The architectural gems of Saint Malo, Brittany’s most popular tourist destination, have always attracted visitors. But beyond the wow factor of the city’s beautiful lines hides a formidable fortress continually improved to uphold the independence of its inhabitants. Built in the face of canon fire and exceptional tides, Saint Malo, for nearly 1000 years, has perfected the art of staving off both the sea and enemies.
For Saint Malo is a city on the frontline, and above all on the ocean. With tides among the highest in Europe, its seawalls and ramparts were first and foremost designed to hold back the pounding waves. But while the city’s builders were mainly concerned with defending the city from the ocean’s fury, the inhabitants saw the exceptional range of the Saint Malo tides as an opportunity for innovation.
Interviews with specialists and 3D modelling will shed light on the phenomenon specific to the Bay of Saint Malo, while revealing how the great tides shaped the development of the city early on, thanks to its beaching port, where ships could be repaired and equipped at low tide, and large vessels could be moored at high tide.
Saint Malo was also on the frontline in conflicts with France’s age-old enemy, England, in possession of the world’s most powerful navy at the time. Its strategic position, “within reach” of the English trade routes, made Saint Malo a major player in a new kind of maritime warfare, called corsair from the French phrase “lettre de course,” in which the English and the French would engage, notably during the reign of Louis XIV.
The race, or course, was a form of State piracy conducted by privateers against enemy trade ships and authorized by the king of France. How did corsair warfare emerge, and which techniques and maneuvers did the famed corsairs use to capture ships often much larger and better armed than their own? Spoiler alert - cunning, speed, and maneuverability! By way of example, we will look at one of the most famous captures of Saint-Malo’s best-known corsair, Robert Surcouf, to understand the strategies of these unique naval battles.