Trade circuits

The benefits of trading
The port of Saint-Malo is a uniquely complex, and even inhospitable, site. And yet, this geography turned out to be an exceptional asset over the centuries, and the city's merchants gradually expanded their activity across the globe in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. Their ships plied every sea, and it was common for their sons to go off and spend several years in one of their far-off trading posts, particularly in Andalusia, which traded regularly with Saint-Malo.
Closed in behind its walls, the city did not – in contrast to the rival Brittany city of Nantes – have manufacturing capacities, whose products could justify the growth of its port activities. However, the rapid expansion of shipyards building both trade and fishing vessels, combined with a market for goods that itself justified considerable import activity (food, construction materials, wood, etc.), contributed to urban democracy. This trading involved hundreds of ships, many from ports in Brittany and Normandy, but some from much farther afield. It was so extensive that André Lespagnol, a specialist on Saint-Malo trading from this period, has estimated that its share of overall port trade increased from 15 to 25% between 1680 and 1725.

Multimedia

© BnF Estampes
St Malo. Isometric view of Saint-Malo from Saint-Servan. The city is packed tight within its walls; to the right is the medieval château of Saint-Malo. Late 17th century. Cote Va35_H1252224
© BnF, Cartes & Plans
Plan de St Malo en l'estat qu'il est aux plus basses marées des Équinoxes, circa 1700. This map shows the many reefs scattered throughout the approaches to the port, the Rance moorings and the Saint-Malo drying port. Cote BnF, Res Ge DD4586(6)Pi33. Cliché 93C205120
© BnF
View of Saint-Malo (plate for the Topographie Française). Created in 1641 by the draftsman Claude de Chastillon (1559–1616). Département Estampes et photographie, catégorie Estampes, collection ou fonds: Lallemand de Betz, 2142, Folio p. 118).
© French Ministry of culture and communication
Map of the major commercial ports in the first half of the 18th century.
© French Ministry of culture and communication
Map of the major commercial ports in the first half of the 18th century.

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