It rained steadily and hard all day, so we didn't do much sightseeing. We found a news stand at the railroad station and bought a book on the history of Brittany. Fortunately our hotel room is comfortable, so we caught up with email and continued our reading about France and Brittany.
Over the centuries the Brittany peninsula has remained somewhat isolated from the rest of France, and it has often been under different political control. It was captured by the Romans during the Gallic Wars, and several cities, including Nantes, date from at least 27 B.C.
There is a Breton language, of Celtic origin, which may be explained by the movement of peoples back and forth between Brittany and the British Isles; indeed, the name Brittany is so derived. Our book did not discuss the Celts in any detail and merely stated that peoples from the areas now called Cornwall and Devonshire helped to colonize Brittany. It did say that the large megaliths, similar to Stonehenge, are the work of pre-Celtic civilizations. The language and the land's isolation, have encouraged an ideal of separation, with many attempts at independence from France, none of which ever succeeded.
The Viking raids reached Brittany, too, and Nantes was sacked.
As feudalism developed, Brittany was under a Carolingian Duke, who in turn was a liege of the King of France. This period of history is filled with assassinations of various rulers, with power shifting all around depending on whose family was strongest at the time. The big time for Brittany was in the fifteenth century, when Duchess Anne was pledged to marry the dreaded Habsburg Maximilian. The King of France would have none of that, so he married off his own son to Anne, and for that little while, they lived in Nantes, which was therefore the capital of France, briefly.
More recently, the Brittany peninsula has become important for shipbuilding. The First World War took a great toll on the population here as well as throughout France, but serving in the trenches gave Breton men the opportunity to meet men from other areas and learn that elsewhere conditions might be better. Also, American soldiers brought new customs (swing music was a big shock) and married some Breton girls. By the Second World War Nantes was again a strategic target, because of its port (nearby were submarine bases at St. Nazaire and Lorient).
Writers and artists of the area include many of the Surrealists; in fact, the movement started here (possibly at the very cafe where we ate our first lunch). A modern independence movement has attempted to keep the Breton language and literature alive.