Souvenir hunting seems to go hand-in-hand with sightseeing and vacations in general. I’m not a big souvenir person–taking photos is more my speed and postcards are my stock items–but I am curious to see what symbols, buildings, etc. show up the most. When you approach Saint Malo’s Intra-Muros via the Porte St Vincent, a plethora of symbols greet you! Flags fly from the castle keep and Coats of Arms proudly watch over the gates.
Saint Malo briefly declared itself a republic in the 1490s with the motto “Ni français ni breton, malouin suis” (“not French, not Breton, but Malouins”). The republic didn’t last but it’s symbols and attitude have. The ermine shows up on the Coat of Arms and on the city flag wearing a gold scarf. The flag is divided into four quarters, three blue and one red, by a white cross. Even if it looks white, the cross is technically speaking silver–under Louis XIV, all French military ports including Saint Malo flew the Croix d’Argent or Silver Cross. The ermine links Saint Malo to Brittany while the red background symbolizes the cities’ corsair past. Corsairs flew red flags when they were attacking. (While not technically pirates, today’s tourist shops seem to have no issues selling pirate-themed souvenirs to anyone walking by.) Today, the city standard is the highest flying flag in the city–it tops the castle keep far above the French and Breton flags on the wall below!
Despite Saint Malo’s independent streak, Breton symbols are also alive and well. The Duchy of Brittany has its Coat of Arms displayed over the gate. I’ve been wanting to talk about the Breton flag for some time and today is my chance. Brittany’s flag is a very popular symbol and souvenir. It even flies from the castle wall alongside the French national flag! Once linked to Breton separatists, today the flag is a popular symbol for the entire region and all those who are proud to be Breton. It flies in front of city halls all over the region, you can find it on French license plates, and, of course, you can buy it in every shape and size imaginable. I think I lost track of the number of times we saw it for sale while walking around!
The Breton flag is called the Gwenn-ha-du, black and white in Breton. The flag’s current design is relatively recent, however, the colors and symbols date back to the 13th century. Morvan Marchal designed the flag in 1923. Does the layout look familiar? Marchal looked to the American and Greek flags for inspiration. The black stripes represent the French and Gallo speaking dioceses while the white stripes stand for the Breton speaking ones. The ermine canton, on the other hand, comes from the Coat of Arms of the Dukes of Brittany. We’ll be exploring a bit more of Brittany this coming weekend if the weather holds–more castles are calling!