Rennes is the capital of Brittany in north western France, as well as the Ille-et-Vilaine department. It is a medium sized town with 240,000 inhabitants (known as Rennais), a third of which are students. Much of the city has been modernised and there is a new shopping mall located in the centre called La Visitation which is patronised by locals and students alike. A busy, thriving city, Rennes has much to see and do. Plenty of restaurants and shopping facilities, there is a buzz throughout the year. Brittany’s culinary history has always delighted the most discerning palates and the quality and variety of its produce has made it the second most gastronomic region in France. Local industries include car manufacturing and telecommunications.
The city’s name is derived from the Redones, a Celtic tribe that established its capital there. Under Roman occupation the town became the centre of communications of the province of Armorica. In the Middle Ages it vied with Nantes as capital of the dukes of Brittany. The rivalry continued when a Parliament of Brittany was created in 1551; the Parliament finally settled at Rennes 10 years later. During the French Revolution (1787–99), it became the headquarters of the republican army in the fighting with the Vendéens (royalist insurgents). Rennes was bombed and partly destroyed in World War II.
The city was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1720 and was rebuilt from a plan that gave it wide, regular streets and a main axis running east and west along the canalized Vilaine. The few surviving buildings from before the fire, on the northern side of the Vilaine, include the imposing Palais de Justice, which was the House of Parliament of Brittany from 1618 to 1655. Its Grand Chambre, where the Parliament sat, was a magnificent hall with fine decorations, but the building was heavily damaged by fire in 1994. The railway and most of the modern districts are on the south side of the Vilaine.
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