The historic port and fortress town of Saint-Malo is the most important port on the north coast of Brittany. On the other hand, the place is an important tourist destination. More than a million visitors are drawn to Saint-Malo every year. At the beginning of 2019, the city had 47.000 inhabitants.
Saint Malo - Panorama
Saint Malo - Place Chateaubriand
Saint Malo history
The town's origins date back to a Gallo-Roman settlement called Aleth. In the 6th century AD, the Welsh monk Machutus converted the residents to Christianity. The city's name derives from the French spelling of his name (Malo). Much later, in the 12th century, Norman raids forced the inhabitants to move to a nearby peninsula surrounded on three sides by the sea. There they erected a defensive wall. They called the area protected in this way Saint-Malo.
The city experienced its heyday beginning in the 16th century. Saint-Malos shipowners amassed considerable wealth through fishing and trading activities. There were also other, more illegal activities such as smuggling and slave trade. As a sign of their prosperity, Saint-Malo's entrepreneurs had magnificent buildings erected for themselves in the old town area.
Saint-Malo - Fortified Wall
In the 17th and 18th centuries, some residents of the city distinguished themselves as corsairs. The privateers Robert Surcouf and René Dugay-Trouin were particularly famous and notorious. They made the oceans unsafe with fast, agile ships. The targets of the raids were mainly Dutch and English merchant ships. The corsairs operated on their own account with the toleration of the French crown.
Monument - Corsair Robert Surcouf
The deeds did not go unnoticed. Saint-Malo was regularly attacked by the English fleet. The city countered such attacks by building massive ramparts called "remparts". The walls, which are 1.754 meters long in total, secured the entire historic old town. The enclosed district surrounded by the city wall was given the name "Intra Muros".
Saint-Malo - Fortified Wall
Saint-Malo - Fortress wall and Quai de Dinan
From the 17th century, four additional fortifications were built in the Bay of Saint-Malo to secure the entrance to the port. They are called: Fort de la Chonchée, Fort National, Fort du Petit Bé and Fort Harbour
During World War II, Saint-Malo was occupied by German troops. After the Allies landed in Normandy in August 1944, the German fortress commander refused to surrender. The subsequent bombardment by Anglo-American bomber groups destroyed 85 percent of the buildings in Intra Muros. Unlike in Le Havre, the city was also hit hard by the bombing war, the city leaders had the fortified city restored according to the historical model.
Saint Malo in the present
Thanks to the town of Intra Muros and its fortifications, Saint-Malo has become one of the most visited tourist destinations in Brittany. Not only the fortifications but also the popular beaches of the "Côte d'Èmeraude" contribute to this.
Saint-Malo - Fortress wall with the Plage de Bon Secours
Other sources of income are industrial complexes, fishing and the port. There are regular ferry services to the Channel Islands Guernsey and Jersey as well as to Portsmouth, England. Saint-Malo is also the terminus of the TGV trains coming from Paris. – The Bay of Saint-Malo is famous for one of the largest tidal differences in Europe. The difference between high and low water is up to twelve meters. The La Rance tidal power plant has been using the tidal currents of the Atlantic to generate energy since 1966.
Saint-Malo - destination of small cruise ships
In 2019, 43 small cruise ships called at Saint-Malo's port. Their passengers focused their attention mainly on the city or Le Mont-Saint-Michel, almost 60 kilometers away, with its world-famous abbey. Rennes, the capital of Brittany, is another destination for cruise tourists.
The ferries use their own quay facilities in the port. In contrast, cruise ships are anchored off Saint-Malo. Guests take tender boats to the Gare Maritime de la Bourse. The closest access to Intra Muros is the Porte Saint-Louis, 400 meters away. Under Saint-Malo sights we name the main attractions of the city.