The city of Nantes has undergone numerous changes over the centuries. And today the city’s architecture and layout still retain traces of the past. Enthusiasts take note, here are the places that you simply must visit.
The Château des Ducs de Bretagne, the Nantes history museum
If you must start with somewhere to dive into Nantes’ past, there’s nowhere better than the Château des ducs de Bretagne.
It is first and foremost an historic monument: a Middle-Age château that has been redeveloped on several occasions over the centuries. Medieval ramparts, sculpted décor inspired by the early Italian Renaissance, the 18th century Concierge… styles and influences commingle in one of the city’s most stunning buildings.
It is also a symbolic place given that it was the residence of the Dukes of Brittany before the Duchy was incorporated into the Kingdom of France in the 16th century. It is here too that the famous Edict of Nantes was signed.
Finally, the Château des Ducs de Bretagne is home to the history museum of the city of Nantes. A comprehensive exhibition will help you discover the historic periods that have marked the city through a collection of impressive objects. You emerge from the Château knowing all there is to know about Nantes. From the Breton period to the current city, via the slave trade and World Wars.
The Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery
Nantes has been a significant trade port, particularly in the 18th century. This was France’s main slave port. 1744 expeditions carried more than 500,000 slaves to France’s American colonies.
A place of remembrance has been erected, the Mémorial de l’abolition de l’esclavage (memorial to the abolition of slavery). Engraved on the docks of the Loire are the names and dates of the slave expeditions that left from Nantes. Under the docks, an exhibition invites you to reflect on the past through historic texts such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A place charged with emotion
The history of Nantes is linked in particular to the Loire, the river that dissects the city, and the Ile Feydeau is testament to this. As its name suggests, it was previously an island, but the Loire was filled in, channelled and re-routed. This was the impressive period in the 20th century known as the Comblements de Nantes, when major urban restructuring works took place.
The affluent shipowner’s buildings of the l’Île Feydeau were therefore built on the banks of the Loire, in the 18th century, when trade was in full swing. The tilted façades of the buildings remind us that their foundations sit on sandy and soft soil.
The LU tower
You can’t talk about Nantes without mentioning “Petits Beurres nantais”, the iconic French biscuits. The Petit LU (which stands of Lefèvre-Utile) was born in Nantes! Still in the town centre is a souvenir of the former factory where they made these biscuits from Nantes: the LU tower.
Today LU means the Lieu Unique (Unique place). There are no more biscuits in the old factory, but rather a cultural space, bar, restaurant, sauna…. all brought together in a location that has retained its by-gone industrial character.
The Parc des Chantiers
The Parc des Chantiers is the name given to the far western end of the Ile de Nantes. This is where you will find, in particular, the famous Machines de l’Île (Island machines). Today it’s a leisure area, however, in a previous life it was here that Nantes locals worked. Indeed, it is the location of the old shipyard which was moved to Saint-Nazaire in the 1980s. The landscape has been completely transformed but the sheds, docks, slipways, Titan cranes and numerous other clues leave no doubt… they used to build boats here!