The Legend of the City of Ys

version française

  1. Malgven, Queen of the North
  2. The Birth of Dahut
  3. The city builds against the sea
  4. The engagement of Dahut with Ocean
  5. The magical mask
  6. The submersion of the City
  7. Saint Guenole, the missionary of God
  8. The City of Ys, conclusion

Malgven, Queen of the North

Here is the story of the King Gradlon and the City of Ys. The King Gradlon lived in Cornwall. He owned a fleet of many boats that he liked to oppose to his enemies, often in distant countries where the weather was cold. He was an excellent sailor and strategist and often won his battles, plundering the opponent boats and filling his chests with gold and trophies.

One day, his sailors, tired from the fights in these cold countries, rebelled, refusing to assault the castle which was promised to them. Many of them died during the winter. They decided to go back to their boats and to head for their land, the Brittany, to find wives and children and live there in peace. The King Gradlon let them leave and found himself alone, in the cold night. He was vanquished by his own men and after the intense excitement of fights and victories , he knew a deep sadness.

Suddenly the king felt a presence around him. He raised the head and saw, white in the moon light and dressed in a cuirass shining from the light of the night star, a woman with long red hair. It was Malgven, Queen of the North, boreal sovereign ruling without partage on the cold lands. She said to King Gradlon: "I knew you, you are courageous and skilful in fight. My husband is old, his sword is rusty. You and me are going to kill him. Then, you will bring me in your country of Cornwall." They killed the old king from the North, filled a chest with gold and as Gradlon had no more boat, mounted Morvarc'h, the magical horse from Malgven. Morvarc'h means "horse of the sea", it was black as the night and blew fire from his nostrils. The horse galloped on the crest of waves and they quickly caught up with the king's boats which went back to Cornwall. A violent tempest and a thunderstorm started then, scattering boats on the ocean.

The Birth of Dahut

Gradlon and Malgven stayed one full year on the sea. One day, on a boat, Malgven gave birth to a child, a girl thy called Dahut. Unfortunately, the queen became sick and died. The King Gradlon and his daughter Dahut went back to Cornwall. But the king was so sad that he never went out of his castle. Dahut grew, she was very beautiful, as her mother Malgven. The King Gradlon liked to play with the curls of her long golden hair. Dahut was found of the sea. One day she asked her father to build a city, a city near the sea.

The city builds against the sea

Gradlon loved her daughter and agreed. Many thousands of workers started to build the city that looked like emerging from the sea. To prevent here from the high waves and tempest, a very high dike surrounding the city with a unique and closed brass door which gave access to it. The King Gradlon alone get the key. It was called the city of Ys.

The engagement of Dahut with Ocean

The fishermen, each evening, saw on the beach a woman who sang very loudly, combing her long golden hair. It was the princess Dahut. She said :
"Ocean, beautiful Ocean blue, roll me on the sand, I am thy betrothed,
Ocean, beautiful Ocean blue.
I was born on the sea, amidst the waves and the foam, when I was a child
I played with thee.
Ocean, beautiful Ocean blue, roll me on the sand, I am thy betrothed,
Ocean, beautiful Ocean blue.
Ocean, who decides which boats and men shall return, give to me the wrecks
of sumptuous ships and their riches, gold, and treasures.
Bring to my city handsome sailors that I may look upon.
Do not be jealous, I will return them to thee one after the other.
Ocean, beautiful Ocean blue, roll me on the sand, I am thy betrothed,
Ocean, beautiful Ocean blue."

The city of Ys became a place where people did the feast, the city became full of sailors. Each day saw new feasts, games and dances.

The magical mask

Each day, the princess Dahut has a new engaged. The evening she put a black mask on his face, he stayed with her until the morning. As soon as the song of meadowlark was heard the mask tightened on the throat of the young man and suffocated the engaged of the night. A rider took the body on his horse to throw it in the Ocean, after the Bay of deceased (Trepasses) . So all the engaged from Dahut died the morning came and were thrown in the sea.

One day of the spring, a strange rider arrived in the city of Ys He was red dressed, his hands were long and slim, his nails pointed and curved. Dahut smiles him, the knight even did not look at her. An evening he accepted to come near her. For a long time he passed his long hands with pointed nails in the beautiful golden hair from the princess. Suddenly a great noise came from the sea and a terrible blow of wind knocked the ramparts from the city of Ys. "The tempest may roar, the doors of the city are strong and it is the King Gradlon, my father which owns the unique key, attached to his neck", said Dahut. "Your father the king slept, you can now easily take the key", answered the knight.

The submersion of the City

Princess Dahut entered in the bedroom of her father, slowly came near him and took the key, attached to a chain around his neck. Immediately , an enormous wave , higher than a mountain, fell on Dahut. Her father wake up and she said him "Father, quick, we have to take the horse Morvarc'h, the sea has pushed down the dikes". The king took her daughter on the horse, the sea was furious. The horse reared up on the water which was rising with big bubbles. Dahut clang to her father and said to him: "Save-me my father!" Then there was a great lightning in the tempest and a voice said getting from rock to rock "Gradlon, drop the princess".

Saint Guenole, the missionary of God

A shape pale as a dead appeared, wrapped in a great brown cloth. It was Saint Guenole, who said to the princess: "Shame and misfortune on thee, thou has tried to steal the key from the city of Ys!" Dahut answered: "Save-me, bring me to the end of the world!" But the horse Morvarc'h did not move any more and the furious waters won on them. Saint Guenole repeated his order to Gradlon "Drop the princess!", enormous waves were at their feet. Dahut slided on the ground and the king Gradlon, furious pushed his daughter in the sea. The waves closed on the princess. The sea flooded the city of Ys which all inhabitants died drowned.

The horse from the king started again, jumping on the beach then in meadows and hills, galloping all the night. Gradlon arrived in the city where two rivers gather between seven hills, Quimper. He decided to make it his capital and lived here the remaining of his days. At his death, his statue was carved in granite. This statue is yet between the two towers of the cathedral Saint Corentin in Quimper. It represents the King Gradlon, on a horse looking in the direction of the disappeared city.

People said that Dahut, after her death, became a mermaid and that she appears to fishermen the evenings of moon, combing her long golden hair. They also said that when the weather is very quiet one may hear the bells ring from the disappeared city.

Gwelas-te morverc'h, pesketour
O kriban en bleo melen aour
Dre an heol splann, e ribl an dour ?
Gwelous a ris ar morverc'h venn,
M'he c'hlevis o kanann zoken
Klemvanus tonn ha kanaouenn.
Fisherman, did you see a girl from the sea
combing her long, golden hair
as the great sun shone
here by the side of the sea?
I saw the pale girl from the sea,
I remember hearing her sing,
Sorrow hung in the air and the song.

The City of Ys, conclusion

The legend says that the city of Ys was in the Bay of Douarnenez. The so called place Pouldavid, a few kilometres at the East of the City of Douarnenez, is the French form of "Poul Dahut", the "hole of Dahut" in breton, and indicates the place where the princess was flooded into the waves.

It is also said that the city of Ys was the nicest capital of the world and that Lutece was called Paris because "Par Ys" in breton means "like Ys". Two popular breton proverbs testify that :

Abaoue ma beuzet Ker Is
N'eus kavet den par da Paris
Since was drowned the City of Ys
Nobody found an equal in Paris
Pa vo beuzet Paris
Ec'h adsavo Ker Is
When Paris will be engulfed
Will re-emerge the City of Ys