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The Port-Museum at Douarnenez


Douarnenez
Photo by Henryk Sadura / Shutterstock.com



Maritime tradition has always been an important facet of Douarnenez’s history. Although only the fourth city of the Finistère ‘département’, Douarnenez can be regarded as a capital in terms of Breton heritage, thanks to its Port-Museum at Port-Rhu. Unique in France, the museum is part on land and part on water. Visitors can admire the boats anchored in the famous port, old sailing ships, boats used in the North Atlantic, all gathered together in the docks.



Port Rhu à Douarnenez
Photo by Daniel Sainthorant / Shutterstock.com



Douarnenez can be rightly proud of its preeminent status in terms of maritime heritage. A town of contrast and colour, whose inhabitants reveal their character. A town whose history owes much to the humble sardine, enjoyed since Roman times, and the main catch in this area. A key fishing town, but especially known for conserving. Tucked away at the far side of the magnificent bay of Douarnenez, the town has retained its seafaring character, due in part to the large gatherings of old sailing ships taking place every four years. 




Fête à Douarnenez
Photo by Daniel Sainthorant / Shutterstock.com



These gatherings began in the 1980s, when a number of keen individuals and associations spearheaded a movement to rejuvenate maritime culture in the area. The specialist maritime magazine ‘Le Chasse-Marée’ also helped to highlight this popular movement and the first gatherings of old sailing ships took place in 1986. Initially it involved mainly displays of local traditional boats, then later it developed, notably with a boat race known as the ‘Concours des Bateaux des Côtes de France’ – the inaugural event was held in 1989 and a large number of Breton parishes participated.




Fête à Douarnenez
Photo by Daniel Sainthorant / Shutterstock.com



Port Musée de Douarnenez
Photo by Philippe Salin



Port Musée de DouarnenezPhoto by Philippe Salin


Around the same time, many maritime museums were set up along the west coast, and the Boat Museum was established in Douarnenez in 1985. Later, in 1993, the ambitious port-museum was born, a result of 30 years of regenerating interest in the maritime tradition of the local coastal area and of the desire to preserve its seafaring heritage.



Port Musée de DouarnenezPhoto by Philippe Salin



Port-Rhu and its port-museum occupy a unique location in France, at the heart of the Port-Rhu ria (coastal inlet) which separates Tréboul and Douarnenez. Thanks to a tidal threshold, the ria forms a natural wet dock, two kilometres long, which has been developed to allow visitors to admire traditional boats close up from the quayside.



Port Musée de Douarnenez
Photo by Philippe Salin



Previously Port-Rhu was a port for local trade, complete with a sailcloth trading post. After a period of being abandoned, the quays are once more bustling with cafés and restaurants, and the smell of sawn wood permeates the air from the boatyards where traditional boats are again being built. Some of these boatyards can be visited, as well as the ‘Ateliers de l’Enfer’ (literally ‘workshops of hell’!), a training centre for maritime carpenters.



Festival maritime de Douarnenez
Photo by Kaband / Shutterstock.com


Festival maritime de Douarnenez
Photo by Kaband / Shutterstock.com



Among the floating exhibits are four large vessels, which can be explored from the hold to the wheelhouse, allowing visitors to imagine what life was like for crews of sailing ships and steam ships from that era. The ships awaiting discovery are the lobster-boat ‘Notre Dame de Rocamadour’, a traditional Breton gabare (a type of barge) called ‘Dieu protège’, an English tug named ‘St Denys’, and a Norwegian galley boat called ‘Anna Rosa’. There is also a Thames barge, the ‘Northdown’…




Festival maritime de Douarnenez
Photo by Daniel Sainthorant / Shutterstock.com



Thus the plan first envisaged in 1871 to create a wet dock at Port-Rhu has been realised, and all can come to admire the history and heritage that was saved from obsolescence by a handful of enthusiasts, who were passionate about the golden age of seafaring, when boats were still made of wood.

Philippe.