Angers) is a city in western France, about southwest of Paris, and the chef-lieu of the Maine-et-Loire department. Angers was before the French Revolution the capital of the province of Anjou, and inhabitants of both the city and the province are called Angevins. The commune of Angers proper, without the metropolitan area, is the third most populous in northwestern France after Nantes and Rennes and the 18th in France.
Angers is the historical capital of Anjou and was for centuries an important stronghold in northwestern France. It is the cradle of the Plantagenet dynasty and was during the reign of René of Anjou one of the intellectual centres of Europe. Angers developed at the confluence of three rivers, the Mayenne, the Sarthe, and the Loir, all coming from the north and flowing south to the Loire. Their confluence, just north of Angers, creates the Maine, a short but wide river that flows into the Loire several kilometers south. The Angers metropolitan area is a major economic centre in western France, particularly active in the industrial sector, horticulture, and business tourism.
Angers proper covers 42.70 km² and has a population of 147,305 inhabitants, while c. 394,700 live in its metropolitan area. The Angers Loire Métropole intercommunality is made up of 33 communes covering 540 km² with 287,000 inhabitants.
Angers enjoys a rich cultural life, made possible by its universities and museums. The old medieval centre is still dominated by the massive château of the Plantagenêts, home of the Apocalypse Tapestry, the biggest medieval tapestry ensemble in the World. Angers is also both at the edge of the Val de Loire, a World Heritage Site, and the Loire-Anjou-Touraine regional natural park.
The coat of arms of Angers bears the fleur de lys of the counts and dukes of Anjou; the key evokes the stonghold position of the city close to the Breton border. An acrostic from the Middle Ages calls it "Antique clef de France", which means "Antique key to France":
Under Napoleon I's rule, Angers was one of the "Bonnes villes" and was therefore allowed to ask for a new coat of arms. The bees, symbol of the First French Empire, then replaced the royal fleurs de lys.
In 1949, Angers received the 1939–1945 War Cross and since then, the decoration is sometimes placed between the two fleurs de lys.
Angers also had several mottos through its history:
Prehistory and Antiquity
The first sign of human presence in Angers dates back to 400,000 BC. Vestiges from the Neolithic are more abundant and include numerous polished stone axes. Burials from 4,500/3,500 BC were also discovered in the actual castle grounds.
During the 5th century, the Andecavi, a Celtic people, settles north of the Loire. By the end of the Age of Iron, Angers is a relatively densely populated oppidum. The name Juliomagus, might it be more ancient, is not attested before the 3rd century AD. The Roman town consisted of many villas, baths and had an amphitheatre as well as a temple dedicated to Mithra.
Successive Germanic invasions in 275 and 276 forced the inhabitants to move on the highest point of their city and to build a wall around a small area of around 9 hectares.
Angers gets its first bishop in 372, during the election of Martin of Tours. The first abbey, Saint-Aubin, is built during the 7th century to house the sarcophagus of Saint Albinius. Saint-Serge abbey is founded by the Merovingian kings Clovis II and Theuderic III a century later. In 2008, ten sarcophagi form that period were discovered where Saint-Morille church once stood during the tramway construction.
From the 850s, Angers suffers from its situation on the border with Brittany and Normandy. In September 851, Charles the Bald and Erispoe, a Breton chief, meet in the town to sign the Treaty of Angers, which secures the Breton independence and fixes the borders of Brittany. However, the situation remains dangerous for Angers, and Charles the Bald creates in 853 a wide buffer zone around Brittany comprising parts of Anjou, Touraine, Maine and Sées, which is ruled by Robert the Strong, a great-grandfather of Hugh Capet.
During the 12th century, after internal divisions in Brittany, the county of Nantes is annexed by Anjou. Henry II Plantagenêt keeps it for more than 30 years. At the same time, he also rules the vast Angevin Empire, which stretched from the Pyrenees to Ireland. The castle of Angers is then the seat of the Court and the dynasty. The Empire disappeared in 1204-1205 when the King of France, Philip II, seized Normandy and Anjou.
Henceforth a part of the Kingdom of France, Angers becomes the "Clé du Royaume" (Key to the Kingdom) facing independent Brittany. In 1228, during Louis IX's minority, Blanche of Castile decides to fortify the city and to rebuild the castle. Later, during the 1350s and 1360s, the schools of Law, Medicine and Theology, renowned in the whole Europe, are organised in a university. In 1373, Louis I of Naples and Anjou orders the six tapestries illustrating the Apocalypse of St John known today as the Apocalypse Tapestry.
King René of Anjou contributed to the economic revival in a city that had been diminished by the Black Death (1347–1350) and the Hundred Years War (1337–1453). A man of great culture and generosity, René transformed Angers into a cultural and politic centre and held there a brilliant Court. He transformed the castle moat into a menagerie and built several gardens. He also founded in Angers a new Ordre du Croissant which was supposed to compete with the Order of the Golden Fleece, created several years before.
In 1474, Louis XI of France, who wants to seize Anjou, comes to Angers with his army, asking for the keys of the city. René, then 65 years old, does not want to lead a war against his nephew and surrender his domains without any fight. Thus, Anjou ceased to be an appanage and felt definitely into the Royal domain. After his death, René is buried in 1480 in Saint-Maurice cathedral.
When the news of St. Bartholomew's Day massacre arrive in Angers, a new massacre is organised in the city. The bodies of killed Protestants are thrown in the Mayenne. It is the aldermen who stop the slaughter.
