The story of Vannes

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The town’s evolution

Founded over 2,000 years ago, at the inland edge of the Gulf of Morbihan, the growth of Vannes was based on its harbour, which was very busy until the 19th century.

The ancient town

Its first name was Darioritum

Founded at the end of the 1st century BC, the Gallo-Roman town was built on the Boismoreau hill, overlooking the nearby ria. Darioritum was organised around a huge “forum”, which was the administrative and political capital of the Veneti territory. Down below the town, a port facilitated the city's trading activities. At the end of the 3rd century AD, the construction of a castrum (fortified site) on the neighbouring Mené hill was deemed necessary.

Then it was called Venetis at the start of the 5th century.

This name, originating from the Veneti, a tribe of Gauls vanquished by Caesar in 56 BC, was restored at the fall of the Roman Empire. It was spelt Vennes for a long period, pronounced “jwened” and spelt “Gwened” in Breton.

The medieval town

Vannes became a Cathedral city as early as the 5th century. The town grew around two poles of development: the castrum (and the cathedral) on the Méné hill, and the Boismoreau hill, the original site of the Gallo-Roman town. Though the latter was abandoned in the Early Middle Ages and the castrum, which was the base of the medieval town, was preferred.

During the 7th and 8th centuries, the opening of building sites bears witness to urban renewal: the rebuilding of the Cathedral, the building of the Cohue (a market hall), maintenance work on the battlements, etc. A well-ordered street network had now developed around these important buildings.

At the end of the Middle Ages Vannes had become one of the foremost towns in Brittany. Duke Jean 4th (1365-1399) decided to build the “Château de l’Hermine” in Vannes and to extend the area protected by the town walls from five to ten hectares. The town grew towards the port area, which was extremely busy at that epoch.

The contemporary town

During the 17th century several convents were established on the immediate outskirts of the town. Between 1675 and 1689, the exile of Brittany’s parliament, obliged to leave Rennes and come to Vannes, triggered the construction of new buildings, particularly in the southern part of the town within the walls. A drinking water network and the creation of tree-lined walks and promenades added to the beauty of the town.

During the 18th century, the main problem remained the silting-up of the port, which forced the town to build a flushing sluice and build new quays. Work on the cutting through the Kérino hillock, which was intended to straighten the channel on the Vannes River, was started just before the Revolution, but was only completed in the following century.

The town in the 19th and 20th centuries

During the second half of the 19th century two factors led to the urbanisation of the suburbs: the arrival of the railway in 1862 then, after 1870, the installation of two artillery regiments that stimulated renewed growth of the town. Light industries and housing estates spread around the station, followed by the western quarters, which became residential areas. New roads were built, avoiding the old battlements, which suffered very little damage. A lot of energy was spent on the construction of public buildings such as the “Prefecture” (county administrative offices) and the town hall.

The town grew sharply after the Second World War. During the 1960s and 1970s, the creation of the Kercado and Ménimur ZUPs (priority development areas) and the construction of the northern ring-road, profoundly changed the built-up area, which nowadays extends beyond the town council’s boundaries. However, Vannes was able to preserve its ancient core thanks to the conservation and enhancement plan approved in 1982.

Vannes over the centuries

The favourite residence of the Dukes of Brittany at the end of the Middle Ages, Vannes became the Prefecture (County town) of Morbihan in 1791.

An important religious centre

Saint Peter’s Cathedral, rebuilt from the 11th century onwards, dominates the townscape in the heart of the medieval city. The first known bishop of the town, Saint Patern, gave his name to another ancient parish in the town. During the Middle Ages, Saint-Patern’s Church was a pilgrimage stop on the Tro Breiz (tour of Brittany). In 1418-1419, the visit of the Spanish Dominican Vincent Ferrier, who died in Vannes, led to a surge in religious devotion. He became the patron saint of the town. With the Counter-Reformation, many convents were established on the outskirts: Carmelite, Ursulines and Capucines settled in the port area; the Jesuits and Dominicans took up residence in northern and eastern outskirts respectively.

Vannes, the flagship of the Duchy of Brittany

Following the dynastic conflict that devastated Brittany during the second half of the 14th century, the Montfort dukes chose Vannes as their place of residence. The Chamber of Accounts was based there during the 15th century and the provincial assembly met regularly at Vannes. The Duke François II created the first Breton Parliament in Vannes in 1485. Parliamentary sessions were held at the "Château Gaillard".

The union with France

The army of Duke François II was beaten by the French troops at Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier near Rennes in 1488. The successive marriages of his daughter Duchesse Anne to the two kings of France, Charles VIII then Louis XII, were the first steps towards the end of Brittany's independence. King François I of France met the Breton parliamentary representatives in Vannes, in August 1532, to decide on a Treaty of Perpetual Union, which was ratified a few months later at the castle of Plessis-Macé in Anjou.

A port and an agricultural centre

The town has benefited from the agricultural riches of its hinterland from its earliest times, enabling it to become a very active trading centre. Thanks to the development of Brittany's maritime trade, Vannes became an important wine-trading centre towards the end of the Middle Ages.

Some long voyages were organised from Vannes during the 18th century siècle, but Vannes was reputed more for its coastal shipping trade, which lasted until the 19th century. With the arrival of the railways in 1862 and changes in modes of transport, maritime trade suffered from intense competition and declined.

Not many industries were set up in Vannes during the 19th century. Shipyards and tanneries, the last of which closed in 1939, were a legacy from the period before the French Revolution. The arrival of the Michelin factory in the 1960s and the development of the agri-food industry brought new life to the local industrial activity.

An administrative and touristic calling

Vannes remains, as it always has been, the administrative centre of the Département of Morbihan. Several universities have relocated to the town in the past few years. Tourism and culture are, however, becoming increasingly important. Even at the start of the 20th century, steamers based in Vannes were offering tourists excursions around the Gulf of Morbihan with stopovers on the islands. Later on, just after the Second World War, by creating the "Jardins optiques" park in front of the battlements, Francis Decker, Mayor of Vannes realised that the town's heritage was a real asset for the future development of Vannes.



Place Maurice Marchais

Tél. : 02 97 01 60 00



Monday to Friday from 8h to 12h15 and from 13h15 to 18h.Saturday morning from 9h to 12h.



7 rue Joseph Le Brix

Tél. : 02 97 01 60 00


Ouverture :


Monday to Friday from 8h15 to 12h15 and from 13h15 to 17h.


Permanence of the state civil service, Saturday 9am to 12pm.Are given priority: the declarations of birth and death as well as passport applications (by appointment).


Saturday morning, home phone from 9h to 12h.