Nantes History

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nantes history
The Pays de la Loire region is not one of France’s historic regions and is a recent creation. In fact, the regional capital was once the capital of Brittany to which it no longer belongs.

The Pays de la Loire covers the area to the south of Normandy and Brittany and along the lower stretches of France’s longest river, the river Loire. The region is made up of five departments. The Loire Atlantique (44) and the Vendee (85) which are both coastal. There are three island which are the Sarthe (72), the Mayenne (53), and the Maine et Loire (49).

Nantes is the most westerly of the big cities in France. Up until the nineteenth century, Nantes was one of France’s most important port cities. In the Middle Ages, it was one of the greatest ports for trade with other parts of Europe, mainly England and Portugal and then later it was the gateway to North America.

A good proportion of France’s international trade came in and went out of this port, not just with Canada, Acadia and the Nascent USA but also with the Caribbean and other parts of the world too. As time went on ships got larger and the railways made land transport faster and a lot easier and Nantes found itself too far inland along a tidal estuary to meet the new demands of international shipping. Over time Nantes riverside port activity started to dwindle and so the city’s economic significance fall and business started moving downstream, in this case to the mouth of the river Loire, at Saint Nazaire.

Nantes however was too big and too strongly established as a city to fade away. In bygone centuries the city that stood guard over the Loire had been the capital of the powerful Dukes of Brittany. The city grew up around their massive fortress close to the waters edge, the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne.

As France became a great colonial power of Europe, the city grew in size and influence due to trade which brought great wealth to the city.

Today Nantes is the eighth largest city in France with a population of around 298,000. On the north bank of the Loire stands the historic parts of the city around the meeting of river Loire and Erdre. Back in 1930’s the lower end of the Erdre was filled in to make more room in the city centre, now the river flows out into the Loire via a canal tunnel.

The historic centre is mainly characterised by streets and buildings that were put up in the period of the city’s commercial heyday, from the late part of the 17th century to the early 19th century. There is a medieval/ renaissance castle which now houses the city’s museum and the late medieval cathedral of St.Peter and St. Paul. The mixture gives Nantes a slight smaller version of Paris in the west of France.

This once busy port of Nantes is now very calm and quiet. There are only small amounts of commercial shipping that still comes up the Loire as far as Nantes, which uses the wharves on the south side of the Loire or on the western outskirts of the city. The cruise liners which make it up the Loire estuary must dock well away from the centre.

The Quai de la Fosse has no commercial shipping but is closest to the city centre. Its home to some historic ships including the Maille-Breze which is a historical warship and naval museum.

These days Nantes is the administrative and commercial hub of north western France, as previously stated the city was the capital of Brittany until the 16th century. The department of Loire Atlantique was separated from Brittany under the Vinchy government during the Second World War and now it has become the capital of the new administrative region, the Pays de la Loire, created in 1963, Nantes remains a regional capital.

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