Nantes is the capital city of the Pays de la Loire region and the Loire-Atlantique département and also the largest city in the Grand-Ouest, North western France in English. Together with Vannes, Rennes and Carhaix, it was one of the major cities of the historic province of Brittany, and the ancient Duchy of Brittany. Nantes is culturally Breton and still widely regarded as its capital city.
The Nantes Tramway opened in 1985, a reversal of the trend of tramway closures that had been going on since the middle of the 20th century. The tramway system is one of the largest and busiest in France. The city also has a Busway line, an innovative and notable Bus Rapid Transit. Nantes is served by an international airport, Nantes Atlantique Airport and a major French railway station, the Gare de Nantes.
In 2004, Time named Nantes as "the most liveable city in Europe". In 2010, Nantes was named a hub city for innovation in the Innovation Cities Index by innovation agency, 2thinknow. The city was ranked 36th globally from 289 cities and 4th overall in France, behind Paris, Lyon and Strasbourg for innovation across multiple sectors of the economy. As of 2013, Nantes holds the title of European Green Capital awarded by the European Commission for its efforts to reduce air pollution and CO2 emissions, for its high quality and well-managed public transport system and for its biodiversity with 3,366 hectares of green spaces and several Natura 2000 zones which guarantee a protection of nature in the area.
Euronantes is the city's Central business district, which is currently in development near Gare de Nantes and on Île de Nantes, offering by 2015 500,000 m2 of office space, retail space and upscale hotels. The district is served by Busway line 4 at Cité Internationale des congrès et Tripode stations.
In 2012, Nantes was classified as a global city by the GAMMA GaWC ranking of Loughborough University in England. Nantes is the fourth highest-ranked French city (behind Paris, Lyon and Marseille) according to its classification. Nantes was ranked ahead of cities such as Porto, Florence, New Orleans, Hanover, and Genoa.
Prehistory and Antiquity
Although there are very few prehistoric archaeological finds in Nantes and its surrounding area (in contrast to numerous ancient remains on the Breton coast), it seems the ancient population was based around mining communities in the north of the current town. During the Gallic period the area belonged to the Namnetes, who were conquered by Julius Caesar in 56 BC. The Romans Latinised the town's name to Condevincum, or Condevicnum, and under Roman rule it became an administrative centre. In the 3rd century it was renamed Portus Namnetum, and during this period a Gallo-Roman surrounding wall was constructed to fend off Saxon invasion; the remains can still be seen today. Nantes was Christianised during this period, and its first bishops took office after the conversion of Constantine the Great.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the city rapidly came under the control of Clovis I despite resistance from the Roman garrison of Breton soldiers. During the Frankish period, the town played an essential role in halting Breton expansion from the Armorican peninsula. It became the capital of the 'Breton March' during the reign of Charlemagne; the territory was initially under the dominion of his nephew, Roland, who was given the title of 'Prefect of the Breton March'.
After Charlemagne's death, Breton expansion intensified. In 850, the region was conquered by Nominoë, the ruler of Brittany, who invaded, among others, the towns of Nantes and Rennes. The following year, in the aftermath of the Battle of Jengland, the Breton March, with Nantes as its capital, was integrated into Brittany by the Treaty of Angers. The subsequent eighty years, however, were made difficult by the constant infighting between the Breton warlords, who promoted Viking invasions, the most spectacular of which took place on 24 June 843 and resulted in the death of Bishop Gohard of Nantes. The Chronicle of Nantes recounts that, during this period, "The city of Nantes remained for many years deserted, devastated and overgrown with briars and thorns." From 919 to 937, the town was managed by the Vikings, who were defeated by Alain Barbe-Torte, the grandson of Alan the Great, the last king of Brittany.
The Wars of Succession
In the subsequent period, the Dukes of Brittany fought against the Counts of Nantes. These succession feuds resulted from time to time in Nantes passing under the sovereignty of the house of Anjou. The longest of these periods began in 1156 and lasted 45 years, representing a period of stability. In 1203 Brittany came under the dominion of the Capetians, the French monarchy, and under Peter I, Duke of Brittany Nantes enjoyed a resurgence when the Duke made the town his principal residence.
The Second Breton War of Succession pitted the supporters of two different claimants against one another: those of the half-brother of the deceased John III, Duke of Brittany, Jean de Montfort, who relied on the Estates of Brittany who gathered in Nantes, and those of Charles I, Duke of Brittany, who was supported by King Philippe VI of France and was recognized as Duke of Brittany by the peers of the kingdom. The De Montfort dynasty emerged victorious from the conflict, and it made Nantes an impressive capital of the duchy. During the 15th century the town developed, largely due to its maritime and river-based trade.
