Brest is a city in the Finistère département in Brittany in northwestern France. Located in a sheltered position not far from the western tip of the Breton 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 144,548 inhabitants in a 2009 census, Brest is at the center 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 harbor. 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 center 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 center, 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 as well as the aircraft carriers Charles de Gaulle and Richelieu were 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).
Brest is located amidst a dramatic landscape near the entrance of the natural rade de Brest (Brest roadstead), at the west end of Brittany.
It is situated to the north of a magnificent landlocked bay, and occupies the slopes of two hills divided by the river Penfeld. The part of the town on the left bank is regarded as Brest proper, while the part on the right is known as Recouvrance. There are also extensive suburbs to the east of the town. The hillsides are in some places so steep that the ascent from the lower to the upper town has to be effected by flights of steps and the second or third storey of one house is often on a level with the ground storey of the next.
The climate of Brest is a Maritime Climate. It is a perfect example of an oceanic climate as the rainfall throughout the year is high and rains more in the winter than in the summer due to the atlantic depression, although rainfall is high throughout the year. Typical of a maritime climate, the sunshine is also very low throughout the year.