Contrary to Brest or Lorient, Vannes is one of the rare cities on the Breton coast to have escaped the bombing which devastated the region during the Second World War. Due to the heritage which has, therefore, been preserved, this 'devastating exception' makes it one of the record holders in Brittany. It is not suprising then that in 1992 the town received the label "Ville d'Art et d'Histoire" (City of Art and History), paying tribute to its Medieval and Renaissance heritage.
It all begins with the impressive ancient main entrance to the Old City, the Prison Door, which acts as a machine that takes visitors back in time. On passing through this spatio-temporal portal, you are immersed in the Medieval period. You will naturally find that the structure is distinctive of Middle Age towns, where the Saint-Pierre Cathedral, a symbol of spiritual power, occupies the centre of the thousand year old city. It was originally a 12th century Roman building that stood in the place of what is today a marvel of Renaissance architecture, and of which only the north tower base remains. The Porte Prison is also a departure point for the discovery of the global structure of the defensive wall of the city. Proof of the strategic importance of Vannes' location, at the bottom of the Gulf of Morbihan, the remnants of the Gallo-Roman wall also bare witness to its secular past. As if created for a course on the evolution of military architecture, this wall presents a succession of fortified doors and reinforced towers which date from the 14th and 15th centuries, including the Connetable tower, a true symbol of the city.
Before leaving the fortifications, glance over the stone walls to see the 1,968 ft of gardens that run along side them, and which have made the city famous and provided a pleasant place for people to stroll.
It is now time for you to let yourself be guided through the narrow streets that criss-cross Vannes. There are so many squares, with names like Henri IV square, Valencia square etc, which are reminders of the middle age era when tournaments were fought. There are also some beautiful houses (bordered by wooden walls), which you can't help but marvel at, with the oldest ones dating back to the 15th century. Built at the same time as the oldest half-timbered houses, the Gaillard Castle, a very beautiful private hotel built of granite, today combines its exterior beauty with culture as it now houses the History and Archeology Museum. As for the Beaux-Arts Museum, this is located in a place that is loaded with history: ?La Cohue' (The crowd). Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, the 'Cohue' was the justice room where the States of Brittany met until 1485, the date when Pierre II installed the Parliament of Brittany. During the Middle Ages, the 'Cohue' had two functions; a covered market on the ground floor and a courtroom on the first floor.
Although the city is considerably rich in heritage, this does not mean that the city's stone walls have closed in on themselves, but quite the contrary as they offer two magnificent windows to the outside The first one is maritime; the Oceanographic and Tropical Aquarium, the second, the Butterfly Garden, is aerial, and both are another opportunity to open the doors to your imagination!