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Place Stanislas, the palais ducal, the eglise des Cordeliers, Gallé, Daum, Majorelle...
Many different names and places which together make up the history of one town: NANCY…

european institute of cultural routes
Caroline Hamajda
02 January 2009

Lorraine’s historic capital has not yet been established for ten centuries. However, this town of art and history is rich in events and architecture.

Nancy’s history can be seen in the façades of its hotels and the architectural styles. Four towns are joined to make up Nancy as it is today.

The city with the golden gates

An example of the Ecole de Nancy architectural style

Take a wander through the streets and the history of Nancy…
The old Town

1073: The Name of Nancy appeared for the first time in texts

Although Nancy was the capital of Lorraine, its fort was fairly small. The fort was later developed by René 1st, duke of Bar who then became the duke of Lorraine in 1430.

Nancy’s old town is almost square and holds a condensed history of Lorraine.

The Craffe Gate

The Duke's palace

The Old Town, an enclosed region of Nancy

After the destruction of the town by Emperor Frédéric II in 1218, new walls were constructed which are no longer in existence.

The ducal Palace was built in 1298 along with new ramparts around Nancy.

During the second half of the 15th century, the area underwent major changes with the strengthening of the walls, particularly Porte de la Craffe.

In the 16th century Charles III improved the defenses of Craffe by erecting Porte de la Citadelle.

In the heart of the old town, the Palais ducal and the eglise des Cordeliers

The Palais des Ducs de Lorraine, built in the 15th century, was originally the residence for the Duke of Lorraine. Abandoned in the 18th century by Duke Leopold who preferred the château de Lunéville, it experienced some problems and in 1848 became the Musée Lorrain.

When leaving the palace, the visitor continues into the Chapelle des Cordeliers which is an important part of the museum.

Saint-Epvre, neo-gothic jewel of the old town

The first parish of the old town is dedicated to Saint Epvre, the bishop of Toul, a zealous evangelist.

The gothic basilica, built between 1436 and 1451, was knocked down in 1863 in order for Prosper Morey to build the current Basilique Saint-Epvre.

The New Town, a reborn capital

At the end of the 15th century, the dukes imposed their authority on the duchies of Lorraine and Bar thus making Nancy a true capital.

The 16th century was a vital period in the history of Nancy regarding the urbanization of the city: the defenses were modernized, the urban area grew and improved and activities diversified.

The city changed physiognomy thanks to Dukes Antoine 1st (1508-1544) and Charles III (1545-1608).

The Ferraris Mansion

Saint-Sebastian's Church

Initiatives of the dukes were joined by those of the bourgeois and nobles living in Nancy. The Old Town was adorned with beautiful distinctive hotels such as Hôtel d'Haussonville, Hôtel Ferraris and Hôtel des Loups which still exist today.

Around 1580, inhabitants of Nancy grew tired of the town. For practical needs as well as military and political requirements, duke Charles III decided to have a new town constructed.

Nancy, between war and peace

The Italian engineer Jeronimo Citoni designed the plan of this new town from 1588. The creation of new fortifications was entrusted to Italian architect Jean-Baptiste Stabili. Only Porte Saint-Nicolas and Porte Saint-Georges are still visible in Nancy; the fortifications did not withstand the siege of Kings of France Louis XIII and Louis XIV, evacuating Lorraine in 1661 and causing the people of Lorraine to demolish the fortifications themselves. On the advice of Vauban, the fortifications were rectified between 1670 and 1698 then once more demolished at the return of Duke Leopold in 1698.

The dukes of Lorraine, champions of catholic reform

Capital of the Counter-Reformation, the New Town of Nancy is distinguished by the abundance of religious buildings.

When Charles III created the new town, Nancy only had a couple of convents. It is said that "The duke of Tuscany built a town for tradesmen, the duke of Mantoue for fraudulent people and the duke of Lorraine for monks".

At the end of the 18th century, every abbey possible could be seen: Benedictine, canon, Augustinian, Dominican, Carmelites, and Franciscan. The Jesuits, before their expulsion in 1768, managed the town college, a novitiate and the royal Missions founded by Stanislas. A multitude of new orders created during the modern period came to Nancy: the Visitation, brothers of Christian schools…

Many religious buildings did not survive the damage caused by the French Revolution or the ravages of time but we can still see the Chapelle de la Visitation, the Primatiale Notre-Dame de l’Annonciation (today Nancy’s Cathedral) and Eglise Saint- Sébastien.

Between the Old Town and New Town, the work of Stanislas

Before his death in 1729, Duke Léopold assured the destiny of his lineage and prepared for the marriage of his son Duke François III with Marie-Thérèse of Austria, eldest daughter of emperor Charles VI, thus creating access to imperial dignity.

But France did not want Lorraine to fail the Empire and Russia and the Empire could not admit Stanislas Leszczynski, father-in-law of King Louis XV, onto the throne in Poland.

