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Guérande (Municipality, Loire-Atlantique, France)

Last modified: 2021-01-16 by ivan sache
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Flag of Guérande - Image by Ivan Sache, 9 September 2012


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Presentation of Guérande

The municipality of Guérande (in Breton, Gwenrann; 15,446 inhabitants in 2009; 8,144 ha; municipal website) is located 20 km west of Saint-Nazaire, in the region known as the Guérande Peninsula or Pays de Guérande.
The municipal territory, including the town of Guérande proper, 12 villages and more than 80 hamlets, is traditionally divided into three areas: the Blue Country (named for the colour of the sea), the Black Country (named for the colour of the peat once extracted from the Brière marshes), and the White Country (named from the colour of salt). In Breton, Gwenrann means "White Country", probably referring here to a sacred area.

Guérande was once known as the "Salt Fortress"; built on a small hill dominating the neighboring salterns and protected by a thick wall, the medieval town was a stronghold of the County of Nantes. At the end of the 15th century, Guérande counted some 4,000 inhabitants, being the second most populous town in the County after Nantes itself, which counted 14,000 inhabitants. The historical downtown is still enclosed in a 1,300 m long wall, one of the longest and best preserved in France, fitted with four fortified gates and six towers.
Guérande is said to have been founded by Waroc'h (577-594), a prince from Vannes, but there is no firm evidence of fortification of the town earlier than in the 14th century; some historians, however, believe that the Vannes Gate, protecting the northern access to the town, was built in the 13th century. In 1342, following the sack of the town during the War of Succession of Brittany (1341-1364), Jean de Montfort, one of the pretenders and lord of Guérande, ordered "to dig ditches and to enclose the town of Guérande in better walls".
The fortifications, funded with the "billot", a tax on wine sales, were not completed until the middle of the 15th century. The inhabitants of the town and of the neighbouring parishes were commissioned to watch the town and to clean out the moats; the well-trained bowmen competed every year in the "papegaut" competition. The St. Michael Gate, built in the middle of the 15th century to protect the eastern access to the town and the road to Nantes, is still the emblematic building of the town. Engraved with the arms of the town, the building was used as his residence by the Captain of the town, here the Duke's representative, and, after the union of Brittany to France (1532), by the Governor of the town. From the 19th century to 1954, the St. Michael Gate housed the Town Hall; it houses now the Museum of Pays de Guérande, founded in 1928.
In 1764, the Duke d'Aiguillon, Governor of Brittany, allowed the filling of the southern moats of the town; further, unauthorized demolition was stopped by Louis XVI, who recalled the significance of "the enclosures for the defence of the province". The municipality of Guérande became the sole owner of the walls in 1805, ordering in 1815 the suppression of the ruined St. Catherine Tower. As soon as 1853, the Municipal Council refused to demolish the walls, arguing that "this would suppress, without any reason, the harmony of one of the most precious remains of the Middle Ages". The walls were registered in 1877 as an Historical Monument, which prevented any further destruction and prompted their restoration.

Salt was already collected in Guérande in the Gallo-Roman times, as evidenced by the name of the village of Saillé, listed in 971 as "Villa Salliacum" in the charters of the St. Aubin abbey in Angers. At the time, salt was obtained by extracting brine from salted sand or clay and heating it in small terracotta vessels until salt crystallization. Requiring a lot of wood, this technique was superseded in the 9th century by solar evaporation: sea water is driven into a complex network of ponds and basins coated with clay.
The "Guérande Salt", protected by a "Red Quality Label" since 1991, is produced by 280-300 paludiers collecting every year 8,000-12,000 tons of cooking salt of ordinary quality (gros sel) and 200-300 tons of salt of highest quality (fleur de sel). The Guérande salterns stretch today over 1,400 ha.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 9 September 2012


Flag of Guérande

The flag of Guérande (photo, Hervé Prat) is white with a black cross and a black ermine spot in each quarter.
According to D. Kervella and M. Bodlore-Penlaez (Guide des drapeaux bretons et celtes), this flag, first reported in the 1900s and now commonly used in Guérande, is of obscure origin. A similar design is represented on a portolano dated 1504, nearby Nantes, but identification of the flag is tentative; whether such a flag was ever used in Guérande is unknown. The flag of Guérande might also have been derived from of a coin minted in Guérande by Duke of Brittany Jean IV, which shows a cross cantonned with four ermine spots.

Ivan Sache, 9 September 2012