Saint-Malo, France, historically an important port in Brittany on the English Channel, was nearly destroyed during World War II after the D-Day invasion in Normandy as the Allies moved west in August 1944 in Brittany to free all the ports from the German occupation of the early 1940s. Following a 12-year restoration, that began in 1948, of the buildings within the ancient walled citadel with impressive stone ramparts (built by the French military architect Vauban), the city is now a major tourist attraction.
Saint-Malo was once home to the infamous French corsiars, some of whom were also pirates. (“Corsairs were privateers , authorized to conduct raids on shipping of a nation at war with France, on behalf of the French crown. Seized vessels and cargo were sold at auction, with the corsair captain entitled to a portion of the proceeds.” — Wikipedia) The walled city the Corsairs and pirates built as a fortified home base now draws large numbers of day-trippers who come by ferry from England (across the English Channel) — the home port of the ships the pirates formerly attacked or charged tolls on.
Knowing that we were going to be anchoring off Saint-Malo for a few days, earlier this year we read an excellent book (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) set primarily in Saint-Malo during the years of German occupation and focused at the end on the Allied artillery shelling (mostly with incendiary bombs), All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Amazon.com notes the book is, “about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II…” We highly recommend the book as a great read! With the historical background from the book, our visit was fascinating as we already knew a lot about life in the city in the 1940s and recognized many of the locales we walked, including on top of the rampart walls (see our next blog post).
Located at the mouth of the Rance River and just off the coast of Saint-Malo, Île du Grand Bé (see photograph, above) is a rocky islet that can be accessed at low tide by crossing the beach below the walled Citadel (see the photograph of the Citadel, two up). Saint-Malo’s native son Françpois-René de Chateaubriand is buried on the island; he had specified that his final resting place be amid the wind and waves that provided his literary inspiration. Fittingly, Bé translates to “tomb” in the Celtic language.
Originally constructed in 1146, Cathedrale St-Vincent de St-Malo was badly damaged during World War II. The steeple was accidentally destroyed by German forces on August 6, 1944, contradicting orders of the German commander of the forces occupying Saint-Malo. The story was that the Germans outside the city wanted to remove the highly visible steeple which could be used as a target “sight” by the Allies. Additional damage was done during the Allied fire-bombing of the city in the following week, as the Allies fought to rout the Germans (most of whom were captured) defending the city and the surrounding area.
Contrast the scene below, at high tide, with the top two photographs in this blog post which were shot earlier in the day at low tide. The thirty-plus foot tide (more than 10 meters) is something to see — many of the boats anchored in the bay are left high and dry on the sand after the tide flows out. This also means that the long ramp at the passenger terminal goes from being nearly level to walk on to being quite steep!