Wealth built on trade
In the 19th century, Roscoff traded in cloth, salt and wood… even onions exported to England. Everything in its historic centre evokes the wealth of maritime trade: from the church hidden away in its garden to the opulent granite dwellings; from the boats sculpted out of stone to the turrets in the old harbour. The spirit of corsairs, smugglers and merchants still seems to hover around the entrances to elaborate cellars that open at street or beach level.
Pushed back by sand and the English
The history of Roscoff begins in the Roskogoz quarter. In the Middle Ages the site was no more than an outer harbour for Saint-Pol-de-Léon. A 15th-century crucifixion statue still shows the site of the village. The silting up of the harbour and repeated attacks by the English made the inhabitants of Roscoff decide to move further north to the site of the present old harbour. This is where the town began to grow, stretching further and further east. The Pointe de Bloscon, near the Chapel of Sainte-Barbe, was fortified in the 18th century.
From commercial ventures to cross-channel ferries
In the early 19th century, the ‘Onion Johnnies’ looked to the Channel for a living. They crossed to England to sell the famous Roscoff pink onions. This link with the UK has remained strong. Thanks to the deep-water harbour built during the second half of the 20th century, there is still a year-round ferry service to the UK and, from April to October, to Ireland as well.
From thalassotherapy to seaweed harvesting
France’s very first thalassotherapy centre was opened in Roscoff in 1899. Dr Bagot treated rheumatism there with sea water. Since then, the success of the centre has never failed. Today, alongside the ‘station biologique’, a marine biology research centre that is famous throughout Europe, seaweed harvesting companies have grown up. The site is now one of the largest seaweed production centres in Finistère.