Thursday, 22 August 2013


The Protestant cathedral on an island between two arms of the river Moselle

Today we broke off from our exploration of Nancy to take a day trip by train to Metz. It is a very old (pre-Roman) city, but perhaps the key fact about modern Metz is that it was ceded to Germany after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1 and only became French again after the end of the First World War.

The first evidence of this is in the extraordinary railway station, a 350 metre-long neo-Romanesque building constructed between 1905 and 1908. It was the cornerstone of the so-called Imperial District, deliberately untended to Germanify the city.

Off to the left as you look at the station is this incredible water tower of 1908. Its function was to supply water to the steam engines.

We followed Avenue Foch towards the Moselle, passing the Tour Camoufle. According to (French) Wikipedia it is vestige of the medieval walls and dates from 1437.

On the opposite side of the street are some houses with vestiges of the art nouveau architecture we spent yesterday exploring in Nancy.

At the end of the avenue, we were surprised to stumble on this fine gate, the Porte Serpenoise. The inscription at the top says that it was destroyed in 1531 and rebuilt in 1851.

We then passed the Governor's Palace and the Citadel to come upon the Chapel of the Templars, which dates from the beginning of the 13th century. The scaffolded roof of the cathedral can be seen in the background.

Nearby is the barn-like church of St-Pierre-aux-Nonains, said to be the oldest in France. It was built as the palestra or gymnasium of the southern Roman baths and became a chapel in the 7th century. We walked down to the early 19th century park known as the esplanade and then along the bank of the Moselle to the middle bridge to enjoy the view of the Protestant cathedral shown in the photo at the head of this post.

Behind the cathedral is the Place de la Comedie, which contains the oldest theatre in France. In the foreground some sort of performance art is taking place involving a woman with a clarinet and male juggler inside a large transparent ball. Your guess is as good as mine.

Now we crossed the river to see the magnificent cathedral of St-Etienne. This is the view from Place des Armes. There is no spire, but the nave of the cathedral is very tall.

In the west porch there is some quite superb carving. This section depicts the last judgement. On the left the virtuous are shown towards the gates of heaven, while on the right the sinners are escorted by demons into - literally - the mouth of hell.

Inside the impression is of great height, with vast glass windows extending to the very roof. There is much lovely stained glass, including several windows by Marc Chagall.

After this, we decided to walk around the remains of the town walls. The medieval walls were 7 km long and consisted of 38 towers and 18 gates. A section 1.5 km still exists beside the rivers MoselleSe and Seille. The towers here are mostly named after trades and professions.

At the confluence of the two rivers however is the Tour du Diable and in front a sort of barbican, with slots to fire through, which a date stone indicates was added in 1831.

Once round the corner the path follows the quiet River Seill and it is hard to credit that you are in a large city. We were amazed to see a pair of Kingfishers.

At the end is the Porte des Allemandes. It was, unfortunately for us, closed for restoration, but it seems that it straddles the river.

We could have probably explored the centre a bit more, but by now we were tired and decided to simple complete our circuit by heading back to the station.

Conditions: warm and sunny again.
Distance: about 5 miles.
Source:  a creative reading of the Michelin Green Guide - Alsace Lorraine Champagne.
Rating: five stars.

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