Nantes, the capital of the Duchy of Brittany
The castle of the Dukes of Brittany is the westernmost of the Châteaux de la Loire.
It’s indeed situated in Nantes, a major seaport and industrial city on the estuary of the Loire.
Nantes became the capital of the Gaulish tribe Namnètes, then the seat of a bishopric and the capital of a Franc county in the late 5th century.
King Nominoe unified Brittany in the middle of the 9th century and chose it as capital.
The Duchy of Brittany was founded a century later and Nantes remained the capital until 1532.
The city flourished from the trade with the French colonies, but also from the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries!
A thriving industrial city during the following two centuries, Nantes today links to the harbour of Saint-Nazaire.
The dynamic metropolis of the Grand Ouest Français is centered on the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany.
Castle of the Dukes of Brittany – a few historical facts
François II, the last Duke of Brittany, built the current fortress in the 15th century.
This castle replaces the 13th century fortress erected on the foundations of the Gallo-Roman walled city of the Namnètes.
The purpose of this imposing fortress was to protect the Duchy of Brittany against the attacks of the king of France.
Its massive ramparts protected the ducal palace, which remained the residence of the Dukes of Brittany until 1532.
François’s daughter, Duchess Ann of Brittany, became twice Queen of France when she married Charles VIII then Louis XII.
However, she succeeded in retaining the full independence of her duchy during her life and embellished the castle.
The Duchy of Brittany was eventually attached to the Crown of France in 1532, 18 years after her death.
The Castle of the Dukes of Brittany then became the official Breton residence of the kings of France until the 17th century.
Several buildings were consequently built during this period.
The castle was also transformed in the 18th century in order to accommodate a barracks, a prison and a military arsenal.
A fire, then an explosion destroyed a series of buildings.
The castle was fortunately saved from destruction when it was classified Historical Monument in 1862.
The city of Nantes acquired it in 1915 and restored it in order to install a history museum in 1924.
Unfortunately, the old fortress suffered further degradation during WWII when the Germans built a bunker (part of the Atlantic Wall).
Castle of the Dukes of Brittany today
The castle was superbly restored in the late 20th century.
The massive 15th century rampart still protects the ducal palace and its outbuildings.
A walk takes you along this 500m long wall and its 7 towers and landscaped moats.
Le Grand Logis was the residence of the Dukes; François II initiated its construction and Anne completed it.
This elegant Flamboyant Gothic edifice embellished with Early Renaissance facades was built with the local white limestone.
It bears the coat of arms of Louis XII (porcupine) and those of Anne (greyhound) in order to symbolize the alliance of the Kingdom of France and the Duchy of Brittany.
La Tour de la Couronne dates from the same time; Anne added the superb Early Renaissance loggias.
It connects Le Grand Logis to Le Grand Government that was rebuilt in the 17th century after being destroyed by a fire.
The arsenal exploded in 1800 and destroyed the buildings located in its extension.
François I built Le Petit Gouvernement (French Renaissance architecture) and used it as private residence when he sojourned in Nantes.
The Conciergerie dates from the early 18th century.
So does the Bâtiment du Harnachement, which is today dedicated to temporary exhibitions.
The Castle of the Dukes of Normandy is indeed home to the historical museum of the city of Nantes.
The interior (32 rooms) was recently modernized and adapted with multimedia devices that highlight and facilitate the discovery of over 850 collectibles.
Note: The visit takes 2/3 hours; there’s a restaurant in one of the castle’s outbuildings and many more in the surrounding streets and a vast car park at the foot of the castle.
Department of Loire Atlantique
Coordinates: Lat 47.216262 – Long -1.548825