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 17th 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 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 French royal fleur de lys of the dukes of Anjou (the first duke was the son of the king of France, Jean II); the key evokes the stronghold 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, settled north of the Loire. By the end of the Age of Iron, Angers was a relatively densely populated oppidum. The name Juliomagus might be more ancient, but is not attested before the 3rd century AD. The Roman town consisted of many villas and 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 to the highest point of their city and to build a wall around a small area of around 9 hectares.
Angers got its first bishop in 372, during the election of Martin of Tours. The first abbey, Saint-Aubin, was built during the 7th century to house the sarcophagus of Saint Albinius. Saint-Serge Abbey was founded by the Merovingian kings Clovis II and Theuderic III a century later. In 2008, ten Frankish sarcophagi from that period were discovered where Saint-Morille church once stood during the tramway construction.
From the 850s, Angers suffered from its situation on the border with Brittany and Normandy. In September 851, Charles the Bald and Erispoe, a Breton chief, met in the town to sign the Treaty of Angers, which secured Breton independence and fixed the borders of Brittany. However, the situation remained dangerous for Angers, and Charles the Bald created in 853 a wide buffer zone around Brittany comprising parts of Anjou, Touraine, Maine and Sées, which was ruled by Robert the Strong, a great-grandfather of Hugh Capet.
In 870, the Viking chief Hastein seized Angers where he settled until a successful siege temporarily displaced him. He again took control of the town in 873, before the Carolingian Emperor ousted him.
During the 12th century, after internal divisions in Brittany, the county of Nantes was annexed by Anjou. Henry II Plantagenêt kept it for more than 30 years. At the same time, he also ruled the vast Angevin Empire, which stretched from the Pyrenees to Ireland. The castle of Angers was 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 there were no more counts of Anjou, as the French king had made Anjou a dukedom.
Now a part of the Kingdom of France, Angers became the "Clé du Royaume" (Key to the Kingdom) facing still independent Brittany. In 1228, during Louis IX's minority, Blanche of Castile decided to fortify the city and to rebuild the castle. Later, during the 1350s and 1360s, the schools of Law, Medicine and Theology, renowned in Europe, were organised into a university. In 1373, Louis I of Naples and Anjou ordered 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 political 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 earlier.
In 1474, Louis XI of France, in his attempt to conquer Anjou, came to Angers with his army, asking for the keys of the city. René, then 65 years old, did not want to lead a war against his nephew and surrendered his domains without a fight. Thus, Anjou ceased to be an appanage and fell into the Royal domain. After his death, René was buried in 1480 in Saint-Maurice cathedral.
When the news of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre arrived in Angers, a new massacre was organised in the city. The bodies of slain Protestants were thrown in the Mayenne. It is the aldermen who stopped the slaughter.
In 1598, the Edict of Nantes was prepared in Angers by Henri IV. From 6 March until 2 April, Angers was de facto the capital of France and the King tried 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 in 1643, his son Louis XIV was only an infant. France was troubled at this time by several famines and epidemics and by political instability. In 1649, the people of Angers revolted against rising taxes, the start of the Fronde in Anjou. The Fronde was a nationwide military conflict opposing some aristocrats wanting more autonomy and the Royal forces loyal to Anne of Austria as Queen Mother and Regent, and her prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin. Royalist repression in Angers was narrowly averted by Bishop Henri Arnauld, who interceded with the Queen Mother. Arnauld, who would remain Bishop of Angers until 1692, was to leave a deep mark on 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, decided to back Louis of Condé, leader of the Fronde. Angers again became rebellious and Louis XIV sent his army to seize it. The Duke of Rohan immediately surrendered and thus again prevented the sack of the city.
The first months of the French Revolution were relatively quiet in Angers. In 1789, the city lost its ancient administrative positions, replaced in 1790 by the department of Mayenne-et-Loire, soon renamed "Maine-et-Loire". Anjou, as a political entity, disappeared, although the new department included 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 crossed the river and progressed as far as Granville, in Normandy, in November. Pushed back, the Vendéens went back south and, to cross the Loire again, had to attack Angers.
The city was defended by 4,000 Republican soldiers, whereas the Royalists were at least 20,000, but weakened by successive fights and deceases. The Siege of Angers occurred on 3 and 4 December 1793. The Royalists' bad tactics, as well as the strength of Angers city wall and castle, caused their loss. They consequently went back north for a while, around Le Mans, before crossing the Loire at Ancenis on 16 December.
In 1794, fierce repression was conducted in the whole region against the Royalists. In Angers, 290 prisoners were shot and 1020 died of illness in jail. The city also welcomed many refugees, mostly Republicans living in Royalist rural areas. Between 19 and 31 May 1793, between 650 and 1000 Republican families sought asylum in Angers.
During the 19th century, the city was deeply influenced by the urban transformations in Paris. Many quarters were destroyed, redeveloped or rebuilt. The city wall, which formed a square around the old city core, was demolished around 1850 and replaced by wide boulevards. In 1849, the railway Angers-Saumur was 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 was created and soon assimilated to the medieval Universitas Andegavensis, which was dissolved during the French Revolution. The new faculty was canonically erected as a Catholic university by Pope Pius IX in 1879. However, in 1890, a law prohibited private institutions of higher education from calling themselves "university", and it was officially renamed 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, specialising in agriculture and commercial sciences, were opened.
In September 1939, when Poland was invaded by Germany, the Polish government-in-exile settled in Angers. It left the city on 12 June 1940, after the invasion of France by the Wehrmacht. Angers fell to the Nazis during the same month. The Germans made it the seat of a regional Kommandantur. In 1941, a first Resistance movement, called Honneur et Patrie, was created in Angers. 60 Resistants were shot at the Belle-Beille range in 1942 and a German bunker factory employed 6000 people in 1943. In July 1942, 853 Jews were arrested and sent to Auschwitz.
On the night of 28 May 1944, the first Allied bombing occurred over the Saint-Laud quarter. 243 people died and many others were wounded. Successive attacks on 29 and 30 May destroyed the train station and its surroundings which were reconstructed in the 1950s.
After liberating Avranches and Rennes, General Patton and his 5th infantry division arrived in Anjou on 5 August. To seize Angers, they decided to enter the city by its eastern side to surprise the Nazis. On 9 August, they crossed the Maine and started the fight. Helped by the local French Forces of the Interior, they progressively moved forward to the city centre. The fight was nevertheless difficult and Angers was liberated the day after, at around 5 p.m.
After the end of the war, the city experienced quick development and demographic growth. In 1971, a decision was made to reestablish a public university, and the Université catholique d'Angers was split between the Université catholique de l'Ouest (private) and the Université d'Angers (public). Angers continues to have two different universities.
Until the 1980s, Angers experienced several massive urban development plans, such as the construction of the Lac de Maine, and several vast council estates and shopping malls, as well as the construction of a highway which crossed the city through 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 drawn up, with a new emphasis on nature and heritage protection, as well as on social mixing. During the 1990s, the redevelopment of the Saint-Serge quarter, located just north of the historical centre, produced a new business centre, gardens and university buildings.