Its history

Brittany has known many stormy periods in its history, but it has been a cherished land since Neolithic and Celtic times. Caesar subjugated the Celts and as Roman rule faded, waves of British immigrants transformed the place. Through medieval and Ancien Régime periods, Brittany and Britain fought bitterly for trade and then colonies until today’s tourist times brought much happier relations.

Picture 1 Its history Picture 2 Its history Picture 3 Its history
  • Alignement de menhirs à Camaret

    Prehistory

    Brittany, or the Armorican peninsula, as it was known in antiquity, is famed for its numerous Neolithic monuments. Most of the great burial chambers here predate the Egyptian pyramids by a long time. They consisted of a dolmen, or stone chamber, for the bodies, covered by a tumulus, an earth mound. As to the countless Neolithic menhirs, the standing stones for which the region is celebrated, they remain a riddle even for scholars. 

  • Rayons du soleil dans la forêt de Brocéliande

    Ancient history

    Brittany’s history becomes very hazy in the long gap between the Neolithic period and the arrival of the Romans. In the Iron-Age centuries preceding Caesar’s conquest of Armorica, a strong Celtic culture emerged and even if very little has survived from this shadowy period, the druids, the charismatic priests of the time, have left the deepest imprint on our imaginations.

  • Menhir christianisé de saint Uzec, Plemeur-Bodou (22)

    The birth of Brittany

    During the Dark Ages, wave upon wave of immigrants from Ireland, Wales and southern England profoundly altered the character of the Armorican peninsula, turning it into Brittany, or Little Britain. They spread their own brand of Christianity as well as their exuberant legends and a feisty, independent Brittany was forged in this period.

  • Citadelle de Concarneau (29)

    The Middle Ages

    After the Breton kingdom came the Breton duchy. First harassed by Vikings, the region’s leaders then had to contend with powerful neighbours and niggling infighting. A bitter Breton civil war broke out in the 14th century. Forts sprang up through the period, and towns were protected behind strong walls, while mighty new Gothic cathedrals arose in the cities.

  • Château de Josselin (56)

    The Renaissance

    Major changes occurred in Brittany as the 15th century turned into the 16th, and Gothic styles gave way to the Renaissance. The feisty duchy lost its independence to the French crown while Breton traders led the way in international commerce and organised vast fishing expeditions to Newfoundland. As to Jacques Cartier, he ‘discovered’ Canada.

  • Château de Pontivy (56)

    Before & after the Revolution

    In the 17th and 18th centuries, the French monarchy imposed its iron will on Brittany. Colonial trade expanded hugely from here, but vicious competition with Holland and England led to war. Many Bretons enlisted on merchant and naval vessels, but early protests at exploitation heralded the Revolution. That said, in deeply conservative Brittany, radical change wasn’t happily embraced.

  • Pêche en mer

    Modern Times

    As the 19th century rolled on, Breton industry developed but Brittany’s poor suffered. French relations with Britain radically improved, however. While British visitors came peaceably to enjoy Brittany’s delights, the Germans spread the terrible effects of war this far west. Between the appalling conflicts, tourism brought glimmers of light and then emerged triumphant.

  • Links between Brittany & Great Britain

    Brittany has especially long, strong connections with the British Isles. Well before the Romans arrived, trading across the Channel thrived and while after mass Dark Ages immigration, things turned sour as merchants, corsairs and armies battled with each other across the Channel, matters could be quite different behind the scene at court. Then along came tourism to bring mutual benefit and joy.

With TripAdvisor’s reviews from travellers

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