Angers, from a Gallo-Roman to a French city
Angers, 1st century BC… the city was then a small fishing village.
Its leader, Domnacus, is remembered as a local hero for fiercely, yet unsuccessfully, resisting the invading Romans.
Three centuries later, the small community had become the prosperous Gallo-Roman city of Juliomagnus.
Then came the 5th century, when Clovis founded the Kingdom of France and converted to Christianity.
Preachers spread the new faith, traveling from region to region in order to convert our pagan ancestors!
Churches, chapels and monasteries appeared all over the country and an important religious Council was held in Angers.
The abbeys of St-Aubin and St-Serge were founded in the 6th and 7th centuries and attracted new settlers.
Angers city in the early Middle-Ages
The city thrived until the Norman invasions of the 9th century.
The Normans easily captured the stronghold (the future Castle of Angers) that stood on the promontory that overlooks the river Maine.
They also looted, destroyed and occupied Angers for a whole year!
It is said that King Charles the Bald recaptured the city by diverting the river in order to prevent the Vikings from sailing on their drakkars.
Legend or true fact, who knows?
The 9th century was indeed a major turning point in the history of France, as it also marked the end of the Carolingian Dynasty.
The descendants of Emperor Charlemagne were indeed weak men devoid of charisma, who spent their time in endless quarrels which eventually undermined their authority.
The Norman incursions therefore pushed the great vassals to seek royal permission to erect their own fortresses.
They soon became so influential that their counties became territorial entities.
Aware of their new power, they refused to swear allegiance to the king, unless he allowed them to transmit their titles and fiefdoms to their children.
Charles the Bald granted them these privileges, in exchange for their financial and military support against the Normans.
France had become fragmented into small independent kingdoms or principalities.
The Norman threat came to an end in 911, when Charles the Simple founded the Duchy of Normandy with the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte.
The great vassals, however, remained in a constant state of territorial war with each other.
One of the most influential dynasties was the House of Anjou.
Their descendant Henry Plantagenêt became Henry II of England in 1154.
Angers city – 15th century to present day
Angers resumed its expansion at the beginning of the second millennium.
However, the 15th century was another turning point, as the first printing press of the Loire Valley was installed in Angers.
The invention of printing by Gutenberg in 1450 indeed allowed access to culture to a greater number of people.
This was also when the French kings discovered the Renaissance during their Italian campaigns.
New intellectual, philosophical, religious and architectural concepts soon transformed French society.
By the 16th century, Protestantism had won many cities – including Angers – and threatened the old religious order.
Serious conflicts broke out in town between Catholics and Huguenots between 1560 and 1598, when the Protestant Henri IV promised to marry his son to the daughter of the leader of the Catholic party shortly after signing the Edict of Nantes.
Then came the French Revolution and its load of destruction!
In 1793, the royalist supporters managed to seize Angers for two weeks, but the revolutionaries re-took it and retaliated in a bloodbath.
Angers lost its prestigious image.
It remained a quiet provincial town until the industrial boom and the construction of the railway line Paris-Nantes in 1849.
It has not ceased to thrive since and has regained its former glory.
It is one of the Loire Valley’s major trading centre in wine, fruit, vegetables, flowers and horticultural and medicinal products.
An active university city, it also attracts students from around the world.
Angers, City of Art and History
Its rich historical heritage earned Angers the label City of Art and History.
The old city indeed boasts a total of 100 historical monuments!
Impossible to name them all, but here is a small selection.
So does the Palais de Tau, the 11th century episcopal palace, which was built against the Gallo-Roman rampart.
The Romanesque building was modified in the course of the following 8 centuries and illustrates the evolution of French architecture.
La Maison d’Adam, near the cathedral, is a magnificent timber-framed house dating back to the Renaissance period.
Its facades are superbly decorated with carved animals and characters, among which Adam and Eve, hence its name!
The Logis Barrault, the oldest mansion in Angers, is located on the historical Place Saint-Eloi.
This remarkable building houses the Musée des Beaux Arts d’Angers.
The French Renaissance Logis Pincé is home to a museum mostly dedicated to Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian antiquities.
The early 11th century Saint-Maurice Cathedral is a superb illustration of Romanesque architecture.
It was modified in the following centuries and is, along with Saint-Serge Church, a perfect illustration of the Angevin Gothic style.
Finally, the tower-belfry Tour Saint-Aubain is one of the most distinctive medieval features in Angers.
Medieval Quartier de la Doutre
The old Quartier d’Outre Maine – district on the other side of the river Maine, was fully rehabilitated and boasts several exceptional buildings.
This includes the Renaissance timber-framed Maison de Simon Poisson, and the late 15th century Flamboyant Gothic Hôtel des Pénitentes.
One of the district’s landmarks is the Musée Jean Lurçat et de la Tapisserie* in the former Hopital St-Jean.
Founded in 1174 by Henry II Plantagenêt, it is the oldest non-military hospital remaining in France.
The Romanesque building, which is accesses by the bridge – Pont de la Haute Chaîne – showcases Jean Lurçat’s tapestries.
The renowned artist re-discovered the extraordinary Apocalypse Tapestry in 1938.
The tapestry was most likely a great source of inspiration for him, because he subsequently created Joys and Agonies of Humanity in the Face of Life and Death.
This 80m long tapestry is divided into 10 sections.
Another of his most acclaimed creations is the Song of the World which is exhibited in the Salle des Malades (patients’ vaulted dormitory.)
Present day city
The city boasts also a wealth of superb 19th and 20th century buildings.
Among them are the Grand Théatre, the Art Deco Maison Bleue and the Roman-Byzantine style Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church to name a few.
Angers, a city definitively worth discovering!Department of Maine-et-Loire
Coordinates: Lat 47.478419 – Long -0.563166