Castle of the Dukes of Brittany in Nantes!

Glad to find this old post and need to do update on text and links for you and me. This is an interesting post, of an emblematic monument just south of me. Let me tell you a bit about the Château des Ducs de Bretagne or the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany in Nantes!

Nantes is a unique place that is a must if only one this is it .It has been always my question coming to visit the city to ask why the dukes of Brittany/Bretagne have a castle in Nantes which is Loire Atlantique dept 44 of the Pays de la Loire region? I will answer this below in my amateur historical opinion and will be telling you about the Château des Ducs de Bretagne or the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany.


Wait a minute! I have been telling you Nantes is not in Brittany but in Pays de la Loire region? yes officially indeed. This is an issue locally and many Bretons still considered it part of their region not just the castle but most of the Loire Atlantique dept 44 if not all. Historically, it was until the French revolution, what else!  There are historical quarrels that it was Marshal Pétain in 1941 who signed the order for the split and other that it was President René Coty in 1961 on a wish from the central government, but anyway nowadays they have been able to put the Breton flag on the pole in the city hall of Nantes and there are petitions for the annexation back into Brittany. This is the issue of long running , to be continue.



My first encounter with this region or is it other region was on a touristic visit from my former home in Versailles to the city of Nantes and obviously we saw the castle first. This was back in 2003/4 thereabouts. I was a bit shock to realized that it was call the castle of the Dukes of Brittany a duchy but was not in Brittany!! See above….One reason the  French pages now says Castle of Nantes! I will go on with the tourist part as always.  I have written before in my blog of course, always mix in with visits to Nantes; however, a full post on it is well merited and here it goes!


The castle of the Dukes of Brittany is an architectural ensemble, consisting of a 15C rampart and various buildings built from the 14C to the 18C after being ducal residence under Duke Francis II and Duchess Anne, the castle became a Royal fortress, seat of the governor of Nantes and Royal prison, then barracks from the 18C. Now owned by the city of Nantes since 1915, the castle has been used for tourist and museum use since 1924. From 1990 to 2007, the castle has benefited from a large renovation and is from the seat of a new museum dedicated to the history of Nantes. As a result of the transformation of the urban community into Metropolis, the castle becomes a metropolitan property in 2015.nantes-castle-dukes-main-ent-my13

Location and transport to the castle in town: The Castle is bordered to the north and west by rue Prémion, Place Marc-Elder and the Rue des Etats; to the east by the place Duchess Anne; to the south by the cours John Kennedy, which until the 1930’s was an arm of the Loire river, known as the arm of the hospital. The castle was indeed at the edge of the Loire river, which feed its moat; close to castle, on the town side, was the port Maillard (the present Allée du Port-Maillard) and the suburb side, the Quai de Richebourg (the current allée Commandant Charcot). The castle, located on the first line of bus in 1826, on the first tramway line in 1879, and is currently served by line 1 of the tramway and line 4 of the Busway of Nantes at the station Duchess Anne-Château des Ducs de Bretagne.

A bit of history I like:

From 1207, Guy de Thouars, a widower of Constance, Duchess of Brittany and in this title regent of the duchy, built the first castle called “de la Tour Neuve” at the foot of the Gallo-Roman ramparts of the city then circumscribed to the present district of Bouffay, replacing the Château du Bouffay. During the second half of the 14C, the Chastel de la Tour Neuve  was enlarged by Duke Jean IV of Brittany, who built several granite polygonal towers. The tower known as the  Vieux Donjon (Old Dungeon) is the only vestige of this epoch that remains in the 21C. In 1466, Duke François II of Brittany decided to rebuild the castle. The new castle will be both the main residence of the ducal court and a military fortress capable of withstanding the royal power. Courtyard side by a residential palace of white tufa with refined facades,  the great government, the Golden Crown Tower, the Grand Logis ((le Grand Gouvernement, la tour de la Couronne d’Or, le Grand Logis)  and, on the city side, by seven massive towers of shale and granite connected by curtains and 500 meters of rounded road. On the death of François II in 1488, his daughter, Duchesse Anne of Brittany, was the  queen of France from 1491 to 1514, by her two successive marriages, with Charles VIII and Louis XII, and  resumed the work. It also reinforces the fortress, on the Loire side, by building the Horseshoe Tower (tour du Fer à Cheval), an impressive artillery bastion. In 1514, the castle returned to her daughter Claude, who was married to king François I. To house the royal family, he enriched himself with a new Renaissance-style building: le Logis du Roy, now known as the small government (petit gouvernement).  In 1532, the castle became Royal property on the occasion of the Union of Brittany to France.

Under the Dukes Claude de France, François III and Henri, François I of France was a beneficiary of the duchy. Under its impulse and during the 16C and 17C, the castle is chosen as Breton residence of the kings of France.  Thus, from 1582, in a context of wars of religion, the Duke of Mercœur, governor of Brittany, reinforces the defences of the castle. Anxious to protect the city from the Protestant attacks from Poitou, he built an artillery terrace and two defence works in the form of a spur, called bastions. In the 21C, these transformations were no longer visible until the North Bastion and the curtain of the Levant( la Courtine du Levant) Mercœur had its emblems affixed.

On April 30, 1598, king Henri IV stayed at the castle when he came to the city for the signature of the Edict of Nantes. The signature of the famous edict will not, however, be done at the castle, but according to a popular tradition, in the House of Turrets (Maison des Tourelles) , a building which was located at the quai de la Fosse and was destroyed during WWII, during a bombardment on the city.  Cardinal Richelieu proceed with the militarization of the terraces of the entrance towers. Since that time the stained glass and the walls of the chapel bear the Cardinal’s arms. The building begins its function as a prison for prestigious detainees. In 1654, the Cardinal Retz, leader of the Fronde, escapes from the castle where he was detained.

