Brittany ( , ; ; Gallo: Bertaèyn) is a cultural and
administrative region in the north-west of France.
Brittany was previously a kingdom
as a duchy
it was a fief of the Kingdom of France
. It was at one time
called Less, Lesser or Little Britain
(in opposition to Great Britain).
It is one of the six Celtic nations
occupies a large peninsula in the north
west of France, lying
between the English
Channel to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south.
Its land area is
34,023 km² . The historical province of Brittany is
divided into five departments: Finistère in the west, Côtes-d'Armor in the north, Ille-et-Vilaine in the north east, Loire-Atlantique in the south east and Morbihan in the south on the Bay of Biscay.
World War II, the government of
Vichy France detached the Loire-Atlantique département (around the city of Nantes) from
Brittany, and placed it within a region based around the city of
Angers. Today, 80% of historic Brittany has become
the administrative région of Bretagne, while the remaining area, the Loire-Atlantique
département around Nantes (formerly one of the historic
capitals of Brittany), forms part of the Pays de la
In January 2007 the population of Brittany was estimated to be
4,365,500. Of these, 71% lived in the Bretagne région
while 29% lived in the Pays-de-la-Loire région
1999 census, the largest metropolitan
areas were Nantes (711,120
inhabitants), Rennes (521,188
inhabitants), and Brest (303,484
The peninsula that became "Brittany"
was a centre of
constructions in the
era. It has been called the
of megalithic culture. It later became the
territory of several Celtic tribes, of which the most powerful was
. After Caesar's conquest of
, the area became known to the Romans as
, from the Celtic term for
. Its transformation into
occurred in the late Roman period. According to medieval
Welsh sources, the Roman usurper Magnus Maximus brought his British troops to
Gaul to enforce his claims.
He settled them in Armorica
, and this Romano-British
colony expanded when Britain
itself was invaded by the Anglo-Saxons
forcing the native Celts to the west and overseas and establishing
the dominance of the Brythonic
(British Celtic) Breton language
Armorica. The Armorican British colony expanded, forming a group of
petty kingdoms which were later unified in the 840s under Nominoe
in resistance to Frank
In the mid-9th century
Nominoe and his
successors won a series of victories over the Franks which secured
an independent Duchy of Brittany
High Middle Ages the Duchy was
sometimes allied to England and
sometimes to France.
The pro-English faction was victorious
in 1364 in the Breton War of
, but the independent Breton army was eventually
defeated by the French in 1488, leading to dynastic union with
France following the marriage of Duchess Anne of Brittany
to two kings of France in
succession. In 1532 the Duchy was incorporated into
In the 18th century
the Pontcallec Conspiracy
continuing Breton claims to legal distinction from France, but the
Duchy was legally abolished during the French Revolution
. The area became a
centre of royalist
resistance to the Revolution during the
. In the 19th century the Celtic Revival led to the foundation of the
Breton Regionalist Union
and later to independence movements linked to Irish, Welsh and Scottish independence parties in the UK and to pan-Celticism.
There was a major
cultural renaissance in the 20th century associated with the
movement Seiz Breur
. The alliance of the
Breton National Party
in World War II
weakened Bretonism in the post-war
period. However, Brittany was legally reconstituted
as the Region of Brittany, although the region excluded the ducal capital of
Nantes and the
Over this period the Breton language
Children were not allowed to speak Breton at school, and were
punished by teachers if they did. Nevertheless Brittany retained
its cultural distinctiveness.
Brittany is home to many megalithic
monuments which are scattered across the peninsula
. The largest alignments are near
. The purpose of these monuments
is still unknown, and many local people are reluctant to entertain
speculation on the subject. The words dolmen
(from "taol" table and "maen" stone) and
(from "maen" stone and "hir"
long) are Breton and commonly used by either Breton or French
Brittany is also known for its calvary sculptures
, elaborately carved
crucifixion scenes found at crossroads in villages and small towns,
especially in Western Brittany.
Besides its numerous intact manors
, Brittany has several old
also. The walled city of
Saint-Malo (Sant-Maloù), a popular tourist
attraction, is also an important port
linking Brittany with England and the Channel
It also was the birthplace of the historian
, acclaimed author
famous corsair Surcouf
. The town of Roscoff (Rosko) is served by ferry links with England and Ireland.
Significant urban centres include:
island of Ushant (Breton: Enez Eusa, French:
Ouessant) is the north-westernmost point of Brittany and
France, and marks the entrance of the English Channel.
Naunnt, Breton: Naoned) : 282 853 inhabitants in
the commune (2006), 804 833 in the urban area.
Resnn, Breton: Roazhon) : 209 613 inhabitants in
the commune (2006), 521 188 in the urban area.
Brest) : 148 316 inhabitants in the commune (2006), ca.
300 000 in the urban area.
