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Guérande is a commune in western France, located in the Loire-Atlantique department in historic Brittany and belonging to the Pays de la Loire region. Its urban part occupies the top of a hill which dominates an area almost entirely surrounded by water, salt or fresh, called the Guérande peninsula. The history of the town itself is strongly marked by the presence of salt marshes which have made its wealth.

The presence of man on the Guérande territory is attested from the Middle Neolithic and there are many remains, such as menhirs. The first proven signs of the existence of the present locality date from the second half of the 4th century. The High Middle Ages was a period troubled by the dissensions between Franks and Bretons - Guérande was then Breton under Merovingian domination - then by the Norman invasions. The first known written reference of the village of Guérande dates from 854. In the fourteenth century, the city was involved in the War of the Succession of Brittany between Jean de Montfort and Charles de Blois. This ended with the signing in Guérande itself of the treaty of 1365. At the end of the fifteenth century, the city was the refuge for nearly a month of Anne of Brittany and her court who fled the plague which raged then in Nantes. The Duchess will maintain privileged links with Guérande throughout her reign. Throughout the Middle Ages, the terrouer of Guérande retained a judicial, military, religious and fiscal preeminence recognized by the Duchy of Brittany and the Bishopric of Nantes.

The contemporary era is marked by the assertion of the economic and environmental role of the salt marshes, in recurrent crisis since the Revolution. In addition to the revalorization of the salt production sectors, the tourist interest of the marshes is amplified by the creation of zones of protection of the natural heritage. The locality remains in the 21st century a dynamic economic center of the peninsula, increasing its tourist attractiveness by the development of its rich historical heritage, whether architectural or cultural, and natural; it thus perpetuates the remarkable attraction, manifested since the nineteenth century, of the medieval city and the salt marshes to writers, painters and, more recently, film directors.



It should first be noted that what we know and will be able to know about Prehistory in the Guérande peninsula only constitutes a partial image that is irremediably truncated, resulting from the successive modifications of the local Atlantic coast since the last glaciation. Around 9,500 years BC, the climate is boreal and the forest covers the emerged lands. The ocean was then some forty kilometers from the Pointe du Croisic.

The Guérande peninsula, including the Grande-Brière marshes, alone contains nearly 50% of the surviving megalithic monuments of the Loire-Atlantique department. The region of Guérande has in fact been occupied since Prehistory, mainly from the Middle Neolithic (Chasséen).

On the other hand, many megaliths bear witness to the Chassean occupation. In 1911 in his inventory, Henri Quilgars located 13 dolmens and 5 menhirs on the territory of the municipality. If some of the megaliths mentioned raise questions, a certain number have been proven, and most of them have disappeared, such as the Pierre Beurrée - or Pierre Bréchet - 3.70 m high in Haut Mora. A few rare megaliths have since been identified and have been added to this inventory. Today, in the inventory of the archaeological zoning of the town, there are nine menhirs, five dolmens or covered alleys and two tumuli.

We can cite, among those existing today, the menhir of Bissin (3.5 m high), the stone of Congor - or Saillé, in the "Clos de la Pierre", still planted with vines at the beginning of the century. , and indicated in the cartulary of Redon in 854 -, the prehistoric habitat on a barred spur of the oppidum type and the ruined covered alley, on the butte de Sandun, site occupied by the ancient Chasséen in the Bronze Age, the very large megalithic enclosure of Brétineau located near Sandun - or mound of Boga, quadrilateral made up of a hundred menhirs aligned juxtaposed, some 2 meters high, with impressive dimensions (78 × 12 m), making it one of the largest megalithic enclosures Europe -, the rock of Brandu with an engraved petroglyph, the menhir of Kerhué, or Quéniquen, and at the limit of the commune on Saint-Lyphard, the dolmens of Kerbourg and the menhir of the White Stone. The excavations at the Sandun site are currently the reference for the Atlantic Neolithic chronology.

