Saturday, 22 December 2012



Angers is a city in western France, about 300 km (190 mi) southwest of Paris, and the chef-lieu of the Maine-et-Loire department. Angers was before the French Revolution the capital of the province of Anjou, and inhabitants of both the city and the province are called Angevins.

The first sign of human presence in Angers dates back to 400,000 BC. Vestiges from the Neolithic are more abundant and include numerous polished stone axes. Burials from 4,500/3,500 BC were also discovered in the actual castle grounds.

During the 5th century, the Andecavi, a Celtic people, settles north of the Loire. By the end of the Age of Iron, Angers is a relatively densely populated oppidum. The name Juliomagus, might it be more ancient, is not attested before the 3rd century AD. The Roman town consisted of many villas, baths and had an amphitheatre as well as a temple dedicated to Mithra.

Successive Germanic invasions in 275 and 276 forced the inhabitants to move on the highest point of their city and to build a wall around a small area of around 9 hectares.

Angers gets its first bishop in 372, during the election of Martin of Tours. The first abbey, Saint-Aubin, is built during the 7th century to house the sarcophagus of Saint Albinius. Saint-Serge abbey is founded by the Merovingian kings Clovis II and Theuderic III a century later. In 2008, ten sarcophagi form that period were discovered where Saint-Morille church once stood during the tramway construction.

From the 850s, Angers suffers from its situation on the border with Brittany and Normandy. In September 851, Charles the Bald and Erispoe, a Breton chief, meet in the town to sign the Treaty of Angers, which secures the Breton independence and fixes the borders of Brittany. However, the situation remains dangerous for Angers, and Charles the Bald creates in 853 a wide buffer zone around Brittany comprising parts of Anjou, Touraine, Maine and Sées, which is ruled by Robert the Strong, a great-grandfather of Hugh Capet.

In 870, the Viking chief Hastein seizes Angers where he settles, but quickly surrounds after a siege. He takes again control of the town in 873, before being ousted by the Carolingian Emperor.

Fulk I of Anjou, a Carolingian descendant, is, first, viscount of Angers (before 898 until 830) and of Tours (898-909), and count of Nantes (909-919). Around 929, he takes the title of count of Angers and founds the first Anjou dynasty.

During the 12th century, after internal divisions in Brittany, the county of Nantes is annexed by Anjou. Henry II Plantagenêt keeps it for more than 30 years. At the same time, he also rules the vast Angevin Empire, which stretched from the Pyrenees to Ireland. The castle of Angers is then the seat of the Court and the dynasty. The Empire disappeared in 1204-1205 when the King of France, Philip II, seized Normandy and Anjou.

Henceforth a part of the Kingdom of France, Angers becomes the "Clé du Royaume" (Key to the Kingdom) facing independent Brittany. In 1228, during Louis IX's minority, Blanche of Castile decides to fortify the city and to rebuild the castle. Later, during the 1350s and 1360s, the schools of Law, Medicine and Theology, renowned in the whole Europe, are organised in a university. In 1373, Louis I of Naples and Anjou orders the six tapestries illustrating the Apocalypse of St John known today as the Apocalypse Tapestry.

King René of Anjou contributed to the economic revival in a city that had been diminished by the Black Death (1347–1350) and the Hundred Years War (1337–1453). A man of great culture and generosity, René transformed Angers into a cultural and politic centre and held there a brilliant Court. He transformed the castle moat into a menagerie and built several gardens. He also founded in Angers a new Ordre du Croissant which was supposed to compete with the Order of the Golden Fleece, created several years before.

In 1474, Louis XI of France, who wants to seize Anjou, comes to Angers with his army, asking for the keys of the city. René, then 65 years old, does not want to lead a war against his nephew and surrender his domains without any fight. Thus, Anjou ceased to be an appanage and felt definitely into the Royal domain. After his death, René is buried in 1480 in Saint-Maurice cathedral.

In 1598, the Edict of Nantes is prepared in Angers by Henri IV. From the 6th of March until the 2th of April, Angers is de facto the capital of France and the King tries by all means to satisfy the Catholics of the city, for example by laying the cornerstone of the new Couvent des Capucins.

In 1619, Louis XIII of France gives the governance of Anjou to his mother, Marie de' Medici. The Queen mother settles in Angers, at the Logis Barrault, with her chaplain, Cardinal Richelieu.

At the premature death of Louis XIII, his son Louis XIV is only an infant and France is troubled by several famines and epidemics and by politic instability. In 1649, the people of Angers launch a revolt against rising taxes, a movement that started the Fronde in Anjou. 

The Fronde was a nationwide military conflict opposing some aristocrats favoring a less autocratic regime to the Royal forces held by Anne of Austria, Queen mother and regent, and her prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin. The Royal repression in Angers is narrowly avoided by the bishop Henri Arnauld, who intercedes with the Queen mother. Bishop of Angers until 1692, Arnauld deeply marked the religious life of the city during the second half of the 17th century.

In 1652, Henri Chabot, Duke of Rohan and governor of Anjou, decides to back Louis of Condé, chief of the Fronde. Angers becomes again a rebellious city and Louis XIV sends his army to seize it. The Duke of Rohan immediately surrenders and thus avoids the sack of the city.

