Little is known of the urban tradition in this maritime and agricultural land. Yet it dates from the XIth century, and for some cities, from the Middle Ages. There are four generations of towns:
– towns from the Gallic-Roman age, such as Rennes and Vannes,
– the religious towns growing up around the monasteries founded in the high Middle Ages,
– feudal towns, established close to a Chateau, peopled by nobles, monks and craftsmen,
– coastal towns, appearing at the time of the great discovery of the Americas.
All these towns enjoyed a renaissance under the Ancien Regime with the dramatic expansion of the textile industry (yarn, cloth, sail cloth). The conflicts with England, the importing of cotton and increased use of steamships resulted in the decline of many towns. To the coastal towns of the Middle Ages were added the resorts, fishing ports and towns involved in the preserving
industry of the XIXth century, such as Port Louis or Concarneau. Today these towns represent an important aspect of the riches of the Breton architectural heritage.
Cities of Art
There are two Breton Associations acting as ambassadors for cultural and heritage tourism, now expanding in Brittany to supplement the coastal resorts and sports tourism. The first is the Union des Villes d’Art et d’Histoire et des Villes historiques de Bretagne, and the second the Association des Petites Cités de Caractère
de Bretagne. The Cities of Art are grouped by locality: the Brittany Marches, Vannetais, Pays Gallo, Cornouaille, Léon, Trégor. These towns regularly organise medieval fetes, Son et Lumiere shows with spectacular lighting-up of their built heritage, or traditional Breton cultural or creative arts festivals.
The Towns of Art and History
The Towns of Art and History – approved by the French Ministry of Culture – number 10: Auray, Concarneau, Dinan, Fougères, Nantes, Quimper, Rennes, Saint-Malo, Vannes et Vitré.
Incorporated in the Union des Villes d’Art et d’Histoire de Bretagne, they are bound by a common charter to preserve and enhance their architectural and cultural heritage. Tourist and cultural activities are organised depending on the artistic and historical riches of the communes, with a view to bringing the heritage to life.
The Union bretonne des Villes d’Art et d’Histoire also incorporates the Historic Towns of Chateaubriant, Dol-de-Bretagne, Hennebont, Landerneau, Lannion, Pontivy, Port-Louis, Quimperlé, and Saint-Pol-de-Léon, these are the nine ‘historic’ towns.
These Cities of Art, like the Cities of Art and History, but not yet awarded the label, have a well maintained and well preserved urban heritage.
The Small Towns of Character
The Small Towns of Character are generally old towns whose commercial or administrative role, or the importance of their crafts disappeared or declined following the Industrial Revolution. Today, these Small Towns are rural communes with a rich architectural heritage, incorporating ancient buildings, with a manifest desire to ensure the upkeep, appreciation and enjoyment of that heritage. 19 have been listed to date: Bécherel, Châteaugiron, Châtelaudren, Combourg, Guerlesquin, Josselin, Jugon-les-lacs, La Roche Bernard, Le Faou, Lizio, Locronan, Malestroit, Moncontour, Pont-Croix, Pontrieux, Quintin, Rochefort-en-terre, Roscoff, and Tréguier.