Scattered but fairly abundant discoveries - axes with bronze heels in particular - indicate a continuity of settlement after the end of the Neolithic (Chalcolithic and Campaniforme). During the construction of the zone d'aménagement concerté (ZAC) of Beaulieu and the industrial zone (ZI) of Villejames, a “princely” residence, houses, enclosures, and a “temple” - site rebuilt at the Roman times and turned into a fanum - have been brought to light.

Salt ovens - of the bucket oven type - have been discovered in several places in the region. They show a first salt production on the Guérande peninsula. Salt water and brines are evaporated over the fire in buckets - hence the name fire salt - to produce loaves of salt which will then be exported over great distances. The mapping of the remains of the La Tène period shows a high density of activities to the south-east, east and north-east of the walled city, coinciding moreover with the enclosures which also revealed remains of the Iron Age. There is no excavation carried out before the beginning of the 21st century in sites dating from La Tène that did not reveal salt production activity. This is a constant that has been perpetuated since the early Iron Age, evidenced by the discovery and analysis of brickwork, troughs or heating areas.

Several small deposits of tin and lead were also exploited at this time in the peninsula - notably in Batz-sur-Mer, Crossac and around Donges, alluvial tin in Pénestin or Piriac could also be exploited. - for the manufacture of bronze and the export ports of this metal are indicated in the Loire estuary by Greek geographers: Strabo speaks of Corbilo and Ptolemy of Alexandria from Brivates Portus, but their current positions are purely conjectural ( Donges, Saint-Nazaire, Penhoët, Clis).

The belonging of the region of Guérande to the city of Namnetes, which has Nantes - Portus Condevicnum - as its capital, is proven. The peninsula is close to Venetian territory, under the control of Vannes, Darioritum; it also trades with the Pictons of the country of Retz in the south of the Loire. Very early on, therefore, the country of Guérande enjoyed a strategic economic position, even more evident in the Carolingian era.


According to the archaeological work available at the beginning of the 21st century, Guérande seems to have, at the dawn of our era, two important inhabited poles, one with Clis as its nucleus and the other Beaulieu, a district on the northeastern periphery. of the walled city. The study shows a diffuse habitat around Clis, over an area of ​​around ten square kilometers. However, we do not know whether this is the large land estate of a pars urbana or part of a vicus or a larger urban concentration. The Beaulieu site revealed a concentration of habitats corresponding to the 1st century, with ovens, wells and road and drainage elements which are the mark of an organized agglomeration of a period of transition between the end of La Tène and the Augustian period. The two sites appear to have had different functions and histories. Clis, oriented towards maritime activities, has not yet revealed a Gallo-Roman activity, unlike Beaulieu.

The study of the road network does not demonstrate the existence of Roman roads, using more or less an older communication system. The only locally proven imperial axis is the Nantes-Vannes route, passing very north of the observed territory. In Guérande, only the Gallic urban roads of Beaulieu and the Bréhadour section have been identified.

The observation of remains dating from the Gallo-Roman period has not yet revealed the switch to solar technology of salt production - natural evaporation of water by the action of the sun causing the salt to crystallize, rather than by the rise in artificial heat - whereas it is already used by the Romans in their Italian saltworks in Barletta or Portuguese in Setúbal.

The Guérande hillside and its hinterland were densely occupied in the 2nd and 3rd centuries by large agricultural holdings (villae). A high density of constructions was notably discovered in Clis in the nineteenth century where a monumental complex with an apse measuring 67 m by 49.50 m was excavated by Léon Maître. A wall made of pus uncertum, one meter high and about ten long, is still visible today between Clis and Maisons-Brûlées. In contrast, excavations remain silent for the period extending from the fourth century to the sixth century.