Saint-Nazaire (Gallo: Saint-Nazère, Breton:
Sant-Nazer) : 71 373 inhabitants in the commune (2006); in
the urban area of Nantes.
- * Lorient (Breton: an Oriant) :
58 547 inhabitants in the commune (2006).
- * Quimper (Breton:
Kemper) : 64 900 inhabitants in the commune (2006).
- * Vannes (Breton: Gwened, Gallo:
Vann) : 53 079 inhabitants in the commune (2006), 132 880
in the urban area.
- * Saint-Brieuc (Gallo:
Saint-Bérieu, Breton: Sant-Brieg) : 46 437
inhabitants in the commune (2006), 121 237 in the urban area
Saint-Malo (Gallo: Saent-Malô, Breton:
Sant-Maloù) : 52,737 inhabitants in the commune (2007), 81
962 in the urban area.
- * Redon (Gallo:
Rdon, Breton: Redon) : 9 601 inhabitants in the
commune (2006), 52 758 in the urban area.
islands off the coast of Brittany include:
- *Bréhat enez Vriad
- *Batz enez Vaz
- *Molène Molenez
- *Sein enez Sun
- *Glénan islands inizi Glenan
- *Groix enez Groe
- *Belle Île ar Gerveur
- *Houat Houad
- *Hoëdic Edig
- *Île-d'Arz an Arzh
The coast at Brittany is unusual due to its colouring. The Côte de Granit Rose
coast) is located in the Côtes d'Armor department of Brittany. It
stretches for more than thirty kilometres from Plestin-les-Greves
and is one of the most outstanding
coastlines in Europe. This special pink rock is very rare and can
be found in only two other places in the world, Corsica and China.
The landscape has inspired artists, including Paul Signac
, Raymond Wintz
wife, and Renee Carpentier Wintz, who both painted coastal and
village scenes. Paul Gauguin
famous School of Pont-Aven
also painted many village scenes.
Bilingual road signs can be seen in
traditional Breton-speaking areas.
, the only official language
of the French Republic,
is today spoken throughout Brittany. The two regional languages
have no official status
with regards to the state, although they are supported by the
regional authorities within the constitutional limits: Breton
, strongest in the west but to be seen
all over Brittany, is a Celtic
most closely related to Cornish
which is spoken in the east, is one of the Latinate Oïl languages
From the very beginning of its history and despite the end of the
independence of Brittany, Breton remained the language of the
entire population of western Brittany, except for bishops and
French administrators or officers, but has always been widely
spoken everywhere else. French laws and economic pressure led
people to abandon their language to that of the ruler, but until
the 1960s, Breton was spoken and understood by the majority of the
Breton was traditionally spoken in the west (the "Breizh-Izel
" or "Basse-Bretagne
"), and Gallo in the east (the
"pays Gallo", "Breizh-Uhel" or "Haute-Bretagne"). The dividing line
stretched from Plouha
on the north coast to a
point to the south east of Vannes
had, however, long been the main language of the towns. The
Breton-speaking area formerly covered territory much farther east
than its current distribution.
Traditional coat of arms
In the Middle Ages
, Gallo expanded into
formerly Breton-speaking areas. Now restricted to a much reduced
territory in the east of Brittany, Gallo finds itself under
pressure from the dominant Francophone
culture. It is also felt by some to be threatened by the Breton
which is gaining
ground in territories that were never part of the main
Privately funded Diwan
("Seed") schools, where classes are
taught in Breton by the immersion
, play an important part in the revival of the Breton
language. They are denied State funding by the French government.
The issue of whether they should be funded by the State has long
been, and remains, controversial. Some bilingual classes are also
provided in ordinary schools.
Despite the resistance of French administration, bilingual (Breton
and French) road signs may be seen in some areas, especially in the
traditional Breton-speaking area. Signage in Gallo is much
A large influx of English-speaking immigrants and second-home
owners in some villages sometimes
adds to linguistic diversity.
Christianization may have occurred during Roman occupation, the
first recorded Christian missionaries came to the region from
Wales and are known as the "Seven founder saints".
Sculpted "calvaries" can be found in
- St Pol Aurelian, at Saint-Pol-de-Léon (Breton:
- St Tudual (sant Tudwal),
at Tréguier (Breton:
- St Brieuc, at Saint-Brieuc (Breton: Sant-Brieg,
Malo, at Saint-Malo (Breton: Sant-Maloù, Gallo:
- St Samson of Dol, at Dol-de-Bretagne (Breton: Dol,
- St Patern, at Vannes (Breton: Gwened),
- St Corentin (sant
Kaourintin), at Quimper
Other notable early evangelizers are Gildas
and the Irish saint Columbanus
. With more
than 300 "saints
" (only a few recognised by
the Catholic Church
), the region is
. Since the
at least, Brittany has
been known as one of the most devoutly Catholic regions in France,
in contrast to many other more secularised areas (see "Bl. Julien
"). The proportion of students attending Catholic
private schools is the highest in France. As in other Celtic
regions, the legacy of Celtic
has left a rich tradition of local saints and
monastic communities, often commemorated in place names beginning
of Brittany is Saint Anne
, the Virgin's mother. But the most
famous saint is Saint Ivo of
('saint Yves' in French, 'sant Erwan' in Breton), a
priest who devoted his
life to the poor.
