town of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande. The airport opens the city of Rennes with national and European destinations such as Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Toulouse, Strasbourg, London, Barcelona, Dublin, Manchester,Madrid, Birmingham and Amsterdam, etc, I have taken it to Lisbon connecting in Madrid once.

The history of Rennes covers a period of several centuries. Too long to tell in one blog post !! Under the old regime (monarchy), the Union of the Duchy of Brittany in 1532  to kingdom of France gradually up Rennes to the rank of big provincial city. The establishment of the Parliament of Brittany in Rennes in the 16C and the Palace of Brittany in the 17C, however, allowed Brittany to preserve until the French revolution a certain autonomy with regard to the royal power of the time. Victim of a terrible fire in 1720, Rennes is one of those cities that have had two lives: before and after a disaster. In this case, it is the great fire of 1720 which, in one week, devoured 950 houses: almost half of the city disappeared in flames! In the process, architects were sent to give a new face to the city, but, in the medieval districts, the half-timbered houses remained. The medieval wooden center of the city is partially rebuilt in stone (granite and Tufa). After the fire of 1720, it was the architect Jacques Gabriel, who was responsible for rebuilding Rennes. He notably created the city/town hall, which can be visited. It traces rectilinear arteries, lined with mansions, which can be admired on the place de l’Hôtel de Ville and around: rue d’Estrée, rue Nationale, on the place du Parlement de Bretagne. In the middle ages, the city was surrounded by a wall fortress of 1200 meters,until the 15C, even as far as the 16C the most relevent aspect of the city was the Cathedral  The city is divided from 1983 into neighborhoods sort of like the arrondissement of Paris.  These count 12 such as the Centre, Thabor-Saint Hélier, Bourg-L’évêque, Saint Martin, Maurepas-Patton-Bellangerais, Jeanne d’Arc-Longs-Champs-Beaulieu, Francisco Ferrer-Landry-Poterie, Sud-Gare, Cleunay-Arsenal-Redon, Villejean-Beauregard, Le Blosne ,and Bréquigny. From a tourist point of view I mark in black the pertinent ones.

Nice outdoors were sprung such as the Thabor park  not far from the city center;  Oberthür Park; the leisure base of the Gayeulles in the north east of the city; Bréquigny Park in the south;  Les prairies Saint-Martin, along the Ille-et-Rance Canal. The Porte Mordelaise Gate until the 15C, the city grew in the shelter of this wall as its political and economic role increased. At the beginning of the 15C, the town of residence of the Dukes of Brittany, however, has no landmarks outside its Cathedral! Two new ramparts walls were built in the 15C to ensure the development of the city. This new enclosure is completed in 1452, but already another extension is underway. In 1449, Duke François I took the decision to extend the city walls to the south of the Vilaine river. In 1473, this enclosure was in turn completed. It was during this century that the city was embellished by equipping itself in 1467 with its first civil monument: the Tour d’Horloge (Clock tower), quoted by François Rabelais in his work of Pantagruel !

In 1561, the parliament of Brittany fixe itself in the city ,and is one of the emblematic monuments of the city, the Palace of parliament was built between 1618 and 1709. This masterpiece of classical architecture escaped the great fire of 1720 , but was largely destroyed by flames a few centuries later, in 1994. Completely restored, it still houses the Court of Appeals ,and the Rennes tourist office organizes guided tours there. Many mansions built for the gentlemen of Parliament, such as the hotels of La Noue and the Racape de la Feuillée, built on the place des Lices in 1658. The place Royale where the parliament of Brittany sits and the new square dominated by the city/town hall, less monumental and obedient to cannons less rigorous than its neighbor. The monumental aspect of the place Royale had a strong symbolic value. It was a matter of representing the Dominion of the royal power over the provincial parliament following the revolt of the stamped paper, the square serving as a jewel in a monumental statue of Louis XIV.

Around Place des Lices or Saint-Pierre Cathedral, in Saint-Sauveur, Saint-Guillaume or Saint-Yves streets, one can admire many witnesses of medieval Rennes such as the beautiful Saint-Yves chapel, Flamboyant Gothic style, which today houses the offices of the tourist office ; the corbelled houses from the 16C, they offer a flat facade, adorned with a clever interlacing of beams. See for example the Ti Koz house, at 3 rue Saint Guillaume, which was built in 1505 for the canons of Saint-Pierre Cathedral and is now occupied by a bar. The wooden-framed houses, also known as half-timbered houses, draw the boundaries of the old Rennes: they are typically present in the streets around the rue de Champ-Jacquet, and the place Sainte-Anne and Place des Lices. The rue Saint-Georges has kept many houses of the 17C some houses with wooden pans on rue Vasselot. Traces of the 16C on the facade of 20, rue dù Chapitre. On the basis of the plan of planning conceived between 1852 and 1855, large boulevards are drawn: cours de la Gare (present Avenue Jean-Janvier) to reach directly the city center from the station, Boulevard de la Tour d’Auvergne, allowing to facilitate the connection between Saint-Malo and Bordeaux (Imperial Road D137), boulevard de la Liberté between these two axes on the backfilled moat of the ancient ramparts already demolished at the time. This plan will be overall achieved; only the Champs de Mars will be reorganized to allow the extension of the barracks of the Colombier (dovecote).


