An Incredible 600-Year-Old Castle Complete With A Moat Was Just Uncovered Beneath A Historic Hotel In France

Published March 27, 2024

The Château de l'Hermine in Vannes, France, was originally built in the 1380s, but it was abandoned 100 years later.

Chateau De L'Hermine

Emmanuelle Collado, INRAPExcavation of the sprawling medieval castle took place in 2023.

Centuries ago, a castle was abandoned in France. Now, its remains have been uncovered about 10 feet beneath a former hotel in Vannes.

The Château de l’Hermine castle is in remarkably good shape. Archaeologists have even discovered a plumbing system, staircases, countless artifacts, and a moat.

Rediscovering The Château De L’Hermine Castle

According to a statement from the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), archaeologists have known since at least 2021 that the bones of the medieval Château de l’Hermine still existed beneath the 18th-century mansion built on the same grounds. In 2023, they began to examine the site in earnest ahead of the construction of the Museum of Fine Arts of the City of Vannes — and found the 600-year-old castle in remarkably good shape.

“Under a thick embankment [eight to 13 feet], archaeologists unexpectedly uncovered the ground floor of an imposing building which they excavated over a meter of elevation and which corresponds to… the ducal residence,” INRAP explained. “A central passage connects the north door, built in the city side facade, to another door framed by two large towers sitting on the city wall and identified on old plans, overlooking the exterior moat.”

Castle Foundations

Emmanuelle Collado, INRAPArchaeologists came upon the medieval castle about 10 feet beneath the surface of the former hotel’s courtyard.

The ground floor is around 137 feet long and 55 feet wide and has sturdy walls that are nearly 20 feet thick. Archaeologists have discovered remains of a moat, several staircases — including a “ceremonial staircase” — and drainage pipes from the castle’s latrines, as well as evidence that a mill was built into the castle itself, taking advantage of the nearby Marle River.

In addition, archaeologists also found a number of items that were left behind by the castle’s residents. These include keys, clothing, shoe buckles, coins, cooking utensils like frying pans, bowls, and even jewelry.

Ring Discovered In Moat

Emmanuelle Collado, INRAPThese rings were discovered in the castle’s moat, suggesting perhaps that they’d been lost in the water by their owners.

The castle — and the items found inside — are a compelling reminder of the Château de l’Hermine’s century-long history.

The Fascinating History Of The Medieval Castle

According to INRAP, the story of Château de l’Hermine begins with Jean IV, the Duke of Brittany. In 1365, he inherited the Duchy of Brittany. In 1381, he began to build fortresses “in order to assert his power,” including in Vannes.

“The construction of the building took place in a single phase, which demonstrates the importance of the financial and human resources used,” the INRAP statement notes. “The remains indicate that Jean IV knew how to surround himself with the best engineers and craftsmen of the time.”

The Château de l’Hermine became a stronghold and one of Jean IV’s favorite residences. But within a century, the castle was abandoned.

Jean Iv Jousting

Public DomainA 15th-century depiction of Jean IV, right, jousting in Vannes.

INRAP reports that the castle was deserted by François II in 1470, who preferred the nearby city of Nantes. Over the years, the castle was neglected and was abandoned between the 17th and 18th centuries.

According to the Vannes Mayor’s Office, the castle was purchased in 1784. Its ruined towers were destroyed, and a mansion was built in its place. It was later transformed into a hotel with a restaurant called the Hôtel Lagorce. After this business shut down in 1803, the French government bought the building. It has since been used for different purposes, from a law school to the Public Treasury office.

Today, it’s an exhibition venue.

The story of the Château de l’Hermine goes to show how much history can be contained in one place. The surprising rediscovery of the former fortress sheds fascinating new light on the castle’s earliest days.

After reading about the medieval French castle discovered beneath a former hotel, discover some fascinating facts about France. Or, see how the Guédelon Castle in Burgundy is being built with only medieval methods.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.