Now a quiet market town where the River Blavet meets the Nantes-Brest canal, Pontivy was once the seat of one of Brittany’s most powerful families before becoming one of Napoléon’s ‘new towns’. Visit the castle then amble around the streets.
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According to legend, Pontivy was founded in 685AD by an English monk called Ivy who built a wooden bridge across the Blavet, giving the town its name – Pont d’Ivy. The town really began to develop in the 12th century when Viscount Rohan settled there and in the 14th century it became the political and administrative capital of the viscounty.
Walk through time
To get a feel for its medieval origins, head to Place du Martray, which used to be Pontivy’s main square and then take a look at nearby Maison des Trois Piliers (the house with three pillars), the only remaining example in Morbihan of a 16th-century ‘porched house’. You can pick up a free town trail leaflet in English from the tourist office.
A family castle
The main site in Pontivy is its château, which overlooks the River Blavet a short walk from the town centre. The present castle was built in 1485 by Viscount Rohan, whose aristocratic line dates back to 1120. The Rohan family seat has seen plenty of action during its 500-year history including being besieged during the Duchy of Brittany War of Independence in 1488 and taken over by Catholic forces during the French Wars of Religion in 1589. The château, which retains many original features, is open to the public and often stages art exhibitions.
Did you know
Pontivy hosts a history book festival every two years. The theme in 2010 was ‘rebels and Resistance fighters’.
Pontivy was known as Napoléonville from 1804-14, March-June 1815 and from 1852-1870. Due to its strategic location on the River Blavet and to the fact that it retained its post-Revolution Republican leanings, Napoléon Bonaparte decided to make Pontivy ‘a centre of commerce in peacetime and an important military centre in time of war’. His new town, in the style of Roman towns, included law courts, a town hall and a school, all of which can be seen today.