Once a year, believers go on a "Pardon
", the saint's feast day
of the parish
often begins with a procession followed by a mass in honour of the
saint. There is always a secular side, with some food and craft
stalls. The three most famous Pardons are:
- from Sainte-Anne d'Auray/Santez-Anna-Wened, where a poor farmer
in the 17th century explained how the
saint had ordered him to build a chapel in her honour.
- from Tréguier/Landreger, in honour
of St Yves, the patron saint of the judges, advocates, and any
profession involved in justice.
- from Locronan/Lokorn, in honour of
St Ronan, with a troménie (a procession, 12 km-long)
and numerous people in traditional costume.
There is a very old pilgrimage
(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 Samzun.
Whoever does not make the
pilgrimage at least once in his lifetime will be condemned to make
it after his death, advancing only by the length of his coffin each
Some traditions and customs from the old Celtic religion have also
been preserved in Brittany. The most powerful folk figure is the
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 to live.
The Bagad of Lann-Bihoué.
Brittany is an area of strong Celtic
rich in its cultural heritage. Though long under the control of
France and influenced by French traditions, Brittany has retained
and, since the early 1970s, revived its own folk music, modernising
and adapting it into folk rock and other fusion genres.
some white wine is produced near the Loire, the traditional drinks of Brittany are:
- cider ( ) - Brittany is the second largest
cider-producing region in France; Traditionally served in a ceramic
cup resembling an English Tea cup.
- a sort of mead made from wild honey called
- an apple eau de vie called
Some hogdys are also produced. Historically Brittany was a beer
producing region. However, as wine was increasingly imported from
other regions of France, beer drinking and production slowly came
to an end in the early to mid-20th
. In the 1970s, due to a regional comeback, new
breweries started to open and there are now about 20 of
is also produced by a handful of
distilleries with excellent results. Another recent drink is
(crème de cassis
and cider) which may be
served as an apéritif
Tourists often try a mix of bread and red wine.
Very thin, wide pancakes
made from buckwheat
flour are eaten with ham, eggs and other
savoury fillings. They are usually called galettes
), except in
the western parts of Brittany where they are called crêpes
crêpes made from wheat flour are eaten for dessert
or for breakfast. They may be served cold
with local butter. Other pastries
, such as
("butter cake" in
Breton) made from bread dough, butter and sugar, or far
, a sort of sweet Yorkshire pudding
, or clafoutis
with prunes, are traditional.
Surrounded by the sea, Brittany offers a wide range of fresh sea
food and fish, especially mussels
. Among the sea food specialities is
Located on the west coast of France, Brittany has a warm, temperate
climate. Rainfall occurs regularly - which has helped keep its
green and wooded, but sunny,
cloudless days are also common.
summer months, temperatures in the region can reach 30 degrees
Celsius, but remain comfortable compared to
parts of France south of the Loire.
Brittany generally has a moderate climate during both summer and
winter, and rain is neither uncomfortably common nor rare.
Brittany's most popular summer resorts are
on the south coast (La Baule, Belle
Île, Gulf of
Morbihan), although the wilder and more exposed north coast
also attracts summer tourists.
There are several airports in Brittany serving destinations in
France and England. TGV train services link
the region with cities such as Paris, Lyon, Marseille, and Lille in
In addition there are ferry services that take
passengers, vehicles and freight to Ireland, England and the
following regular services:
Irish Ferries operates the following routes:
- Mark Patton, Statements in Stone: Monuments and Society in
Neolithic Brittany, Routledge, 1993, p.1
- The two-wave migraton model is supported by Léon Fleuriot in
Les origines de la Bretagne: l’émigration, Paris, Payot,
- Smith, Julia M. H. Province and Empire: Brittany and the
Carolingians,. Cambridge University Press, 1992,
- Constance De La Warr, A Twice Crowned Queen: Anne of
Brittany, Peter Owen, 2005
- Joël Cornette, Le marquis et le Régent. Une conspiration
bretonne à l'aube des Lumières, Paris, Tallandier, 2008.
- .J-R Rotté, Ar Seiz Breur. recherches et réalisations pour
un art Breton moderne, 1923-1947, 1987.
- Bretagne: poems (in French), by Amand Guérin,
Published by P. Masgana, 1842: page 238