Historically part of the ancient Duchy of Brittany, it still has an allegiance to it in terms of culture, (Breton province of Nantes, traditional districts of Pays de Retz and Pays de Brière) as will be seen from the maps below.
Pays de Retz
This district is situated between the southern (left) bank of the Loire River and the North of the Breton-Vendean marsh (West of France). It has no specific administrative status and is mostly included in the département of Loire-Atlantique, Region: Pays de la Loire. Its historical capital is Machecoul, formally a Roman city, situated 40 kilometres south of Nantes.
The area is relatively flat and includes large marshy depressions, such as Lac de Grand Lieu (3,500 ha in summer, 9,000 ha in winter). The Atlantic coast of Pays de Retz is made of schistose cliffs and nicknamed Côte de Jade (Jade Coast).
Economy of Pays de Retz is based on fishing, seaside resorts (Pornic, Sainte-Marie, Saint-Brévin), milk production, market gardening in the polder areas, and wine growing (Gros Plant vine, used to produce Muscadet wine).
The name of Retz is associated with Gilles de Retz (1404-1440), better known as Gilles de Rais (or Rays), brother-in-arms of Joan of Arc, Marshall of France at the age of 25, and later a satanic and paedophilic serial killer, finally sentenced to death, hung and his body burned in Nantes to the delight of the crowd. He is the original source of Charles Perrault's Barbe-Bleue (Bluebeard). The ruins of the castle in which he committed most of his crimes can still be seen in Tiffauges. He was lord of a territory larger than Pays de Retz but including most of it.
Prior to the tenth century, the Pays de Retz was part of the territory of the Celtic tribe of the Picts or Pictones, thus you get the name Poitou (Home of the Picts). The area was later incorporated into the county of Poitou. In the tenth century, Brittany was given a small area around Rez (Ratiatum), later called the Pays de Rez (Pagus ratiatensis), later Pays de Retz.
Many times the Bretons increased the territory of Pays de Retz. The Pays became a county, then a duchy-pairy, with changing borders, as it was the case for most feudal states in the Middle Ages.
Perched on the cliff top, this old medieval town overlooks both the Bay of Bourgneuf and a busy fishing port.
In the 19th century, the wealthiest families built fanciful seaside villas, where coloured wooden balusters and friezes are still the rule.
Along the coastal paths adventure beckons, inviting you to discover a covered pathway, a dolmen, a creek that is perfect for a 'tête-à-tête', or the settlement of an ancient abbey. When you return, to the sight of the sun setting over the market stalls of the old town, you'll pass through the "Terrasse" that was so dear to Léautaud.
Visit the Sights
Le Château de Pornic: a tenth-century castle built of granite by Alain-Bores-Torte during the time of the Breton lords to protect the town from from its enemies, such as the Vikings, who would come from the sea.
Dolman de La Joselière: Unusually square 4 chambered tomb with double entrances, built around 3500 BC. The chambers have apses similar to single Maltese temples. Just head for Bernerie until you reach La Joselière and follow the access path.
Pays de Brière
The Brière (or Grande Brière) is a marshy area located north of Nantes. The name of Brière might come from Latin brica, meaning earth or mud. In the Neolithic times, the sea invaded the area. The alluviums of the river Loire built a natural dyke that isolated the area from the sea and transformed it into marshes. In 1461, the Duke of Brittany, François II, granted the inhabitants of the Brière joint property rights. These rights were confirmed by a Royal decree when Brittany was incorporated to the Kingdom of France.
The economy of the Brière was based on turf and noir (lit. "Black", a kind of compost) extraction; rush and reed harvesting; leech, eel (locally called pimpenceau), and pike fishing and waterfowl hunting. In the late fourteenth century, additional income was provided by two workshops producing wax orange-tree flowers. In the twentieth century, most of the inhabitants were attracted by the shipyards in and around St. Nazaire or the metallurgic factories in Trignac. The Regional Nature Park of Grande Brière was created in 1970 and stretches over 40,000 hectares, marshes stretching over 7,000 hectares. Therefore, the Grande Brière is the second largest marsh in France after the Camargue.
The Sous-préfecture of St Nazaire, named after St. Nazaire of Milan, martyred by Emperor Nero, was totally destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War and has been extensively rebuilt, the port area has been re-designed by Catalan architect Manuel de Sola, and he has succeeded in making the submarine base a part of the town and giving its maritime identity back to the city.
