The Château de Brest is a castle in the city of Brest in France.
The oldest monument in the town, it is located at the mouth of the river Penfeld at the heart of the roadstead of Brest, one of the largest roadsteads in the world. From the Roman castellum to Vauban 's citadel, the site has over 1700 years of history, holding right up to the present day its original role as a military fortress and a strategic location of the highest importance. It is thus the oldest castle in the world still in use, and was classified as a monument historique on 21 March 1923.
Its structure has continually been rebuilt over the centuries to defend against all attacks by land and sea. Its heterogeneous architecture is thus the result of the defences' continual adaptation to new developments in siege warfare and armament. The Roadstead of Brest, well-protected by a narrow "goulet" but sufficiently large to allow ships to turn or move, forms a natural harbour. Its dimensions make it a small inland sea, capable of receiving the largest fleets. It is so vast that it offers a protected haven for ships. This haven is fed by the river Penfeld from the north, running off the plateaus of Léon. Its lower course is winding, with high raised banks that break strong winds. Even heavy-tonnage vessels can berth safely in this vast and substantial area. The cape that divides the roadstead from the bay has four sides, three of which are defended by nature and with a fourth side that needs fortification but which is still easily defensible. This unique site gives the castle major strategic significance.
The castle was thus built on a rocky outcrop carved out which the river has cut into the cliff at its mouth in the estuary. Since the place overlooks and dominates the sea, it controls access to the Penfeld and the lower reaches of the Elorn towards Landerneau, all whilst overlooking a major part of the roadstead and its entrance:the Goulet de Brest.
This end of the world (Finis terrae) only saw Roman occupation very late in the Roman period. The Romans erected a defensive work at the end of the 3rd century. These begin from the base of the wall. The absence of Roman remains inside the castle suggests it was a purely military work and not also a civil oppidum. The section of the razed towers at ground level remains visible in the false wall. It seems that the Romans did not entirely complete the fortified wall since their presence here was short-lived. At this era it is possible that the sea coast was simply defended by a ditch and palisade. From the Romans' departure (410 -420) until the 11th century, little is known as to the history of the castellum at Brest. It remained a stronghold and thus belonged to the counts of Léon, whilst a town developed at the foot of the Roman enclosure.
In 1240, the castle passed to the duke of Brittany, John I, and became an essential part of the duchy's defence system.The 15th century was one of great works to adapt to new weapons and developments in defensive works. Important works of fortification were begun at the castle throughout the 15th century. The castle was adapted for the new weapon of the age - artillery. To make its medieval curtain walls withstand metal cannon balls they were thickened by 5m and the tour Madeleine was built, then the tour Paradis, a logis-porte to defend the entrance.
The intendant Pierre Chertemps de Seuil was responsible for the initial construction projects on the arsenal between 1670 and 1680. Reinforced and modernised, the castle still defended the premier port of the royal fleet. In 1680, a new battery completed the castle to the south-west to guarantee the defence of the harbour entrance. To the north-east an imposing bastioned fort "à la Vauban " protected the harbour approaches. The town's population thus began to expand substantially, especially when it was merged with Recouvrance in 1681. Pierre Massiac de Sainte-Colombe's project for modernising the defences of the town, arsenal and their surroundings was initiated that year and taken over and transformed by Vauban in May 1683 to 1695. He destroyed the last Roman towers and the pepper-pot roofs of the keep. In this era the defences protected the castle effectively against attack from the sea, but the fortress had to defend above all against a landborne attack should an English fleet succeed in disembarking troops on the coast. The castle became a citadel, overlooking the town, the countryside and their surroundings all at once. A glacis, a covered road and half-moons prolonged the fortifications on the landward side. The parapets were redesigned and given plunging embrasures. To form a vast artillery platform, the tour Duchesse Anne and the tour Nord were linked by a new work. Only the tours Paradis retained the medieval appearance. The curtain walls were widened, and a fausse-braie built to reinforce the wall between tour Madeleine and the tours Paradis against artillery fire. Batteries at the mouth of the goulet, at Camaret and Bertheaume, were also built. The interventions of Vauban were the last major stage in the castle's evolution. In 1785, Louis XVI launched a major construction project at the castle to mark his recognition of the town. Leadership of this project of was put under the direction of M. Jallier de Savault. Notably he oversaw the erection at the town's highest point of a monumental statue of Louis. It would have to be built on the site of the tour César. The project was made up of, at the end of the rue du château, an oval "place d'armes", planted in trees.
Since 1955, the castle has also housed collections from the Musée national de la Marine. This makes it a kind of heir to the ship models room installed on the first floor of the sculpture workshop in the Brest arsenal in 1826. The collections evacuated during the Second World War were transferred into the tours Paradis in 1958. An extension to the museum in the keep was completed in 1985. It displays famous sculptures by Yves Collet (Mars, Amphitrite, Minerve and Neptune, guarding the road), ship models, sculptures paintings and other objects related to the development of the prison, the military port, the naval constructions and maritime life of Brest.
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Claude Jean-Baptiste Jallier de Savault