Set in the historic heart of Nantes, the Château des ducs de Bretagne is the city’s most important historic building, along with the Cathedral St. Pierre.
When looking at it from the city, it is a fortress with 500 metres of curtain walls punctuated by seven towers, all linked by a sentry walkway.
The inner courtyard reveals an elegant 15th century ducal residence made of tufa stone, in flamboyant gothic style and bearing the first traces of Renaissance inspiration, as well as other buildings dating back from the 16th and the 18th centuries.
Way Back When…
The first ducal castle was built in the 13th century on top of the (still visible) Gallo-Roman wall of the town, where the Namnetes settled. It was demolished in the 15th century to make way for the present building.
The current castle was the work of Francis II, the last Duke of an independent Brittany, who wanted to make the Château des ducs de Bretagne both a military fortress, which could act as a defence against the King, and the principal residence of the ducal court.
Work was continued by Duchess Anne of Brittany (more to come about her soon), twice Queen of France through her marriages to Charles VIII and Louis XII. Her influence can be seen in the sculptural décor (dormer windows overlooking the main residence, as well as the coat of arms and loggias on the “Golden Crown” tower), marked by the first signs of the Italian Renaissance.
Following the integration of Brittany into France in 1532, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Château des ducs de Bretagne became the residence of the kings of France when they visited Brittany, and later a military barracks, an arsenal, and a prison.
For three centuries, it endured countless transformations and considerable damage: fortifications, a fire in 1670, construction of the Military Saddlery (Bâtiment du Harnachement) for storing artillery equipment, an explosion in 1800, and so on.
Listed as a historical monument in 1862, it was sold by the government to the City of Nantes in 1915 before also becoming, in 1924, a municipal museum (more on that soon). During World War II, the occupying German forces built a bunker there.
A large program of renovation from the 1990s allowed the Castle to reopen to its full power in 2007.
Discover the interior of Anne de Bretagne’s castle by following signs that points out architectural details, and consulting the leaflets at your disposal (length 1 hour 15 min).
You can complete your tour in the courtyard, on the ramparts and in the moat, where informative plaques help visitors better understand the cityscape. These vistas (with information in six languages) show the architectural evolution of certain buildings, and how the city was built, transformed and metamorphosed.