Nantes | France

Nantes ([nɑ̃t] (About this sound listen)) (Gallo: Naunnt or Nantt (pronounced [nɑ̃t] or [nɑ̃ːt]); Breton: Naoned (pronounced [ˈnɑ̃wnət]) ) is a city in western France on the Loire River, 50 km (31 mi) from the Atlantic coast. The city is the sixth-largest in France, with a population of nearly 300,000 in Nantes and an urban area of 600,000 inhabitants. With Saint-Nazaire, a seaport on the Loire estuary, Nantes forms the main north-western French metropolis.

It is the administrative seat of the Loire-Atlantique département and the Pays de la Loire région, one of 18 regions of France. Nantes belongs historically and culturally to Brittany, a former duchy and province, and its omission from the modern Brittany région is controversial.

Nantes was identified during classical antiquity as a port on the Loire. It was the seat of a bishopric at the end of the Roman era before it was conquered by the Bretons in 851. Although Nantes was the primary residence of the 15th-century dukes of Brittany, Rennes became the provincial capital after the 1532 union of Brittany and France. During the 17th century, after the establishment of the French colonial empire, Nantes gradually became the largest port in France and was responsible for nearly half of the 18th-century French Atlantic slave trade. The French Revolution resulted in an economic decline, but Nantes developed robust industries after 1850 (chiefly in shipbuilding and food processing). Deindustrialisation in the second half of the 20th century spurred the city to adopt a service economy.

In 2012, the Globalization and World Cities Research Network ranked Nantes as a Gamma world city. It is the fourth-highest-ranking city in France, after Paris, Lyon and Marseilles. The Gamma category includes cities such as Algiers, Orlando, Porto, Turin and Leipzig. Nantes has been praised for its quality of life, and it received the European Green Capital Award in 2013. The European Commission noted the city's efforts to reduce air pollution and CO2 emissions, its high-quality and well-managed public transport system and its biodiversity, with 3,366 hectares (8,320 acres) of green space and several protected Natura 2000 areas.

The first inhabitants of what is now Nantes settled during the Bronze Age, later than in the surrounding regions (which have Neolithic monuments absent from Nantes). Its first inhabitants were apparently attracted by small iron and tin deposits in the region's subsoil. The area exported tin, mined in Abbaretz and Piriac, as far as Ireland. After about 1,000 years of trading, local industry appeared around 900 BC; remnants of smithies dated to the eighth and seventh centuries BC have been found in the city. Nantes may have been the major Gaulish settlement of Corbilo, on the Loire estuary, which was mentioned by the Greek historians Strabo and Polybius.

Its history from the seventh century to the Roman conquest in the first century BC is poorly documented, and there is no evidence of a city in the area before the reign of Tiberius in the first century AD. During the Gaulish period it was the capital of the Namnetes people, who were allied with the Veneti in a territory extending to the northern bank of the Loire. Rivals in the area included the Pictones, who controlled the area south of the Loire in the city of Ratiatum (present-day Rezé) until the end of the second century AD. Ratiatum, founded under Augustus, developed more quickly than Nantes and was a major port in the region. Nantes began to grow when Ratiatum collapsed after the Germanic invasions.

Because tradesmen favoured inland roads rather than Atlantic routes, Nantes never became a large city under Roman occupation. Although it lacked amenities such as a theatre or an amphitheatre, the city had sewers, public baths and a temple dedicated to Mars Mullo. After an attack by German tribes in 275, Nantes' inhabitants built a wall; this defense also became common in surrounding Gaulish towns. The wall in Nantes, enclosing 16 hectares (40 acres), was one of the largest in Gaul.

Christianity was introduced during the third century. The first local martyrs (Donatian and Rogatian) were executed in 288-290 , and a cathedral was built during the fourth century.

Outlawed by the French Revolution, the slave trade re-established itself as Nantes' major source of income in the first decades of the 19th century. It was the last French port to conduct the illegal Atlantic trade, continuing it until about 1827. The 19th-century slave trade may have been as extensive as that of the previous century, with about 400,000 slaves deported to the colonies. Businessmen took advantage of local vegetable production and Breton fishing to develop a canning industry during the 1820s, but canning was eclipsed by sugar imported from Réunion in the 1840s and 1850s. Nantes tradesmen received a tax rebate on Réunion sugar, which was lucrative until disease devastated the cane plantations in 1863. By the mid-19th century, Le Havre and Marseilles were the two main French ports; the former traded with America and the latter with Asia. They had embraced the Industrial Revolution, thanks to Parisian investments; Nantes lagged behind, struggling to find profitable activities. Nostalgic for the pre-revolutionary golden age, the local elite had been suspicious of political and technological progress during the first half of the 19th century. In 1851, after much debate and opposition, Nantes was connected to Paris by the Tours–Saint-Nazaire railway.

