Brest is a city in the Finistère département in Brittany. Located in a sheltered position not far from the western tip of the peninsula, and the western extremity of metropolitan France, Brest is an important harbor and the second French military port after Toulon. The city is located on the western edge of continental Europe. With 142,722 inhabitants in a 2007 census, Brest is at the centre of Western Brittany's largest metropolitan area (with a population of 300,300 in total), ranking third behind only Nantes and Rennes in the whole of historic Brittany, and the 19th most populous city in France; moreover, Brest provides services to the one million inhabitants of Western Brittany. Although Brest is by far the largest city in Finistère, the préfecture (regional capital) of the department is the much smaller Quimper.
During the Middle Ages, the history of Brest was the history of its castle. Then Richelieu made it a military harbour. Brest grew around its arsenal, until the second part of the 20th century. Heavily damaged by the Allies' bombing raids during World War II, the city centre was completely rebuilt after the war. At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, the deindustrialization of the city was followed by the development of the service sector. Nowadays, Brest is an important university town with 23,000 students. Besides a multidisciplinary university, the University of Western Brittany, Brest and its surrounding area possess several prestigious French elite schools such as École Navale (the French Naval Academy), Télécom Bretagne and the Superior National School of Advanced Techniques of Brittany (ENSTA Bretagne, formerly ENSIETA). Brest is also an important research centre, mainly focused on the sea, with among others the largest Ifremer (French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea) centre, le Cedre (Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution) and the French Polar Institute.
Brest’s history has always been linked to the sea: the Académie de Marine (Naval Academy) was founded in 1752 in this city. The aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle was built there. Every four years, Brest hosts the international festival of the sea, boats and sailors: it is a meeting of old riggings from around the world (Les Tonnerres de Brest).