“Lorient’s Recovery from World War II” by S.M. O’Connor

To knock the German U-boat flotillas based in Lorient out of commission, the Allies attacked the U-boat pens again and again, but they were so well made the damage done to them was negligible while the surrounding town was practically flattened.  Rebuilding was a laborious process and tourists in search of old, picturesque buildings Americans yearn to see when they visit Europe will see only a few such structures in Lorient.  However, Brittany as a whole did not suffer as badly as Lorient, so there are plenty of historic buildings in other Breton cities, towns, and villages. Further, the countryside outside Lorient, within the départment of Morbihan of which Lorient is a part, actually has megalithic monuments that are some of the oldest manmade objects in Europe.

By 2009, the population of Lorient as a commune (municipality) had reached 57,812, while the population of the larger intercommunalité (intercommunality) was 191,716.  Lorient is the largest city in Morbihan.  It is home to a television station that covers Morbihan.  However, the 2,000-year-old city of Vannes is the préfecture (administrative capital of Morbihan, roughly the equivalent of a county seat in the U.S.A.).

Scholars in particular should take interest in the Gabriel Hotel.  The Germans had appropriated the Gabriel Hotel during the Second Great World War, added basements, and built a blockhouse.  The buildings were destroyed by fire during Allied bombings of the city in 1943, but were rebuilt in the postwar years with new interiors to reflect use by the French Navy.  The City of Lorient acquired the two pavilions in 2000 when the French Navy departed from Lorient.  The Archives de Lorient (Archives of Lorient) opened on the ground floor in the west wing in 2010.

There are guided tours of the Keroman submarine pens in warm weather months.[1]  The Underwater Museum of the Pays de Lorient bills itself as the world’s oldest submariner rescue center, and the only one that is open to the public.

Tourists can also visit the bunker on Place Alsace-Lorraine that opened in September of 1941.  It could accommodate 400 people.

There is a granite monument in the shape of one of the ancient menhirs that dot the countryside outside Lorient which commemorates the surrender of the Germans at Lorient.  There are also monuments around town for Free French Forces fighters; the School of Apprentices, which was destroyed during the Allied bombings of 1943; North African soldiers who died to liberate France; the 11th Regiment of Colonial Artillery Levant, which went to Lorient in 1939; the trainmen who were killed in the war between 1939 and 1945; the Battle of Bir Hakeim (1942); eight sailors whose lives were lost when the trawler An Oriant sank off the coast of Ireland in 2000; and the 166 civilians killed and 200 to 300 wounded during the American attack on the German submarine base on October 21, 1942.

The water reservoir built in 1875 by engineer Edouard Angiboust has been unusable since the war.  Tourists have been able to explore the structure, which is made of Portland cement, since 2000.

The Art Deco-style Chamber of Commerce building constructed in 1927 remains standing.  Barbour describes the building as being Art Nouveau, which is a different style of architecture ascribed to it by the City of Lorient and the evidence of the pictures I have seen of the building, but he also writes about “vast murals” so perhaps the murals are Art Nouveau.[2]  In any case, the Chamber of Commerce is on the Quai des Indes (Quay of India).[3]

Farther along the Quay of India, one my see some of the few granite houses built for rich 18th Century merchants that survived Allied bombing during the war.[4]  On the south side of the Bassin à Flot, Barbour found along the Quai de Rohan (Quay of Rohan) “slick modern shops and bars” with views of the boats in the harbor.[5]

The chapel of Hôtel-Dieu was damaged during the Second Great World War. The limestone façade on a granite base designed by Philippe Guillois remains standing, but the interior is completely different because it is no longer a Roman Catholic chapel.  In 1994, it was converted into a concert hall that is called Le Manège.

The old City Hall stood on rue Jules Le Grand.  Finished in 1960, the new City Hall is built of Breton granite and reinforced concrete.  Jean-Baptiste Hourlier was the architect.  On the south façade, there is a bronze bas-relief by René Letourneur (1898-1900).  It depicts the Roman sea god Neptune, approaching Lorient, represented by a sailing ship. Letourneur was a famous sculptor who won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1926.  Inside the new City Hall are two sculptures of nymphs upholding lamps that formerly stood in the old Holiday Hall that opened in 1901 and was destroyed in the war.

Built in a two-year-long period in the mid-1950s, the Notre-Dame-de-Victoire (Our Lady of Victory) church is home to the Saint Louis Parish, and replaced the old parish church that had been built in 1810 and destroyed by Allied bombing in 1943.  The new Our Lady of Victory Church stands 400 meters from the site of the original Our Lady of Victory Church.  It is now on Place Alsace-Lorraine.  Hourlier was the architect.  The church was built of reinforced concrete with a granite façade. The fifty-four-meter-high bell tower is the tallest building in Lorient.  The building is interesting because it looks like a small basilica in the Brutalist style of architecture.  By contrast, the aforementioned 15th Century Chapel Saint-Christophe and the 19th Century Notre-Dame-de-Bonne-Nouvelle church remain standing in the Kerentrech neighborhood.

While most of the picturesque old buildings in Lorient were destroyed in the Second Great World War, the ramparts of the city walls and citadel of Port-Louise on the opposite bank of the Blavet River are still standing.[6]  There are two museums in the citadel of Port-Louis.  The Musée National de la Marine (National Maritime Museum) has exhibits on marine archeology in the sea lanes to India and sea rescue.[7]  The Musée de la Compagnie des Indes (Museum of the Company of India) commemorates the history of the company that brought Lorient into existence.[8]  Exhibits are arranged chronologically and geographically.[9]  Artifacts on display include Compagnie des Indes porcelain and furniture.[10]  Barbour recommended that English-speakers visit the exhibit of model ships, which include representations of large 18th Century ships that were built in Lorient, first and then look at the maps and artifacts in display cases.[11]

A point of interest is The Banana, which is a complex of residential buildings at the intersection of two arterial streets (rue du Port and rue Jules Le Grand), near the Gabriel Gate of the Arsendel de Lorient.  Designed in 1953 by the firm Tourry, Hourlier, Bourgeois and Lindu, it replaced an overcrowded neighborhood.  The name for the complex is inspired by one of the buildings being a curved structure.

Another point of interest is The Stilts, across from the bridge of Oradour-sur-Glane.  Designed by Henri Conan and built in 1963, it looks like a smaller version of the apartment buildings designed by Le Corbusier, with ninety-nine apartments instead of 300.


[1] Philippe Barbour, Brittany. Updated by Robert Harneis.  London: Cadogan Guides (1998, 2000, 2005), p. 346

[2] Barbour, p. 345

[3] Barbour, p. 345

[4] Barbour, p. 345

[5] Barbour, p. 345

[6] Barbour, p. 346

[7] Barbour, p. 346

[8] Barbour, pages 346 and 347

[9] Barbour, p. 346

[10] Barbour, p. 347

[11] Barbour, p. 347

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