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The walled town of Concarneau


Concarneau La ville close


Concarneau’s ‘ville close’, or walled town, encircled by ramparts and dominated by a belfry, is a defining feature of France’s third most important fishing port. Within its historic streets of granite houses, there is even a museum dedicated to fishing. Installed in the former dockyard, the museum’s varied collections show how fishing has been central throughout Concarneau’s history. The museum continues outside, with several vessels in the water, including a trawler. Take a stroll along the ramparts for a lovely view over the town and its ports – the leisure marina, the fishing harbour, and the commercial port – as well as the bustling quaysides all around. Not to be missed is the big ‘Filets Bleus’ (Blue Nets) festival in mid-August, a traditional Breton cultural spectacle.


Concarneau La ville close   Concarneau La ville close


This fortified island known as the ‘ville close’ was originally home to a community of fishermen, who fished in the bay. Next a priory was established by the monks of Landévennec Abbey. The first fortifications around the little island, then known as Conq, appeared in the 13th century. But the major construction took place in the 15th century and the town started to be referred to as Conq-Kerne, meaning ‘Bay of Cornouaille’ in the Breton language, and it quickly became one of the very first citadels in Brittany, a ducal city then a royal one.


Concarneau La ville close


During the 16th century, the town prospered thanks to its trade in wheat, fish, wine and salt from Bordeaux. In 1540 a hospital and a prison, a barracks and a public well were built as well as the St-Guénolé church and cemetery. Vauban decided on various modifications and designed some major works, but these were never to be realised. The belfry was however built in 1906, and boasted a clock.


Concarneau La ville close


Running parallel to the military role of the town, daily life revolved around the sardine fishing industry. By the end of the 18th century, there were no less than 300 boats at work. After 1850, conserving plants started to appear and later led to about thirty factories employing virtually the whole population, which constituted about 7,000 inhabitants at the time. However the disappearance of the sardine shoals put an end to the fleet, numbering more than 800 boats by then, and life became very hard. It was at this time that the Filets Bleus movement was founded to bring aid to struggling families.


Concarneau La ville close


Concarneau La ville close


The town’s fortunes were to turn again though, with the development of the port facilities and the renaissance of trawler net fishing, particularly for tuna. In more modern times, after the Second World War, a new generation of deep sea tuna boats assured Concarneau’s place among France’s premier fishing cities. In fact, with 140,000 tonnes of fresh fish and tropical tuna, it is the second most important port in France for fresh fish and the busiest in Europe for tuna. Today the fleet employs 1,300 mariners, manning 110 trawlers, and 25 tuna seiners (which use dragnets) which sail from the Azores to the Irish Sea, and even the Indian Ocean. Plus 140 local fishing boats, line vessels, trap setters, dredgers, netters… which bring in monkfish, cod, pollock, flounder, hake, rays, shellfish, crustaceans, langoustine, and sardine is still caught.


Concarneau La ville close   Concarneau La ville close


At the entrance to the walled town, on the right, you will find the Maison du Patrimoine, which opened in 2005 and has displays and workshops for children, and is the starting point for guided visits and access to the ramparts. Then as you enter the town itself, after the entrance to the Governor’s house, in the Rue Vauban, you will find the fishing museum, Musée de la Pêche, housed in the former barracks.

The fishing museum is particularly interesting, explaining all the techniques as well as the history of the town, and the port. You can visit a trawler, The Hémérica, and discover about fishing further afield.


Concarneau La ville close   Concarneau La ville close


This street, Rue Vauban, comprised over a hundred houses between the 15th and 16th centuries. In the heart of the walled town, you come to the square, Place St-Guénolé, adorned with a fountain.


Concarneau La ville close


The walled town is one of the most frequented tourist spots in Brittany; there are plenty of souvenir shops, arts & crafts boutiques, crêperies and cafés, ice-cream vendors, nautical themed clothes, and traditional artisan biscuit sellers. At the entrance to the citadel you will often hear strains of music on the air from a group of street buskers.


Concarneau La ville close

 
The fortifications include various gates, such as the Wine Gate and the Robbers Gate, and from the Horseshoe Gate you can freely access the quayside fortifications, in order to admire the view over the entrance to the port. Also awaiting discovery is the Lanriec ferry, a little traditional boat offering passage to the other side of the inlet.


Concarneau La ville close


Offering a surprisingly peaceful spot at this highly popular tourist site, the Place du Petit Château is a lovely green space from where, through a doorway in the wall, one can watch the comings and goings of the fishing boats.

Philippe.