In our mind one of the most interesting attractions for the tourist is the underwater submarine base built by the Germans, which can still be seen in the St Nazaire basin along with the submarine Espadon (Swordfish). There are also guided tours of Chantiers De L’Atlantique and Airbus St.Nazaire, both these are well worth the time. The former involves being taken by bus around the shipyard and stopping at various points with the opportunity to view the construction of ships at close hand including a 400 metre walk along a gallery that overlooks one of the dry-docks, but please remember this is a working shipyard NOT a museum. On the Airbus Tour you are taken from the Visitors Centre by coach to the factory at Gron, where you walk through two enormous workshops, Polaris and Comete, with their purpose built visitors’ balconies that allow you spectacular views over the fuselage sections of the different Airbus planes and the gigantic sections of the A380. You might even see the Beluga cargo plane, a.k.a. the “ flying whale” that comes to Saint-Nazaire on a daily basis to pick up these fuselage sections.
Finally you must visit the International Ocean Liner Centre Escal’Atlantic where you will be taken on a voyage through the saga of the glamorous transatlantic liners. Over three levels and 3,500 square metres of exhibition space, Escal’Atlantic re-creates the atmosphere and the interiors of these legendary ships, many of which have been built in Saint-Nazaire over the last one hundred and fifty years. For BFE members there is a scale model of Brittany Ferries “Bretagne”!!!
Le Croisic is a small fishing port, which is busy in the summer and weekends out of season. New building work on the outskirts puts some visitors off, but the old port still has charm and in many ways it appears almost Breton
This is France's sixth largest town and prefecture of Loire Atlantique, located on the Loire Estuary, 50 km from the Atlantic coast.
Château des Ducs de Bretagne
The oldest parts of the château date from the thirteenth century. But it was during the fifteenth century, under the aegis of François II, last Duke of independent Brittany that it was transformed to become residence of the Breton court, at the same time residential palace and defensive military fortress. It was the birthplace of Duchess Anne of Brittany and her stands at the drawbridge entrance. In sixteenth century, when Brittany became part of France (1532), it becomes a residence of Kings of France and where Henri IV signed the Edict of Nantes in 1598. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the castle is transformed into barracks. In 1915, the Town of Nantes became the owner and in due course it became the municipal museum.
Since 1924, regional popular art is strongly represented in the collections: costumes, furniture, ironwork and ceramics... In 1955, the exhibits from the Museum of Salorges destroyed by the bombing in 1943, were acquired by the museum; and one wing of the château is now a Naval Museum that charts Nantes maritime heritage, colonial links and slave-trading activities in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Today, the museum and the monument are undergoing a massive programme of restoration. A new Museum of History will be created in the prestigious sixteenth century buildings that will depict the history of Nantes and its people over the centuries.
Cathédrale Saint-Pierre et Saint Paul
Taking nearly 400 years to build, houses the tomb of the parents of Anne of Brittany, François II and Marguerite de Foix. This is a flamboyant example of Gothic architecture and one of the jewels of the city.
In the centre of city, one will see a small island surrounded by broad boulevards and sitting in a sea of green: this is Feydeau Island. Many will say this is not an island will say the tourists, that is true, however the Nantaise call it one, because between 1926 and 1940 when two arms of the Loire were filled in it closely resembled a boat. It is quite easy to figure out the position of the river bed and the old quays.
This is a city of reason and disproportion, reality and imaginary, when architects decide to connect one place to another, it may not be a quick passage, but one out of space and time. One such connection is Pommeraye passage. Built on three levels, its commercial gallery has met the need for a connection between the Graslin district and the Stock Exchange 1843. It is lined with immense mirrors, historic ceilings, mosaics, statues, standard lamps and very chic shops.
This is a very green city, with a rich botanical history, today there are nearly 400 varieties of camellias and more than 150 species of medicinal plants in the principal collections at the Botanical Gardens. But, there are also other parks and gardens such as Procé, the Largeone, the island of Versailles… within the eleven districts of Nantes.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE CITY
In the 1st century there was the primitive city of Namnètes, Galllic then Roman, followed by the bloody struggle between Frankish Kings and Breton Noblemen.
