This history of St-Malo starts with the foundation of the town in the 1st century BC, a short distance south of its current location. The fort at Aleth, in what is now St-Servan, was built by Celtic tribesmen to guard the entrance to the Rance River.

The Romans further fortified this site and it was here in the 6th century that the Irish monks, Brendan and Aaron, established a monastery. At around the same time, the rocky island to the north was named after the sainted celtic bishop Maclou (or MacLow).


The rock of St-Malo was only connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway of sand and it was this natural defence that induced the population to move away from Aleth during the period of Viking raids.

The solid ramparts seen today were added by Bishop Jean de Chatillon in the 12th century.

The merchant sailors of St-Malo have traditionally displayed a fiercely independent spirit.
The tall spire of the Cathedrale St-Vincent (left) is a landmark for sailors


The citizens of St-Malo have traditionally displayed a fiercely independent spirit which over the centuries has found them in and out of conflict with the rulers of Brittany, France and England. Nobody typified this more than the city’s sailor merchants who grew wealthy from pillaging foreign ships out in the channel.

The corsairs of the 17th/18th centuries acted as official pirates. The King of France granted them licence to go “coursing” after enemy vessels in return for a percentage of the profit from captured ships. hence the name.

Jacques Cartier, one of St-Malo's most famous sailors
Jacques Cartier National Park, Quebec

Jacques Cartier

A history of St-Malo would be in complete without a reference to Jacques Cartier, one of St-Malo’s most famous sailors who is credited with the discovery of Canada.

Backed by Francois I of France, he made three voyages to North America in the 16th century and was the first European to travel down the St Lawrence Seaway in addition to landing at what is now Montreal and Quebec. He named the new lands Canada after the Native Indian word for “Little Village”.

St-Malo in the modern era
A fortress tower of the city walls

Modern Era

The 20th century saw disaster overtake St-Malo, when the city was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War.

In late 1944 General Patton’s US 3rd Army, advancing into western France, laid siege to the town and it was only through a large scale bombardment that the last stubborn defenders were dislodged.

Nearly 30 years of painstaking reconstruction has returned St-Malo to its former glory and transformed it into one of the most popular places to visit in Brittany.