The first months of the French Revolution are relatively quiet in Angers. In 1789, the city looses its ancient administrative positions, replaced in 1790 by the department of Mayenne-et-Loire, soon renamed "Maine-et-Loire". Anjou, as a political entity, disappears, although the new departement includes most of its territory.

The War of Vendée, a Royalist rebellion and counterrevolution led in Vendée, a department located at the southwest of Maine-et-Loire, reached the Loire in March 1793. The Royalist army soon crosses the river and goes as far as Granville, in Normandy, in November. Pushed back, the Vendéens go back south and, to cross the Loire again, have to attack Angers.

The city is defended by 4,000 Republican soldiers, whereas the Royalists are at least 20,000, but weakened by successive fights and deceases. The Siege of Angers occurs the 3rd and 4 December 1793. The Royalists' bad tactic, as well as the strength of Angers city wall and castle, cause their loss. They consequently go back north for a while, around Le Mans, before eventually crossing the Loire in Ancenis the 16th of December.

In 1794, a fierce repression is conduced in the whole region against the Royalists. In Angers, 290 prisoners are shot and 1020 others die of illness in jail. The city also welcomed many refugees, mostly Republicans living in Royalist rural areas. Between the 19th and the 31st of May 1793, between 650 and 1000 Republican families seek asylium in Angers.

In September 1939, when Poland is invaded by Germany, the Polish government-in-exile settles in Angers. It left the city the 12th of June 1940, after the invasion of France by the Wehrmacht. Angers falls to the Nazis during the same month. The Germans make it the seat of a regional Kommandantur. In 1941, a first Resistance movement, called Honneur et Patrie, is created in Angers. 60 Resistants are shot at Belle-Beille range in 1942 and a German bunker factory employs 6000 people in 1943. In July 1942, 853 Jews are arrested and sent to Auschwitz.

The night of the 28th May 1944, the first Allied bombing occurs over the Saint-Laud quarter. 243 people die and many others are wounded. Successive attacks the 29th and 30 May destroy the train station and its surroundings which are reconstructed in the 1950s.

After liberating Avranches and Rennes, General Patton and his 5th infantry division arrive in Anjou the 5th of August. To seize Angers, they decide to enter the city by its eastern side to surprise the Nazis. The 9th of August, they cross the Maine and start the fight. Helped by the local French Forces of the Interior, they progressively move forward the city centre. The fight is nevertheless difficult and Angers is liberated the day after, at around 5 p.m.

After the end of the war, the city experiences a quick development and demographic growth. In 1971, a decision is made to reestablish a public university, and the Université catholique d'Angers is split between the Université catholique de l'Ouest, private, and the Université d'Angers, public. Angers has had since then two different universities.

                                                        Angers' Top 5:
  1. Angers Cathedral was constructed on the orders of bishops Normand de Doué and Guillaume de Beaumont after the original building burnt down in 1032. The transept's stained glass window of Saint Julian is considered a masterpiece of French 13th century glasswork. The cathedral is the seat of the diocese of Angers and a national monument of France. The original Romanesque church was rebuilt with Gothic details in the mid 12th century. The single-aisle plan was vaulted with pointed arches resting on a re-clad interior elevation. The nave consists of three simple bays, with single bays on either side of a crossing forming transepts, followed by a single-bay choir, backed by an apse. During the Middle Ages both Angers Cathedral and Amiens Cathedral laid claim to the possession of the head of John the Baptist. Angers Cathedral was built in the 12th and 13th centuries by two ambitious successive bishops, Normand de Doué and Guillaume de Beaumont.
  2. Tour Saint-Aubin. Completed in 1170, it was the bell-tower of an abbey closed during the French Revolution and destroyed in 1810. Elaborately sculptured 11th and 12th century arcades also survive in the courtyard of the Prefecture.
  3. The Maison d'Adam (Adam's House), located behind the cathedral, is an excellent example of the half-timbered houses which were built during the Middle Ages. Many similar houses, although smaller, are also visible along the streets around the castle.
  4. The Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Angers, located in the Renaissance Logis Barrault, displays a collection of paintings and sculptures dating from the 14th century to today. It is particularly renowned for its 18th century paintings, including works by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Van Loo, Antoine Watteau, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jean Siméon Chardin. The museum also contains a graphic design studio, a gallery devoted to the history of Angers and a temporary exhibition gallery.
  5. The Château d'Angers. Founded in the 9th century by the Counts of Anjou, was expanded to its current size in the 13th century. It is located on a rocky ridge overhanging the river Maine. Originally, this castle was built as a fortress at one of the sites inhabited by the Romans because of its strategic defensive location. In the 9th century, the Bishop of Angers gave the Counts of Anjou permission to build a castle in Angers. It became part of the Angevin empire of the Plantagenet Kings of England during the 12th century. In 1204, the region was conquered by Philip II and an enormous castle was built during the minority of his grandson, Louis IX ("Saint Louis") in the early part of the 13th century. The construction undertaken in 1234 cost 4,422 livres, roughly one per cent of the estimated royal revenue at the time. Louis gave the castle to his brother, Charles in 1246. Today, owned by the City of Angers, the massive, austere castle has been converted to a museum housing the oldest and largest collection of medieval tapestries in the world, with the 14th century "Apocalypse Tapestry" as one of its priceless treasures. As a tribute to its fortitude, the castle has never been taken by any invading force in history.

Intrepid Travel

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