Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Quimper, Brittany

Not only is Quimper the administrative capital of the Finistère department, it is also generally regarded as the cultural heart of Brittany. The town is known for its cathedral, atmospheric old quarter and museums but most of all for its annual festival celebrating Breton culture.

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Quimper is the ancient capital of La Cornouaille, Brittany’s most traditional region, and has a distinctive Breton character. Shops and flags celebrating the region's Celtic heritage can be found throughout the city. Quimper was originally settled during Roman times. By AD 495, the town had become a Bishopric. It subsequently became the capital of the counts of Cornouailles. In the 11th century, it was united with the Duchy of Brittany. During the civil wars of the 14th century, the town suffered considerable ruin. In 1364, the duchy passed to the House of Montfort. 

Quimper gets its name from the Breton kemper, which refers to the junction of two rivers: the Steir and the Odet. The Odet, generally regarded as Brittany’s prettiest river, runs east to west, parallel to the old town, and enters the sea at Benodet. The river is crossed by little bridges, which are lined with pretty geranium-filled boxes.

The heart of Quimper undoubtedly lies in it's atmospheric old town, where you’ll find many half-timbered houses dating from the 14th century. The streets are named after old job titles and Place au Beurre, where butter was sold, is one of Quimper’s prettiest locations and good place to stop for a crêpe. The old market hall burned down in 1976 but the new Halles St Francis (open daily) are particularly lively on Saturday mornings.

Quimper is known throughout Brittany and the Celtic world for its Festival de Cornouaille, which takes place for a week each July and celebrates Breton culture in all its forms.  The reigning queens of traditional festivals, such as the Filets Bleus in Concarneau, the Ajoncs d’Or in Pont-Aven and the Brodeuses in Pont-l’Abbé paraded proudly through the streets of Quimper. This was the starting point of a long history, the result of which is now a festival with an eighty year old tradition, which is still giving the same pleasure to some 250,000 visitors every year. There are concerts, all sorts of entertainment, competitions to find the best bagadou (Breton pipe-band), bombard player or dancer... Not to mention Sunday’s Grand Parade, where everyone is dressed in traditional costume. For a week, the historical heart of Quimper beats to the rhythm of Celtic music. The Festival de Cornouaille is a horn of plenty blown also by the likes of Simple Minds, Joan Baez and Césaria Évora. 

Quimper's Top 5:
  1. St Corentin's Cathedral.   Quimper’s most impressive building is its cathedral, which is said to be the best example of Gothic religious architecture in Brittany. Building started in the 12th century and continued at intervals until the 19th century, when the two spires were constructed and new stained glass windows were installed. The cathedral is named after St Corentin, Quimper’s first bishop.
  2. Musée Départmental Breton.  Next to the cathedral is the former Bishop’s Palace, which is now the Musée Départmental Breton. The museum displays finds from archaeological digs around Brittany and is highly regarded for its collection of Breton costumes and furniture. 
  3. Musée des Beaux-Arts. The museum has a nineteenth century façade and an entirely rebuilt interior. It houses a collection of 14th to 21st century paintings that includes works by Boucher, Corot, Oudry and Rubens along with canvases by such Pont-Aven School painters as Bernard, Denis, Lacombe, Maufra and Paul Sérusier.
  4. Quimper faience Pottery. Has been produced in a factory near Quimper since 1708, Quimper faience ("faïence" in French) is painted by hand, and production continues to this day. The "Faïenceries de Quimper" were established in "Locmaria", the historical faience quarter of the city of Quimper, near the center. The Faïencerie d'Art Breton, newly created in 1994, was also established in Quimper, but outside the historical quarter "Locmaria". "Locmaria" now also houses a Quimper faience museum. The pottery's design reflects a strong traditional Breton influence. One famous design which became typical for Quimper faience is the "petit breton", a naive representation of Breton man and/or woman in traditional Breton costume. The "petit breton" became popular around 1870 and is still today the main design bought by tourists.
  5. River Odet. Runs from Saint-Goazec (near Leuhan, in the Montagnes Noires of Brittany) into the Atlantic Ocean at Bénodet. Bénodet is being given its name from the river (Ben means river mouth in Breton). The river is popular with kayakers. The river runs past, or through, the towns of Bénodet, Combrit, Plomelin, Quimper, Ergué-Gabéric, Briec-de-l'Odet, Langolen, Coray, Trégourez, Leuhan and Saint-Goazec


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