Nantes became a major industrial city during the second half of the 19th century with the aid of several families who invested in successful businesses. In 1900, the city's two main industries were food processing and shipbuilding. The former, primarily the canning industry, included the biscuit manufacturer LU and the latter was represented by three shipyards which were among the largest in France. These industries helped maintain port activity and facilitated agriculture, sugar imports, fertilizer production, machinery and metallurgy, which employed 12,000 people in Nantes and its surrounding area in 1914. Because large, modern ships had increased difficulty traversing the Loire to reach Nantes, a new port in Saint-Nazaire had been established at the mouth of the estuary in 1835. Saint-Nazaire, primarily developed for goods to be transhipped before being sent to Nantes, also built rival shipyards. Saint-Nazaire surpassed Nantes in port traffic for the first time in 1868. Reacting to the growth of the rival port, Nantes built a 15 kilometres (9.3 miles)-long canal parallel to the Loire to remain accessible to large ships. The canal, completed in 1892, was abandoned in 1910 because of the efficient dredging of the Loire between 1903 and 1914.

Nantes' layout is typical of French towns and cities. It has a historical centre with old monuments, administrative buildings and small shops, surrounded by 19th-century faubourgs surrounded by newer suburban houses and public housing. The city centre has a medieval core (corresponding to the former walled town) and 18th-century extensions running west and east. The northern extension, Marchix, was considered squalid and nearly disappeared during the 20th century. The old town did not extend south before the 19th century, since it would have meant building on the unsteady islands in the Loire.

The medieval core has narrow streets and a mixture of half-timbered buildings, more recent sandstone buildings, post-World War II reconstruction and modern redevelopment. It is primarily a student neighbourhood, with many bars and small shops. The eastern extension (behind Nantes Cathedral) was traditionally inhabited by the aristocracy, and the larger western extension along the Loire was built for the bourgeoisie. It is Nantes' most-expensive area, with wide avenues, squares and hôtels particuliers. The area was extended towards the Parc de Procé during the 19th century. The other faubourgs were built along the main boulevards and the plateaus, turning the valleys into parks. Outside central Nantes several villages, including Chantenay, Doulon, L'Eraudière and Saint-Joseph-de-Porterie, were absorbed by urbanisation.

After World War II, several housing projects were built to accommodate Nantes' growing population. The oldest, Les Dervallières, was developed in 1956 and was followed by Bellevue in 1959 and Le Breil and Malakoff in 1971. Once areas of poverty, they are experiencing regeneration since the 2000s. The northern outskirts of the city, along the Erdre, include the main campus of the University of Nantes and other institutes of higher education. During the second half of the 20th century, Nantes expanded south into the communes of Rezé, Vertou and Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire (across the Loire but near the city centre) and north-bank communes including Saint-Herblain, Orvault and Sainte-Luce-sur-Loire.

Nantes and the Loire-Atlantique département were part of the historic province of Brittany, and the city and Rennes were its traditional capitals. In the 1789 replacement of the historic provinces of France, Brittany was divided among five départements. The administrative region of Brittany did not exist during the 19th and early 20th centuries, although its cultural heritage remained. Nantes and Rennes are in Upper Brittany (the Romance-speaking part of the region), and Lower Brittany in the west is traditionally Breton-speaking and more Celtic in culture. As a large port whose outskirts encompassed other provinces, Nantes has been Brittany's economic capital and a cultural crossroads. Breton culture in Nantes is not necessarily characteristic of Lower Brittany's, although the city experienced substantial Lower Breton immigration during the 19th century.

In the mid-20th century, several French governments considered creating a new level of local government by combining départements into larger regions. The regions, established by acts of parliament in 1955 and 1972, loosely follow the pre-revolutionary divisions and Brittany was revived as Region Brittany. Nantes and the Loire-Atlantique département were not included, because each new region centred on one metropolis. Region Brittany was created around Rennes, similar in size to Nantes; the Loire-Atlantique département formed a new region with four other départements, mainly portions of the old provinces of Anjou, Maine and Poitou. The new region was called Pays de la Loire ("Loire Countries") although it does not include most of the Loire Valley. It has often been said that the separation of Nantes from the rest of Brittany was decided by Vichy France during the Second World War. Philippe Pétain created a new Brittany without Nantes in 1941, but his region disappeared after the liberation.

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