Nantes Tourist Attractions
The old Breton port of Nantes, chief town of the département of Loire-Atlantique, the see of a bishop and a university town, lies at the junction of the Erdre (flowing underground for the last part of its course) with the Loire, here divided into a number of arms and navigable, which 50km/30mi farther downstream flows into the Atlantic at St-Nazaire.
The port of St-Nazaire, the first port in France to be entirely electronically controlled, has a turnover of 23 million tons.Nantes was the birthplace of the writer Jules Verne (1828-1905).Nantes, under the name of Condevincum, was the capital of a Gallic tribe, the Namnetae. Then and subsequently, down to the end of the 15th C, the town fought to maintain its independence against the Romans, the Normans, the English and the French. In the Middle Ages Nantes was for a time capital of the Duchy of Brittany, which fell to the French crown in 1532. In 1598 Henry IV signed here the famous Edict of Nantes, which granted freedom of religious belief to Protestants.Thanks to its port Nantes developed into a flourishing commercial town by the 16th C. In the 19th C its trade declined, since the larger vessels then coming into service could not sail up the Loire, so that it became necessary to build an outer harbor at St-Nazaire and develop new industries in Nantes.
In the center of Nantes is the Place Royale, an elegant square laid out in 1790. Northeast of the square is the neo-Gothic church of St-Nicolas (1844-1848), with an 85 m/280ft high tower. Farther east is the church of Ste-Croix (1685), with a choir of 1840.
No visit to Nantes would be complete without a walk through the old 18th and 19th C. quarters. The Place Royale, Rue Crébillon, Place Graslin and Cours Cambronne will give the visitor a good impression of old Nantes. Farther east is the imposing Château Ducal, surrounded by a moat, part of which is laid out as a park. The original castle was built in the 10th C., and after being rebuilt in 1466 was again enlarged in the 16th C. The Edict of Nantes was signed here.Near the gate leading into the inner courtyard is a beautiful Late Gothic well (12th C.).From the south curtain wall, at the Petit Gouvernement, there is a fine view of the Château, with the cathedral beyond it.
The original seat of the counts of Nantes and later the Dukes of Brittany, this fortress is steeped in history. Within its walls many, like the Duchesse of Berry, were imprisoned or, like Gilles de Rais, were executed.Further building was carried on under the commission of Francois I, resulting in the GrandLogis.The Revolution saw Nantes used once more as a prison, with an added role as arsenal which resulted in the destruction of the Tour des Espagnols after a disastrous explosion.The castle has since been restored and is used by the city to house a variety of museums.
St Pierre et St Paul
In Nantes, to the north of the Château, in Place St-Pierre, is the cathedral, which occupies the site of two earlier churches (sixth C. and 939). Building began in 1434 with the facade, continued in the 17th C. and was completed between 1840 and 1891. The three-aisled interior is very impressive. In the south transept is the tomb of the last Duke of Brittany, Francis II (d. 1488) and his wife Marguerite of Foix, a masterpiece of richly decorated Renaissance art (by Michel Colombe, 1502-1507, commissioned by Duchess Anne (Anne de Bretagne). The tomb is empty, as is the golden shrine which once contained Anne's heart. In the north transept is the tomb (also empty) of General Lamoricière (1805-1865), by Paul Dubois (1879).
In Nantes, within the Château Ducal are three museums. In the Tour du Fer à Cheval is the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (textiles); in the Grand Gouvernement is the Musée Régional des Arts Populaires (regional folk art); and in the Harnachement is the Musée des Salorges (history of seafaring, trade and industry of Nantes).
Jules Verne Museum
In the southwest of Nantes is a museum devoted to the world-famous writer Jules Verne (1828- 1905), a native of Nantes. It displays personal mementos of the author and models and drawings illustrating his novels.Close by is an excellently equipped Planetarium.
Musée d'Histoire Naturelle
Musée des Beaux Arts
In Nantes, northeast of the cathedral, in Rue Gambetta, is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, one of the finest provincial museums in France, with a collection of pictures ranging in date from the 13th C. to the present day. Also in Rue Gambetta is the Jardin des Plantes, a beautiful botanical garden.
In Nantes, southwest of the Place Royale is Place Graslin, on the north side of which is the Grand Théâtre, built in 1783-1788 but subsequently much altered.
In Nantes, southwest of the Grand Théâtre, is the Palais Dobrée, built by a 19th C. collector of that name, which now houses the Archeological Museum (finds from the surrounding area, history of the French Revolution, ethnography). In the same building is the Musée Dobrée (illuminated manuscripts, incunabula and first editions; prints and pictures).
North of the town of Nantes, in La Jonelière, are a zoo and an Automobile Museum with more than 50 veteran and vintage cars.
This annual two-month festival runs from mid-June to mid-August and includes eight concerts ranging from large-scale operas to smaller vocal recitals. Many famous singers have been known to take part in the performances, which take place in venues including the medieval castle, an Italian renaissance villa, and a local 18th-C chapel.
Excursion boats ply on the lower course of the river Erdre, to the north of the town of Nantes; trips into the Erdre valley are particularly popular. Along the river are a number of elegant houses, like the 16th century Château de la Gacherie on the west bank.31km/19mi northeast of Nantes is the little town of Champtoceaux, on the left bank of the Loire, with a beautiful church and a ruined medieval castle. Oudon, on the right bank, has a keep dating from around 1400.
Map of Nantes Attractions