Nantes

FRANCE WEST LOIRE VALLEY NantesNantes (pop 280,600) was once Brittany’s capital, until it was reallocated to Loire-et-Atlantique during the boundary revision post-WWII. However, the strong Breton flavour of Brittany remains intact in this dynamic city. The city’s name- Nantes, was derived from Namnetes, the original name of the area when the first Gaulish settlements originated here in 70BC.

Since then, Nantes has changed hands and its façade many times. Although the city was successively invaded all through to 9th century AD, much of Nantes remained deserted until Alain-Barbe Torte (grandson of Alan the Great, the last king of Brittany) founded the Duchy of Brittany here, in 937AD.

In 1598, the region was a place of refuge for the French Huguenots, until they were driven out in 1685 when the civil rights charter for their protection was revoked. In the 18th century, Nantes was one of the leading ports in France, as it acted as the slave trade capital. Upon the abolition of slavery, Nantes revamped itself to become an industrial centre (when the first form of public transport service was implemented in 1826). The city then promoted its industrial works to that of shipbuilding in the 20th century. However as this sector fluctuated, Nantes reworked its façade yet again, to become a university and cultural hub, with a growing metropolis.

Nantes’ current face bears the mark of its rich history as there are pockets of historic buildings, chunks of greenery and stretches of motorways that tear pass the city.

Layout
Nantes sits on the Loire riverbanks where the Erdre and Sévre Nantaise merge. The old city is located on the east of the northern bank, between cours des 50 Otages and the Château de Ducs. The island of Île de Nantes lies the southern bank. The east-west bound boulevard of Cours John Kennedy and Cours Franklin Roosevelt converge with cours des 50 Otages at Gare Centrale (the intercity bus and tram hub). You can arrive via train at Blvd de Stalingard; or via bus at allée de la Maison Rouge. The Aéroport International Nantes-Atlantique is also nearby, southwest of town.


 

 

 


 


LOIRE VALLEY château de Nantes The birthplace of the Duchess of Brittany, Anne de Bretagne, lies in the heart of Nantes at the Château de Ducs de Bretagne  (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany) [4 Place Marc Elder]. The stripped down castle is a fully functioning museum that is fortified with 7 towers that protect the 15th century ducal palace as well as other strikingly white buildings.  The  Château houses a History Museum [ +33 251174948, www.chateau-nantes.fr ad/ch €5/Free] features a multimedia ensemble in 32 rooms that traces the history of the city, together with relics from the past. It also has a giant portrait of the city, juxtaposing the past with the present, projecting the future.

Nantes also has a good collection of French fine art pieces in its Musée des Beaux-Arts [10, rue Georges-Clemenceau,+33 251174500, www.nantes.fr ad/ch €3.50/Free], which houses works by reputed artists such as Monet, Chagall and Picasso. Ancient artistic ventures, in the form of antiquities and furniture can also be sighted in the nearby Musée Dobré [18 Rue Voltaire, +33 240710350, www.nantes.fr ad/ch €3/1.50], which houses collections that date back to the French Revolution and the Middle Ages.

As tribute to their hometown boy, Nantes has erected the Musée Jules Vernes [3, rue de l'Hermitage,  +33 240697252 , www.nantes.fr/julesverne/ ad/ch €3/Free] – an author born in this city in 1828, renowned for writing classics such as Around the World in 80 days. Residing in a 19th century home, this museum showcases his first edition books, manuscripts and many interactive displays. However, do carry your phrasebook along, as all the signs in the museum are in French. Nonetheless, interesting sights such as the life-sized statues of Captain Nemo and a young Jules Verne in the adjoined park will still be able to tell you a story. 

Another addition to the museum visit list, is the Musée d’Historie Naturelle [12 Rue Voltaire  +33 240992620,   www.museum.nantes.fr, ad/ch€3.50/2] which holds displays ranging from zoology to botany. It has a large vivarium that holds a significant reptilian community. It also houses ethnographic collections such as a colossal rorqual (whale) skeleton that spans across an entire room.

Whilst museum-hopping, you can check out a few other sites that are usually scattered around these buildings as well.

FRANCE PAYS DE LA LOIRE LOIRE-ET-ATLANTIQUE cathédrale saint pierre de NantesNorth of the Château, lies the Flamboyant Gothic style Cathédrale St-Pierre-et-St-Paul [Place Saint-Pierre, +33 251889547 ]. Its clean lines and tall ceilings stand as a great example of the architectural style of its time and the entire building is lit by a 25m glass dome which is said to be dedicated to the saints of Brittany. The Cathédrale also houses the magnificent tomb of François II in the right of its transept, together with that of his wife- Marguerite de Foix.

Another splendid church stands west of the Château - the Église Saint-Croix de Nantes [Place Sainte-Croix, +33 240419000 ], which was constructed in the 17th century.  The church sports a classical look with trumpeting angels crowning its beautiful belfry. It also houses interesting sculptures in its interior.

East of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, and north of the train station; lies the ancient Jardin des plantes de Nantes [Place Charles Leroux].  It is a garden created in 1805, home to at least 11,000 trees and flowers. The serene landscape is also well-decorated with numerous sculptures, fountains and has about 800m² greenhouses within its grounds as well.

Musée Dobrée [18 rue Voltaire, +33 340710350,  www.nantes.fr/site/nantesfr/musee-thomas-dobree-musee-archeologique] is housed in a Romanesque palais built by Thomas Dobrée, the rich heir to an old Huguenot family fortune.  At age 28 he left the family business and began a life of art collection that culminated in a booty of over 10,000 objets d'art which included paintings, sculpture and decorative art objects from the Middle Ages to the end of the 19th century.  The collection is on now displayed at the museum, along with a separate departmental archeological section which Thomas agreed to to be moved there to share the premises.

Nantes used to be surrounded by small islands.  Île Feydeau now occupying the southern quarter of Gare Centrale was a marsh island until WWII, when it was reclaimed and the waters dried up. Today, the soft land still holds a stretch of the old mansions, built by merchants of the port, with bold features such as stone carvings of the heads of African slaves.

Further down south lies Île de Nantes, which continues to be an island, accessed by a bridge from the mainland. It used to be a thriving settlement area when the Nantes shipyard industry took off. Now it is being reformed to become a cultural hub and is home to the fun and educational Le Machines de Île de Nantes [Les Chantiers
Bd Léon Bureau, +33 251174999www.lesmachines-nantes.fr/english/ ad/ch €7/5.50] – a gallery that exhibits the mechanism of how machines and animals work. Examples of such displays are the mechanical elephant, which carries up to 50 passengers and the Giraffe-tortoise machine. The workshop where these gizmos are made is located onsite and is open to visitors.

 


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NANTES1. Tourist office  2. Train station  3. Tourist office branch  4. Gare Central tramway  5. Train station  6. Château de Ducs de Bretagne (west of map limits; zom out to view) 7. Musée d’Historie Naturelle  8. Musée Thomas Dobrée  9. Musée des Beaux-Arts  10. Musée Jules Vernes (south-west of map limits) 11. Cathédrale St-Pierre-et-St-Paul  12. Église Saint-Croix de Nantes  13. Jardin des plantes de Nantes  14. Île Feydeau remnant  15.  Île de Nantes  (south of map limits) 16. Le Machines de Île de Nantes