On September 5, 1661, when the court was gathered in the castle de Ducs des Bretagne king Louis XIV for the States of Brittany. The Superintendent Nicolas Fouquet (Vaux le Vicomte fame see post)  was arrested by D’Artagnan, who led a detachment of Grey musketeers. Nicolas Fouquet is led to the castle of Angers where he will be locked up for some time.

In 1911, while it is a property of the state, an agreement between the Ministry of War and the municipality allows to exchange the castle against the ensemble Convent of the Visitation- for the barracks Bedeau belonging to the city, and which already houses a regiment of artilleries. In 1924, there was a municipal museum dedicated to decorative arts, completed after the war, new rooms containing the collections of the Museum of regional Folk Art, then the Museum of Salorges were house there.

The principal architecture points , brief.

The main entrance, located at Place Marc-Elder, the vulnerable point of the fortress, has a harrow and two doors protected by rocking drawbridges (a large one for the passage of carts and riders, a smaller one for the passage of men on foot), Which were recently restored during the restoration of the castle. The two other historic fortified entrances, less well known, are the poterne de la Loire, on the south facade of the castle, built by Anne of Brittany between 1491 and 1494, and the pont de Secours on the north façade. These two entrances were also returned to service during the restoration work.


The towers of the du Pied-de-Biche and the la Boulangerie . These twin Towers date from 1466, the Tower of the Jacobins: so named because it faced the convent of the same name, it is sometimes called the English tower, because it was used to imprison English soldiers during the 18C. The tower of the old dungeon( tour du Vieux Donjon). : the only visible vestige of the castle called the new tower (la Tour Neuve), and the tour du Port, la tour de la Rivière ,and tour du Fer à Cheval.

The Campanile: Located on the moat side, this campanile bristling, with an arrow and a lantern, overlooks the entrance to the courtine de la Loire : built between 1491 and 1494 by Anne of Brittany, this part of the ramparts protected the castle from the river side. It is pierced by an entrance originally closed by a harrow, which was used to discreetly exit the castle and allow some visitors to arrive by water. Crenellated, it is adorned with gargoyles and machicolations adorned with the F of François I.


On the interior courtyard of the Castle you can see ,the Grand logisTour de la Couronne d’Or connects the Grand Logis to the Grand Gouvernement: This building body, formerly called the Ducal Palace, was rebuilt by order of king Louis XIV following a fire. It is now called the Grand Gouvernement , in remembrance of the governor of Brittany Charles de la Porte, duke of Meilleraye, who decides to settle there in the 17C. The destroyed part were in May 25 1800 due to a violent explosion, triggered by the collapse of a rotten floor on which were stored three tons of powder, and destroyed the tower of the Spaniards (tour des Espagnols) , the building of the king’s Lieutenant (Lieutenant du Roi) as well as the Chapel and the archive Room(salle des archives,), which were in the extension of the Grand Gouvernement.   The Petit Gouvernement was done in Renaissance style, it keeps its chimneys of brick and slate original. Built on the orders of François I, it serves as the Logis du Roi (his bedrooms) during its stays in Nantes. You have the Concierge here it was built in the early 18C to house the lieutenant of the King ( Lieutenant du Roi) and then the offices of the arsenal. It became the concierge of the château in 1924 during the transformation of the site into a museum. The harnessing(Harnachement) ;this building houses temporary exhibitions.


The current museum brings together the collections of several previous museums such as the Museum of the Arts and Popular Traditions ,Museum of the Salorges ,Museum of the Loire-Lower archaeological Museum of Nantes, Museum of the Image , and the Museums of the castle of Joseph Stany-Gauthier to Daniel Samson. Currently,the Museum of History of Nantes ( Musée d’histoire de Nantes) occupies 32 rooms of the renovated castle with a portrait of the city in seven large sequences is presented to the public such as the Castle, Nantes and Brittany from antiquity until the 17C; Nantes, daughter of the river and the ocean; Trading and Black gold in the 18C; Nantes in Revolution; A Colonial and industrial port (1815-1940); The new form of a city (1940-1990); An Atlantic metropolis, today and tomorrow.

The creation of a complete circuit of the ramparts, the setting up of a first access by the moat and a second by a footbridge, the arrangement of a garden in the moat, the night lighting participate in the rebirth of the Castle. The 500 meters of round road on the fortified ramparts offer viewpoints on the castle, the courtyard, the moats, but also on the city: the LU Tower, the location of the Arms of the Loire river which bathed the castle before the attics of the 1930’s , St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Bouffay district. Night lighting values the site in its architectural complexity within the urban fabric. At the main entrance by the sleeping Bridge, a warm, orange light gushes from the inside at the level of the curtains. In the garden of the moat, the illumination of the counter-escarpment gives a darker light. On the southern façade, a moving light glides over the imposing wall..An event to be there at night. See first for hours.

Some webpages to help you plan your trip here ,and you must ,are:

The official Château des Ducs de Bretagne and Museum webpage:

The Nantes tourist office on the castle/museum:

The Loire Atlantique dept 44 tourist board on the castle/museum:

The Pays de la Loire region tourist board on the castle/museum:

There you go, you are all set for a wonderful stay in Nantes and the Castle Museum of Nantes  or Castle of the Dukes of Brittany!!!. Hope you enjoy the post and do visit as it is a must in Nantes me think.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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