In 843, the Vikings sailed up the Loire, rushed into the Cathedral and promptly slaughtered the the prelate, clergy and congregation then ransacked the town.
Alain Barbe Torte (Crookbeard), the young Breton chief returned from exile in England in 937, hunted down and massacred pirates across Brittany. He become first Duke of Brittany and it was Nantes that he chose as its capital.
During the 11th and 12th centuries there was great rivalry between Rennes and Nantes.
During the reign of Jean V the city prospered and in 1434 the first stone of the Cathedral we see today was laid.
After Jean V, came Duke François II, he encouraged trade and created the university. He also built a new ducal castle in 1466 where his daughter Anne de Bretagne was born. She was married, by proxy, to Maximilien of Austria, then a time second, in 1491, to Charles VIII. Later becoming a widow, she married a third time, on this occasion to King Louis XII. They had two girls, Claude and Renée; it is by marrying Claude that François I preserved the autonomy of Brittany. Henri IV, signed the Edict of Nantes on the 13th August 1598, which in ninety-two articles settled the religious question – or so he thought!
During the religious wars, the Duke of Mercoeur, Governor of Nantes, fought Henri IV in the city in 1598.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the port was booming and Nantes was the premier port of France and there was great prosperity. This was also the era of the slave traders. In 1789, during the revolution, Nantes vigorously repelled an attempted invasion by the natives of the Vendée. 1793 saw the city under a reign of terror, Carrier came to the city with his guillotine and to organize the deaths of various people, some of which died an agonizing death by drowning.
During the war of 1914-1918, Nantes was an important supply centre for both the English and American armies.
During the Nazi occupation of 1940-1944, Nantes endured severe bombing raids, the worst of these being between the 16th and 23rd September 1943. The City of Nantes was the first of France to receive the Cross of the Liberation.
Today port traffic in Nantes is concentrated around the Quays Wilson, Roche-Maurice and Cheviré, but much of the harbour activity has moved downstream to the Port of St. Nazaire, Nantes' sister city.
So is this area a part of Brittany!!
Even though The General Council of Loire-Atlantique has a specific flag, quite recently the newly elected President of the General Council, Patrick Mareschal, decided to hoist the traditional flag of Brittany on the building of the General Council.
The hoisting of this flag was a political statement. Since the creation of the French regions by the French State in 1941, the department of Loire-Atlantique is incorporated to the region of Pays de la Loire, whereas most of the department historically belongs to Brittany. There is a fairly strong movement clamouring for the "reunification" of Brittany and the incorporation of Loire-Atlantique into Brittany, which would be more or less equate to the historical Duchy of Brittany, whose capital city was Nantes, with the Duke's castle, and not Rennes, the current capital city of the region Brittany.
The main association lobbying for the "reunification" is called Bretagne Réunie (formerly CUAB, Comité pour l'Unité Administrative de la Bretagne), and its first president was Patrick Mareschal. The lobbyists claim that France refuses the "reunification" because it claims it could be a first step towards independence of Brittany. Also it is clear that the region Pays de la Loire would not easily accept losing one départment and its regional capital city.
The clamour for "reunification" is expressed in some flags, such as some variants of the municipal flag of Nantes have the Breton black cross, the Brigade Loire supporters' flag with a black stripe recalling Brittany and flags with the black cross used by cultural associations in Nantes.
The supporters of "reunification" would also change the logotype-flag of the Regional Council of Brittany by adding a fifth coloured stripe on the map to symbolize the fifth department, Loire-Atlantique. The CUAB released a car sticker showing such a flag. The Breton nationalists call the four-stripe flag the four-suppository flag.
Today there is a great debate about the splitting of Loire-Atlantique from Brittany. On one hand the "Breton militants" have always disputed the decision as they feel that this was made by a non-democratic government and maintained without asking the populations' opinion and stress that Loire-Atlantique is culturally, historically and geographically united to Brittany and insist on the economic dynamism which the reunification would allow. On the other hand, adversaries consider that the reunification would open a quarrel of capitals between Rennes and Nantes, that it would be fatal to the Region of the Pays-de-Loire and that Brittany, even with five departments, would not be strong enough to face international economic competition, so it would be better to create a bigger zone, the "Great West".