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For the curious wanderer, a discrete Rennes reveals an unprecedented diversity of heritage. Few cities contain as many notable buildings from different eras and architectural styles.
At the corner of a cobbled street in the heart of the historic centre, near the civil buildings, surprise and admiration are often the reaction to the Gallo-Roman remains; houses with timber, granite and limestone and Odorico mosaics. One is quickly drawn into a monumental journey through the centuries.
The secret of Rennes's charms lie in the great diversity of the heritage. Over a relatively small area, a pleasant stroll spans the centuries, changing from one era to another with no significant rupture. The urban architecture parades harmoniously: from the Gallo-Roman remains (walls and red brick siding from the 3rd century that formed the prestigious enclosure of the so called Condate la Rouge) to the spectacular and ultra-modern Cap Mail building by Jean Nouvel, via the 280 timber frame houses, the iconic Mabilay erected in the 70s, the 18th century civil buildings (Parliament of Brittany, City Hall) to the Champs libres, the cultural centre inaugurated in 2006.
A diversity of forms but also rich in colours, another attraction of Rennes architecture stems from the use of different materials over time: painted and adorned wood, granite and its deep tones, limestone and sandstone of incomparable lightness.
Rennes partly owes its harmony to the great skill of the King's architect, Jacques Gabriel (1661-1742). Following the great fire, which raged for six days at the end of December 1720 and ravaged ten hectares in the heart of the city, he managed to design gentle reconstruction. His genius was such that, at first glance, the transition from the timbered houses to tufa is almost imperceptible. The neighbourhoods thus follow on from one another.
This sensation of a soft balance given by the Rennes architectural heritage is also linked to the construction, in 1982, the paved pedestrian area; an elegant, pleasant and bright promenade in the city centre, which was also one of the first business districts in Brittany. It is neither frozen in time nor a museum. Quite the contrary. It is inhabited, alive and its sustainability and development are thus constantly assured.
Rennes is one of the cities of France, with a high number of ancient timber-framed houses. This type of building is particularly remarkable in rue du Chapitre. Here stands alongside, buildings dating from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Contemporary eras, from the 15th to the 18th century, offering a unique vision of architectural evolution. To protect this unique area, in 1966 Rennes was one of the first cities to be part of the Malraux law protected neighbourhoods.
The historic heart, rebuilt in the 18th century, beats in two emblematic city squares: on one the Parliament of Brittany and the other, the Opera House and City Hall. Among the civil buildings at the time, the City Hall was exceptional in France. It was unique, its façade composed of sets of curves and counter-curves, its clock tower topped with a bulb, corresponding to the rotunda of the neighbouring opera.
School children in the Rennes city centre are lucky: they learn to swim in a pool soon to be classified, Piscine Saint-Georges. This interesting construction, typical of the last century's Art Deco period, is the work of two Rennes citizens: architect Emmanuel Le Ray, and mosaic artist of Italian origin Isidore Odorico, to whom the town owes a number of mosaic decorations. These masterpieces are now the subject of a popular tourist route along which the pool is one of the highlights.