At the end of the 16th century, Nantes was of great strategic importance in the war between the King of France and Francis II, Duke of Brittany. The city was conquered in 1488, from which point Brittany was governed by the kings of France. The heir to the duchy, Anne of Brittany, married Charles VIII of France in 1491, and then Louis XII of France, making her Queen of France. At her death in 1514, she bequeathed her heart to the town of Nantes (currently in the Dobrée museum). Claude of France, the eldest daughter of Anne of Brittany, donated the duchy to her husband Francis I of France, but the Estates of Brittany themselves requested the union of Brittany and France in exchange for the continuation of their privileges, which ushered in the next period.
Union of Brittany and France
In 1532 the duchy of Brittany became a part of the French crown lands, as a result of the Union of Brittany and France, an edict declaring a perpetual and indissoluble union between Brittany and France. Significantly, a resulting administrative reorganisation made the nearby city of Rennes the new seat of the Parlement of Brittany in 1560, increasing its role considerably. Nantes, however, retained the Chamber of the Counts of Brittany.
The union with France marked a period of relative growth for the port city. The town’s population increased from 15,000 inhabitants at the end of the 15th century to 25,000 at the end of the 16th century. The 2,000 boats which frequented the port exported wine and imported salt and cod.
Wars of Religion
During the Wars of Religion, Nantes supported the Catholic League and the governor of Brittany, the Duke of Mercoeur, in his fight against the Protestants. The town was one of the last to recognise the authority of Henri IV, which meant that the edict of Nantes, a decree guaranteeing the right of worship to Protestants, did not reflect the majority opinion of the inhabitants.
The year 1685 was dominated by two major events; the first being the revocation of the edict of Nantes by Louis XIV, and the second being the announcement of the Code Noir by the same king. The latter law ensured the prosperity of the port of Nantes, as it became a commercial hub where sugar, tobacco and slaves were traded with the colonies.
The Slave Trade
Nantes developed with the help of its foreign trade, which it inherited from the Middle Ages, and which it expanded during the era of colonists and white settlers who developed the colonial economy in the Antilles. The city's wealth, however, saw a far greater increase as a result of the slave trade in Africa, also known as the triangular trade. Although Nantes was not the only French port to have taken part in the slave trade (Bordeaux, Rouen, La Rochelle, Brest, Lorient and Vannes also sent expeditions), it certainly pioneered the trade: between 1707 and 1711, 75% of the ships carrying slaves were from Nantes. The principal ship-owners in Nantes were Michel, René and Jean Montaudoin, Luc Shiell, Marthurin Joubert, Jean Terrien and Sarrebouse d’Audeville. In 1754 the ship Saint-Phillipe, owned by the Nantes based Jogue brothers crossed the middle passage with 462 slaves in 25 days, whereas vessels earlier in the century would often take up to nine months. In the period between 1722 and 1744, Nantes was responsible for 50% of the human traffic, a percentage which grew again in 1762, before sinking to 32% between 1782 and 1792. In total, during the 18th century the port at Nantes sent out ships with 450,000 Africans, equivalent to 42% of the French slave trade. Nantes remained the principal slave port until the 1780s. Even after the official end of the slave trade in 1818, the trade continued. Over the next 13 years, 305 expeditions are recorded as having left from Nantes docks for the African coast.
When the French Revolution broke out, Nantes supported the new government, in contrast to the surrounding region, which remained strongly loyal to the deposed royal family. Tensions soon escalated into an open civil war against the new republic known as the War in the Vendée. On 29 June 1793 the town was the site of a Republican victory in this war. The Loire was also the site of thousands of executions by drowning.
In the 19th century, Nantes became an industrial city. The first public transport anywhere may have been the omnibus service initiated in Nantes in 1826. It was soon imitated in Paris, London and New York. The first railways were built in 1851 and many industries were created.
Second World War
In 1940, the city was occupied by German troops. In 1941, the assassination of a German officer, Lt. Col. Fritz Hotz, caused the retaliatory execution of 48 civilians. The city was twice severely bombed by American forces, on 16 and 23 August 1943, almost 1500 people got killed in the raids. The city was liberated by the Americans in 1944.
Until the 1970s, Nantes' harbour was located on the Île de Nantes, when it was moved to the very mouth of the Loire River, at Saint-Nazaire. In the subsequent 20 years, many service sector organisations moved into the area, but economic difficulties forced most of these to close. In 2001, a major redevelopment scheme was launched, the goal of which is to revitalise the island as the new city centre.
In 2003, the French weekly L'Express voted Nantes to be the "greenest city" in France, while in both 2003 and 2004 it was voted the "best place to live" by the weekly Le Point. In August 2004, Time designated Nantes as "the most livable city in all of Europe."