Le Château des Ducs de Bretagne, or Nantes Castle for short, is not just the midevil home of the famous Anne de Bretagne (yes, the one from the Musketeer novels), but also a veritable source of history.
The castle has not only been completely renovated, it has been turned into a museum depicting the history of Nantes. Namely the Musée d’histoire de Nantes.
Why this is interesting for The Gatehouse you ask?
Well, because they start at the very beginning of the city, displaying several beautiful maps and pieces that would make a clockpunk’s affectionado’s heart beat faster.
Victorian era artifacts are there to please the steampunk and the more recent history, covering World War II is definitely something that will interest the dieselpunks amongst us.
Nantes is, as many well know, the European steampunk Mecca, home to both La Machine, Royal Deluxe and Les Machines de L’île. And birthplace of Jules Verne, the grandfather of steampunk and science fiction. So it comes to no surprise that even Nantes castle, meant as a more “mainstream” museum, picks up on that, becoming a sort of “mainsteam” one instead.
The museum is actually very well set up. The outer walls and court yards, worth the visit in itself, are accessible for free. As are of course the facilities, restaurant (which was closed for renovation during our visit) and gift shop (where they sell a surprising amount of vintage themed postcards and Jules Verne books).
So you can get a really nice view of Nantes from the castle walls, or have a picnic in a castle (there are several picnic tables set up on the walls), free of charge. Just as a side-note, but Nantes must have the most well behaved pigeons on the planet. Rather than point blank harassing anyone with food, they’ll just sit a few meters away from you and patiently wait ’till they are thrown some scraps. So you don’t have to worry about them whilst having a castle picnic either.
Nantes, being a city near the water, of course has a rich maritime history, which is focussed upon heavily in the museum.
Aside from that, however, they focus also on the rest of Nantes’ history, from the battles of Brittany with France, the marriage of Anne, her life, and so forth. They even have her heart as a reliquary, which is probably one of the more creepy things on display.
There are several video presentations throughout the museum, in several languages. All tags at displays are also in several languages, so as long as you understand either French or English, your visit won’t be hindered by any language barrier. Which is ace, as most musea in France are French and French only.
What truly sets this museum apart from any other I’ve visited so far, is the way they don’t leave out anything. They will display Nantes history, but not just with it’s victories and famous people. No, they will quite happily go as much in depth in the city’s sorded past, including the horrors of slavery and nazi torture practices. Of course, nothing is explicitly graphic, and the exhibit areas are set up with utmost respect, but they aren’t shunning away from it. They merely point out that Nantes has some very dark and very regrettable spots in it’s past, and recognise this. There’s nothing sensationalist about it, it’s just there because in the past, it happened.
You may think that a museum of this magnitute, containing so many different parts of history, is a chaotic shambles, but less is true. It has been very cleverly divided into rooms that present everything step by step. And that give people the opportunity to “opt out” of certain parts for whatever reason they choose.
Of course, having a collection that big, does mean that the museum is also much bigger than you might expect. Don’t think this is one of these museums you will be through in an hour. No, it takes you better part of an hour to do the outside areas alone (if you take your time). Be prepared to spend close to half a day in there (if you take your time).
But let’s be realistic, there could be much worse ways to spend your time. If you are interested in history, maritime history, clockpunk, steampunk or dieselpunk (or a combo thereoff) and find yourself in Nantes, I would very much recommend a visit to the Castle.
More photos can be found here.