A Guide to Sites, Museums, and Memory

Nantes History Museum, Castle of the Dukes of Brittany Nantes, France

Nantes History Museum
Nantes History Museum.

The Castle of the Dukes of Brittany opened in February 2007 and boasts a 32-room museum that tells its story, as well as the story of the city of Nantes. The museum is an opportunity to discover the city and its personalities, in an approach that is knowledgeable and sensitive. The Atlantic slave trade is one of the most important subjects it develops, from the seventeenth century to modern-day commemorations and memory. Since March 2012, visitors can also visit the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery, in homage to all those who fought in the past, fight today and will fight in the future against slavery.

Set in the heart of historic Nantes, the Castle of the dukes of Brittany is the beacon of Nantes's urban heritage. Seen from the city, it is a fortress with 500 meters of curtain walls punctuated by seven towers and linked a sentry walk. The inner courtyards shelter an elegant fifteenth-century residence of tufa stone in a Gothic flamboyant style bearing the first marks of Renaissance inspiration. Other buildings within the castle date from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The white stones and the refined sculptures of their façades contrast with the roughness of the exterior walls built with granite blocks and separated by layers of schist.

During the eighteenth century, the slave trade and direct trade with the French colonies in the Atlantic became Nantes's main activity. In 1784, more than 140 vessels docked in the outer ports of the city, arriving from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint-Domingue, and Cayenne. The republican ideals of the French Revolution failed to put an immediate stop to the slave trade. Nantes remained France's largest slave trading port until 1831, even though the activity had been outlawed in 1816. An estimated 450,000 African captives were transported in slave ships that originated in Nantes during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Nantes history museum tells this story, illustrated by archives, drawings, paintings, fetters, and a number of other artifacts.


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