We walked into the Place de la Republique in Auray to find the market in full swing – there were stalls and people in the main square, the surrounding squares and streets, and in the covered market. People were selling food, clothing, and crafts everywhere!
The town used to have a covered market similar to that of Le Faouët – but it has been replaced by a modern building, offering refrigeration and more modern facilities.
Auray has been settled since at least the 5C, but only the wall of the Castle remains. So, after wandering around the market we walked down the hill to cross the River Auray to St Goustan, the port of Auray. In 17C this one of the largest ports in Brittany, particularly for the export of grain, and similar to Hennebont and Quimperlé, and the wharves on either side of the river date from that time. The new city of Lorient drew merchant families and their trade away from the town, and finally the decline of river and sea trade dates to the mid-19C with the start of railways. Now Auray is another stopping point in the leisure trade up and down the coast.
We wandered through the backstreets and then back along the quayside, noting that Benjamin Franklin landed in the port (forced there by a storm) at the beginning of the American War of Independence, looking for support from the French. And then it was time for refreshment.
At the adjacent table in the pub was a gentleman, drawing – wonderful pen and ink drawings – I wish I had asked his name.
We walked back up the hill and through the town – the market was finished and the streets were quieter, so we could see the old buildings.
And on the edge of the town we found an old pilgrim hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu, and chapel – the Chapel of Ste Hélène which was built in 1465. Augustinian nuns settled in the town in the 17C to care for the sick in the hospital, only leaving the city in 1993. The Chapel seemed neglected and this article is rather gloomy about its future.
This was a marvellous place to visit on market day, Monday, and would certainly repay a more thorough, historical investigation.
The History of Auray