In 1598, the Edict of Nantes is prepared in Angers by Henri IV. From the 6th of March until the 2th of April, Angers is de facto the capital of France and the King tries by all means to satisfy the Catholics of the city, for example by laying the cornerstone of the new Couvent des Capucins.
At the premature death of Louis XIII, his son Louis XIV is only an infant and France is troubled by several famines and epidemics and by politic instability. In 1649, the people of Angers launch a revolt against rising taxes, a movement that started the Fronde in Anjou. The Fronde was a nationwide military conflict opposing some aristocrats favoring a less autocratic regime to the Royal forces held by Anne of Austria, Queen mother and regent, and her prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin. The Royal repression in Angers is narrowly avoided by the bishop Henri Arnauld, who intercedes with the Queen mother. Bishop of Angers until 1692, Arnauld deeply marked the religious life of the city during the second half of the 17th century.
In 1652, Henri Chabot, Duke of Rohan and governor of Anjou, decides to back Louis of Condé, chief of the Fronde. Angers becomes again a rebellious city and Louis XIV sends his army to seize it. The Duke of Rohan immediately surrenders and thus avoids the sack of the city.
The first months of the French Revolution are relatively quiet in Angers. In 1789, the city loses its ancient administrative positions, replaced in 1790 by the department of Mayenne-et-Loire, soon renamed "Maine-et-Loire". Anjou, as a political entity, disappears, although the new departement includes most of its territory.
The War of Vendée, a Royalist rebellion and counterrevolution led in Vendée, a department located at the southwest of Maine-et-Loire, reached the Loire in March 1793. The Royalist army soon crosses the river and goes as far as Granville, in Normandy, in November. Pushed back, the Vendéens go back south and, to cross the Loire again, have to attack Angers.
The city is defended by 4,000 Republican soldiers, whereas the Royalists are at least 20,000, but weakened by successive fights and deceases. The Siege of Angers occurs the 3rd and 4 December 1793. The Royalists' bad tactic, as well as the strength of Angers city wall and castle, cause their loss. They consequently go back north for a while, around Le Mans, before eventually crossing the Loire in Ancenis the 16th of December.
In 1794, a fierce repression is conduced in the whole region against the Royalists. In Angers, 290 prisoners are shot and 1020 others die of illness in jail. The city also welcomed many refugees, mostly Republicans living in Royalist rural areas. Between the 19th and the 31st of May 1793, between 650 and 1000 Republican families seek asylium in Angers.
During the 19th century, the city is deeply influenced by the urban transformations in Paris. Many quarters are destroyed, redeveloped or rebuilt. The city wall, which formed a square around the old city core, is demolished around 1850 and replaced by wide boulevards. In 1849, the railway Angers-Saumur is built and extended to Nantes two years later. When completed, the line connected Paris to the Atlantic coast.
In 1850 a catastrophic failure of the Basse-Chaîne suspension bridge caused the deaths of over 200 soldiers. The disaster inhibited the construction of suspension bridges in France for two decades. The accident was mainly caused by soldiers' lilting walking which created resonance in the bridge structure.
In 1875, a free faculty is created and soon assimilated to the medieval Universitas Andegavensis, which was dissolved during the French Revolution. The new faculty is canonically erected as a Catholic university by the Pope Pius IX in 1879. However, in 1890, a law prohibits private institutions of higher education to call themselves "university", and it is officially renamed in Faculté libre d'Angers (Free Faculty of Angers), although it informally kept its original name, Université catholique d'Angers. At the beginning of the 20th century, two higher education establishments, specialised in agriculture and commercial sciences, are opened.
In September 1939, when Poland is invaded by Germany, the Polish government-in-exile settles in Angers. It left the city the 12th of June 1940, after the invasion of France by the Wehrmacht. Angers falls to the Nazis during the same month. The Germans make it the seat of a regional Kommandantur. In 1941, a first Resistance movement, called Honneur et Patrie, is created in Angers. 60 Resistants are shot at Belle-Beille range in 1942 and a German bunker factory employs 6000 people in 1943. In July 1942, 853 Jews are arrested and sent to Auschwitz.
The night of the 28th May 1944, the first Allied bombing occurs over the Saint-Laud quarter. 243 people die and many others are wounded. Successive attacks the 29th and 30 May destroy the train station and its surroundings which are reconstructed in the 1950s.
After liberating Avranches and Rennes, General Patton and his 5th infantry division arrive in Anjou the 5th of August. To seize Angers, they decide to enter the city by its eastern side to surprise the Nazis. The 9th of August, they cross the Maine and start the fight. Helped by the local French Forces of the Interior, they progressively move forward the city centre. The fight is nevertheless difficult and Angers is liberated the day after, at around 5 p.m.
After the end of the war, the city experiences a quick development and demographic growth. In 1971, a decision is made to reestablish a public university, and the Université catholique d'Angers is split between the Université catholique de l'Ouest, private, and the Université d'Angers, public. Angers has had since then two different universities.
Until the 1980s, Angers experienced as well several massive urban plans, such as the construction of the Lac de Maine, of several vast council estates and shopping malls, as well as the construction of a highway which crosses the city by its centre, a project that forced the destruction of many old buildings and destroyed the original quays on the Maine. Later, other urban plans were drawned, but with a new emphasis on nature and heritage protection, as well as on social mixing. Conduced during the 1990s, the redevelopment of the Saint-Serge quarter, located just north of the historical centre, left a new business centre, gardens and university buildings.