Middle Ages
Christianity, which appeared in the second half of the 4th century in the Guérande region, was reinforced during the ministry of Bishop Félix de Nantes, between 549 and 582. The first proven elements of the existence of the present city date from this period. The shell limestone sarcophagi, discovered by Léon Maître in 1899 in the axis of the Saint-Aubin collegiate church in Guérande, attest that the city was created in a Gallo-Frankish and non-Breton area, as Henri Quilgars maintains. According to Alain Gallicé, based on the writings of the Anonymous of Ravenne, Guérande is a “primitive parish [which] was to include the current communes of Batz, Le Pouliguen, Le Croisic - which in the Middle Ages only formed a parish -, Saint-Lyphard and probably Saint-Molf and Mesquer ”. The presence of this parish makes it possible to deduce the prior existence of a vicus, from the 7th and 8th centuries, around a building containing the relics of Saint Aubin.

The end of the sixth century was marked by Breton immigration to the south of the Vilaine. Relations between the Bretons and the Franks deteriorated after 558, when Waroch II took power in the Guerandais country and in the east of Vannes, further sowing insecurity in the Rennes and Nantes countries. The Guerandais country then becomes Breton, but remains under the domination of the Merovingians, while the Breton power remains contained to the north of the Vilaine. This period is also marked by an important modification of the landscapes, the sea penetrating in southern Briere as a result of the marine transgression; floods are then more frequent during high seas, runoff water is difficult to evacuate, disrupting circulation. It is also from this period that the appearance of the so-called "solar" technology in the exploitation of salt marshes dates back to an acceleration of local economic development and, at the same time, significant population growth. "The Guérande system, while showing great similarities with that of the Venetian marshes which disappeared at the end of the Middle Ages, was developed by the Bretons and has not changed much since the ninth century".


While the Frankish power was exercised in Brittany at the end of the 7th century and Charlemagne made Nantes the capital of the Marche de Bretagne, the Empire was threatened in the west by the shadowy reaction of Nominoë to the reception, in 831, of a missaticum - inspection order of the emperor, who sends missi dominici to control the local administration -, which gives rise to skirmishes. Guérande was then part, it seems, of the Nantes county, but the death in 843 of Renaud d'Herbauges, commander of the march including the mouth of the Loire, exacerbated Nominoë's inclinations. During this period, the Guérande region retained its mix of language, Breton and Low Latin.

The ninth century is marked by the Norman invasions. After one-off raids - Nantes was taken in 843 and 853 from Batzian positions - the Vikings settled permanently in Guerandais country. The dissensions between Breton chiefs maintain the confusion, in spite of a respite under the reign of [[| Alain Ier of Brittany]]. The period from 907 to 937 was characterized by an attempt at Viking colonization and an ephemeral Norman state was formed until Alain Barbetorte drove the Scandinavians out of Nantes in 937 and established the Duchy of Brittany. Other Viking raids are reported in the second half of the tenth century.

The year 1000 saw a weakened Count of Nantes lose his power in the face of strongholds - including that of La Roche-Bernard, which had income in the country of Guérande - which asserted themselves. The eleventh century consecrated the attachment of the Guerandais country to the diocese of Nantes, while in the ninth century "the counts of Vannes were in possession of the region". Carolingian vicars, representing the ducal power, are mentioned in Guérande from 1064 to 1147. In 1158, Henri II Plantagenêt becomes seneschal of Brittany and obtains the Nantes county; the Abbey of Redon was then consolidated in its Guérande possessions.

A first act, dating from 1206, mentions the “village of Guérande”, undoubtedly part of the royal domain; it seems to be a monastic village, the monastic presence being supposed to discourage the reactions of the local lords who feel robbed by the creation of an economic and urban center outside their jurisdiction. In the thirteenth century, Guérande was located in the bailiwick of Nantes and, during the first half of the century, a seneschal was installed in the parish. This particular seneschal disappears, replaced by a seneschal of Nantes from 1265, in an effort to centralize the duchy. Nevertheless, receivers, provosts, judges and sergeants remain in their own right in the Guerandais country. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Montforts family found themselves at the head of the ducal domain of Guérande, including Jean de Montfort, son of Yolande de Dreux, who was the future Duke of Brittany. Guérande is then a prosperous city; a reading of the oldest tax rolls of the duchy shows that in 1265 - 1267, the income from the baules and saltworks of Guérande is higher than that of the domain of Nantes in a ratio of 3 to 1.