The Port of Brest is on the northern coast of France in the Bretagne (Brittany) region on two hills on either side of the Penfeld River about 220 kilometers northwest of France's Port of Nantes-Saint Nazaire and about 143 nautical miles south-southwest of the Port of Plymouth in Great Britain. Protected from the Atlantic Ocean by the Quelern Peninsula and the Goulet Passage, the Port of Brest is thought to be the first port in France that vessels from the America can visit. In 2005, over 145 thousand people called the Port of Brest home.
The Port of Brest's protected harbor can accommodate most any type or size of vessel, and shipping is the major industry in the Port of Brest, even though Nantes-Saint Nazaire has much larger docks. The naval port has been partly excavated from the rock, and some of the Port of Brest's installations are located inside deep caves in the cliffs. With big ship-fitting operations, the commercial port is separated from the city by the 1769 Cours Dajot promenade.
Little is known about the Port of Brest before the mid-13th Century when the Count of Leon surrendered it to John I, Duke of Brittany. In 1342, the English received the Port of Brest from John de Montfort, and they held it until 1397. The Port of Brest's importance to medieval politics is revealed in the saying, "He is not the Duke of Brittany who is not the Lord of Brest." Formal rule passed from Britain to France upon the marriage of the daughter of Anne of Brittany to the King of France in 1491.
In 1631, Cardinal Richelieu decided the Port of Brest would be a naval base. Jean-Baptiste Colbert established today's Inscription Maritime, drafting Breton fishermen into the navy and repaying them by caring for their families for life.
In 1694, British John Berkeley's attack on the Port of Brest was decisively crushed. In 1769, convicts built today's excellent promenade that separates the commercial port from the city. Since 1830, the Port of Brest has been the base for the French Naval Academy (French).
During World War I, U.S. troops disembarked at the Port of Brest, and its importance as a naval and passenger port increased after that. The Germans occupied the Port of Brest in 1940, built concrete submarine facilities, and made Brest a base for fighting the Allies. They maintained a huge U-boat (submarine) base there throughout the war.
The Port of Brest was almost destroyed during World War II in the 1944 Battle for Brest, when only three buildings stood after the battle. After the war, the citizens of the Port of Brest received reparations from West Germany to compensate for the loss of their city.
The Port of Brest was rebuilt. Interestingly, part of the port is excavated from rock and many installations are located in deep caves in local cliffs. The Port of Brest was home to some of France's most notorious prisons that closed when Devils Island and the prison colony of French Guiana were established in the 19th Century.
Three industrial zones were established in the Port of Brest in the 1960s when naval construction started declining. In 1972, the French Navy established a nuclear weapon-submarine base in the Brest roadstead. The Port of Brest continues to be a significant base for French nuclear-armed submarines.
Today, the Port of Brest contains an important metallurgy industry supporting shipbuilding and repair. Other important industries include gas bottling, precision mechanics, and manufacturing of fertilizers, paper, chemicals, and electronic equipment.