Located just a short walk from our Radisson Blu Nantes hotel, the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany’s fairytale-fortress exterior is made up of several buildings, each with its own unique story. Although the first ramparts were constructed in the 13th century, embellishments and extra buildings were regularly added to the original fortress up until the 1700s. After a long period of restoration and refurbishment, the courtyard in the centre of this fortress is now completely open to the public. Peering out through slanted windows, it’s enchantingly easy to imagine what it once might have been like to live in this fortified palace.
Dukes and kings
In its early days, the castle was the private residence of the region’s dukes, before moving into the hands of the French monarchy along with the rest of the Duchy of Brittany in 1532. From then on, it served as the official Breton residence of the French monarchy, with all the required architectural flourishes fit for a king added soon after. However, as any history student will know, transitions of power rarely run smoothly – and the relationship between Brittany and France has had more than its fair share of intrigues and plot twists. The castle has withstood civil war, royal marriages and religious upheaval, so whichever period of history most interests you, you’ll find something about it here.
Night at the museum
Today, the castle’s 15th century buildings house the Nantes History Museum, which holds collections of traditional textiles, archaeological discoveries and historical photography. The museum provides free audio guide downloads that open up the past for younger visitors, guiding them through Anne of Brittany’s dramatic world and answering their questions about items in the museum.
Each object narrates part of Nantes’ rich story, travelling from the merchant trades that helped the city to flourish to more controversial topics, like the slave trade that once pervaded Europe, Africa and America. French speakers can enjoy guided tours with fantastic actors in full period dress – discover the dukes’ panic when a priceless object goes missing, or live through a feudal siege alongside characters straight from the history books.
Portrait of a city
Although the castle itself could quite fairly be called a work of art, inside the museum you’ll find some more traditional artistic creations dedicated to commemorating the city in all its glory. J.M.W. Turner’s imaginatively titled ‘Nantes’ is here, as are several other engravings, oil paintings and sketches depicting the busy streets, wide rivers and elegant buildings that characterise the city. Continuing the theme of bringing the past to life and placing it right next to the present, the museum also has a space reserved for the current ‘guest artist’, who is commissioned to produce an artwork inspired by the historic representations. Launched by Pierrick Sorin’s stunning multimedia ‘City Portrait’, don’t miss out on this celebration of local talent.