Some things to see I like, and many with posts in my blog already,

The city is endowed with structuring buildings such as the Imperial High School (1803), University Palace (1847-1855), new Hospital of Hôtel-Dieu  (1855), Prison (1863-1876), as well as numerous barracks located on the edge of the city. Finally, in 1897, Rennes inaugurated its power-supply tramway network, consisting of five main lines, facilitating urban travel. There are still some vestiges left today.

There is the Cathedral of St. Peter’s, one of the nine historic cathedrals of Brittany. Classically styled in facade and neoclassical interior, it is the seat of the Archdiocese of Rennes. The Saint-Sauveur Basilica celebrates Our Lady of Miracles and Virtues, protector of the city of Rennes. It has Gothic arches of the 14C and capped  by a spire with a gilded Virgin on top. The place Sainte-Anne houses the former convent of the Jacobins. The old Gothic former chapel of Saint-Yves Hospital, located on Rue Saint-Yves, is now an interpretation center on heritage and on the evolution of Rennes, and was,also,  the former home to the tourist office of Rennes. 

rennes jardin-st-george- back palais madeleine oct12

In the heart of the new city district ,the Church of Saint-Germain, the former parish of the merchants and then of parliamentarians, is the last major edifice of flamboyant Gothic style (15-16C) in the city. The Church of Sainte-Thérèse, of Art Deco style, built between 1932 and 1936 , notably adorned with mosaics. Les Halles Martenot, built from 1868 to 1871, welcomes the Marché des Lices every Saturday morning. The Lices market is a Rennes institution: it takes place every Saturday, from 7h30 to 13h30 on this square where, in the past, chivalrous jousts were held. It is customary that after buying a few products, customers sit down at a nearby café table to enjoy them on the go.Yes !!! Not to missed the Marché de Hoche, at place Hoche, where there is a book exchange, food market ,and arts creation market at different days of the week.  Books every day, food Thursdays afternoon after 15h to 20h, and art creation every Saturdays from 9h to 18h.

The  Place Sainte-Anne  houses the convent of the Jacobins. The former Gothic Chapel of the hospital Saint-Yves, located rue Saint-Yves, is now converted into a museum on the evolution of Rennes, and houses the tourist office of Rennes. Located on the highest point of Rennes, the Church Abbey Notre-Dame-en-Saint-Melaine was used as the provisional seat of the bishopric of Rennes. Former Abbey Church, it kept all its buildings, its cloister and garden of the monks: the current  Parc Thabor. The tower and the transept of the ancient benedictine Abbey of Saint-Melaine are from the 11C. It has Gothic arches of the 14C and capped  by a spire with a gilded Virgin on top.

The Portes Mordelaises (gates), a two-towered châtelet and drawbridge, border the remains of the ancient medieval fortifications of the 3C, up to the Jehan Duchesne Tower of the 15C at rue Nantes, and the ramparts of the 15C to the east of the Gallo-Roman fortifications at place Rallier-du-Baty. The Palace of the Parliament of Brittany. The construction of buildings on the ground floor of granite and the floors of white stone came later such as the Hotel de Blossac, which hosts the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs, is built on this model.

The theater of the city was inaugurated in 1836 ; was designed to take the idea of the curved part of the city/ town hall to draw a convex building. At the same time, the Palais du Commerce, located on the Place de la République, was built from 1885 to 1911 this building is currently used by the Post office. The Champs Libres, a cultural installation comprising the activities of four structures: the main library of the city, the Museum of Brittany and the Space of Sciences. Opened in March 2006. Also worth a look the Museum of Fine Arts. Rennes has some fairly interesting contemporary museums. Since 1986, La Criée, a contemporary art center, has pursued an avant-garde policy: artists known or not, French or foreign: the range is wide and the choices sharp. In the same spirit, the Frac Bretagne supports and exhibits contemporary artistic creation: collections, exhibitions and in the bookshop, full of good surprises. There are also good exhibitions at Oniris, a private gallery located rue d’Antrain, in the city center.



About 40 works of contemporary art have been installed across Rennes. It is for example the fountain of the place of Coëtquen, carried out by Claudio Parmiggiani, an Italian artist close to the movement of Arte Povera. Or, in front of the Frac Bretagne, the alignment of the 21st century, where Aurélie Nemours delivers a very contemporary, massive and rectilinear interpretation of an old legacy of the Celts: the alignment of megaliths.

Launched in 1979, the Trans Musicales are the unmissable event in Rennes’ cultural life. But the programming doesn’t stop there. Mythos is the festival of speech: theater, tales, stories and music are in the spotlight. Jazz upstairs defends this timeless music. Organized since 1967 by students from a major school in Rennes, the Rock’n Solex mixes speed races at Solex and concerts. Usually held during the summer, Nightfall is a street arts festival.

As said, written on it before with plenty of info for visits but just out of simplicity and habit, here are some webpages to help you further plan your visit ,which are a must:

The Rennes tourist office

The Ille et Vilaine dept 35 tourist office on Rennes

The Bretagne region tourist board on Rennes

There you go folks, a wonderful introduction to glorious Rennes, capital of Brittany, Hope you enjoy the information and get you to taste Rennes and Brittany soon. Hope you enjoy the post as I, and again thanks for reading me since November 2010 !

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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