A “swapping policy? was put in place: the duke of Lorraine, François III agreed to leave his state and to go reign over Toscane under the name François II; in 1745 he became emperor under the name François Ist and founded the dynasty Habsbourg-Lorraine.

Stanislas, while keeping the name King of Pologne, abandoned his claim to the throne and received, for the duration of his life, the duchies of Lorraine and Bar which, on his death, returned to France.

Already in his sixties, Stanislas only appeared to have power: France, whose Troops once again occupied Lorraine, governed by the intermediary of its intendant, Chaumont de la Galaizière.

A statue of Stanislas in the square

One of the fountains in the square

Stanislas established a link between the Old Town and the New Town with an esplanade inserted into the ramparts separating the two parts of town.

His three squares link the north and south, reuniting the historic towns of Nancy: Place de la Carrière, Place Royale (now called Place Stanislas) linked by the Arc de Triomphe (or Arc Héré) and Place d’Alliance.

Since he did not descend from the Lorraine dynasty, it was inconceivable for Stanislas to be buried alongside the dukes of Lorraine in the Chapelle des Cordeliers. The last duke of Lorraine decided to have his tomb and those of his family erected in the church Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours. A building full of history, the church became both a national sanctuary of Lorraine and a polish enclave of Stanislas.

The town in the 19th and 20th centuries

During the second half of the 19th century, the town was transformed with the construction of the canal from the Marne to the Rhin and the building of a railroad from Paris to Strasbourg.

A number of community facilities were built during this period. In 1882, Victor Poirel left Nancy his collection of paintings and a sum of money intended for the construction of a lecture hall; the town decided to build this along with a concert hall, an exhibition gallery and a conservatory of music: thus Salle Poirel was born.

During the last decades of the 19th century, Nancy underwent massive growth including the development of an emblematic movement known as Art Nouveau which took the name Ecole de Nancy. This architectural movement can be seen not only in characteristic buildings but also in collective buildings such as shops, bars and the Chamber of commerce and industry. It was an art which heavily marked the town over just a few decades. Many architectural works were destroyed as Art Nouveau was disliked for a long time but the Ecole de Nancy has now regained public interest as well as its letters patent of nobility.

Poirel Hall

The old Chamber of Commerce

In 1925 the international exhibition of decorative arts took place in Paris, focusing on a new geometrical and colorful style, known as Art deco. This new style spread to Nancy due to the decline of the Ecole de Nancy, caused by the First World War and urban expansion.

Far from the exuberance of Art Nouveau, Art deco is uncluttered, with geometric forms, slight sculptured contours and a sobriety obtained by the limited décor.

Nancy, towards the 21st century

The urban transformations of the 20th century could only be carried out after the destruction of existing buildings due to the city’s limited surface area.

The town bought back the estates of a religious house, installing the "Faculté des Lettres" and the Treasury of the French language on boulevard Albert 1st. The buildings of former industrial businesses near the canal or on avenue Foch were also recovered.

In the 1970s, architects dreamt of building tall tower blocks to create more space, such as the tower Thiers, 91 metres high. Other projects were thought up but Stanislas tower, 120 metres high, was never built due to the worry that the architectural heritage of previous centuries would be destroyed.

The political wish to conserve the town’s history is shown by the adaptation of older buildings to modern life; a cultural complex is located in the former tobacco factories and the local council of Meurthe-et-Moselle is located in the former military hospital Sédillot.

The constructions spread further out of the town, becoming the Urban Community of Greater Nancy.

The Thiers tower and the railway station district

The I.N.I.S.T. building

Since the 1950s, new areas have been built on the outskirts of the town.

The most imposing grouping was built between 1957 and 1970, situated in Haut-du-Lièvre.

On the plateau de Brabois, not far from the University Hospitals, a science and technology park was built with a mixture of schools, faculties, businesses and research centres.

The architecture of this area, built since 1977, is very varied and is situated in the heart of woodland of 500 hectares.

To know more ...

To find out more ...

Our architectural discovery is drawing to an end…

Don’t leave Nancy if you haven’t yet stopped to taste the treats in Excelsior, the Art Nouveau brasserie…

The Excelsior brasserie


To read about the heritage of Nancy: (All books in French)

- Martin, Philippe, Pupil, François (dir.), Nancy, du Moyen-Age au XXIe siècle, Editions Serpenoise, Metz, 2005

- Picard, Claudie, Nancy baroque: l'ornemantation des trois places, G. Klopp, Thionville, 2005

- Cuny, Jean-Marie, Nancy, capitale aux portes d'or, les Editions du Sapin d'or, Epinal, 2005

- Inventaire général des monuments et des richesses artistiques de la France, Nancy: la ville de Stanislas, Serpenoise, Metz, 2002

- Inventaire général des monuments et des richesses artistiques de la France, Nancy, architecture 1900, Serpenoise, Metz, 2002

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