People are always amazed by Rennes
“Hello, I’m Severine. Welcome everyone.” Thus begins a tour with her. Under the arch of Saint-Yves chapel, the guide and lecturer meets her guests around the model of the Condate. She demonstrates how a Gallo-Roman city grew at the confluence of the Ille and the Vilaine, was soon surrounded by ramparts, and then attached to the Duchy of Brittany.
Human scale urbanism
Severine Even likes history and art as much as she loves her city. She never thought about doing anything else in life. “I was smitten by the time I was just 11 years old. I followed my grandmother in her coach tours. There were these guides with headphones and a microphone. I was fascinated! “. The profession has changed considerably since. Severine trained assiduously. She holds several qualifications. In tourism, art history, linguistics; her professional national tour guide permit authorises her to work in French, English, Spanish and Italian with a variety of audiences
Severine grew up in the popular district of Maurepas. As a teenager, she went to the lycée Zola – where Dreyfus was judged in 1899. Then she worked in Greece, Spain, Italy, Chile, Peru, sometimes a high mountain guide, sometimes a French teacher. All the while, she kept her love of heritage.
“I felt good in many cities. In Rennes, I feel VERY good. Visitors say the same thing. Rennes is not a major tourist attraction. It means that people do not have a preconceived image of the city. They do not really know what they will find here. They are always surprised, pleasantly. What is there to please? It is a human-sized city with a pedestrian centre, strolled without fear of cars or crowds.”
This is one of the oldest monuments in Rennes, built in the 15th century. Saint-Yves chapel was originally the religious annexe to a hospital, long since disappeared. Highlighted by its contemporary stained glass works, the Gothic-style building has preserved its tall timber roof, its beams with carved monster faces and the purple shale floorwork.
Parliament, beauty and shivers
The iconic Parliament of Brittany building is one of the best tours offered by the tourist office. There is nothing routine about it: Séverine loves it like every day is the first. “I remember the moment I entered the Great Chamber for the first time. There is a sense of wonder at the beauty of such sumptuous surroundings … I still feel the same thrill when I turn the key before turning on the lights.“
Severine believes that the Parliament of Brittany is also a symbol of many things. That of a region proud of its independence yesteryear standing up to the kingdom of France – and of its cultural identity today. It is also the symbol of astounding resurrection, following the catastrophic 1994 fire. “It’s a veritable living heritage, not a museum.” One still encounters the black robes of lawyers and the frenetic microphones of journalists on the days of big trials: the Parliament of Brittany is the seat of the Rennes Court of Appeal.
Place Hoche, an open book
A little further to the north, Severine’s route leads her to place Hoche. There, she does her literary shopping at the booksellers. “They have such a range. Each has their own speciality. One can find both high value books and cheap novels. And there is this amazing human contact. I appreciate it because this is the true meaning of my own profession.“
On the square there stands two mansions with plant motifs. They are two beautiful examples of Art Nouveau. On one adjacent corner, there is the amazing hotel Galicier (1893). “It looks like a small neo-gothic inspiration Château of very composite forms. With a loggia, a turret, arrow slits and a crude cement façade!“
At noon, students of the Economics Faculty picnic on benches on Place Hoche. In the afternoon, the children fly around the carousel. A food market fills the square on Thursday. Even the Visitation shopping centre conceals some surprises. “Look closely at this atrium. And this votive temple in a showcase? The remains of a large Gallo-Roman villa lay under our feet.“
With Severine, one good tour deserves another. We return to the Saint-Yves chapel and through the winding medieval streets of Rennes, of timber framed houses. Severine reads the façades. “Over 800 houses were destroyed in the great fire of 1720. There remain about 500 but half of those are covered with plaster or slate. “
Severine adores the secretive and flowery backyards, hidden behind the askew façades. One can almost hear the crowd of peasant carts and street vendors. “I especially like this contrast with the classical architecture of the 18th century and the silhouette of contemporary buildings. Several eras coexist in some places.”
This is the case of the square Hyacinthe Lorette where Jean Nouvel luxury building (2015) overlooks the remains of the ancient walls built from the Duchesne tower.
The Ty Koz house
Number 3 on the Rue Saint-Guillaume is one of the oldest buildings of the historical centre of Rennes. It was built in 1505 for the cathedral canons.
Its richly carved façade features two statues of St. Michael and St. Sebastian, pierced by arrows. Now a historic monument, the house was partially destroyed by fire in 1994. It currently houses a private club.
The best kept secret in Rennes ?
What is that giant ear of corn in the background ? These are the Horizons. They were built by the architect Georges Maillols in 1970. Severine knows the figures : “35 levels, 100 m high, 480 apartments, 1 000 people. It was one of the first residential high-rise buildings built in France. When he was teaching at Rennes, the novelist Milan Kundera lived on the top floor.“
The foot of the skyscraper keeps one of the greatest secrets in Rennes. A bucolic path follows the Ille entering the Bourg l’Eveque neighbourhood. It passes alongside the Paillette theatre, a former laundry and the Saint-Cyr estate where once a religious institution helped “straighten” out the lost souls of young girls in trouble, making them into laundresses and linen women.
The path leads to the Jardin de la Confluence garden, at the end of mail François Mitterrand. Recently renovated, this green spot is a vantage point to watch the sun set over the canal. Anglers frequently enjoy this scene. Severine does also. Here the history stops for a moment, as does work.