Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Nancy: the historic centre

Place Stanislas

Here we are in Nancy for a four-day break with our friends Merv and Pud. Our first walk is a tour of the historic centre - later we will explore the art nouveau heritage of this lovely city. We start in the wonderful Place Stanislas, a UNESCO world heritage site. Stanislas Leszczyński was the deposed king of Poland and father-in-law of Louis XV who became Duke of Lorraine in 1736 at the age of 60 and devoted the remaining 30 odd years of his life to good works and to building a new city beside the existing medieval one. This extraordinary space was designed by the architect Emmanuel Héré and is in fact rectangular, with two high pavilions at each end and two lower ones on the north side  The corners have beautiful gilded wrought iron gates.

There is an arc de triomphe (1754-6 - built in honour of Louis XV) in between the two pavilions on the north side.

On the south side, is the town hall (1752-55). It was always in the sun during the day time, so here is a night-time picture, lit up after the nightly son-et-lumiere.

From the place we head south and then east to find the baroque Church of St Sébastien. It dates from 1732 and has an unusual concave facade with four delicately carved panels. It took some effort to compose the picture to exclude the modern buildings that lie behind it.

Then we looped around to pass the uninspiring 18th century cathedral - it looks better from a distance, or when lit up at night - to reach the calm Place d'Alliance. Here we admired the pleached lime trees, which create a wide shady canopy around the edge of the square.

Still heading east, we walked through the Godron Garden, where a great variety of plants were arranged in box-edged beds for the benefit of horticultural students. It dates from 1753.

We came next to the Porte Ste-Catherine, which dates from 1753 and marks the eastern extremity of Stanislas's city. There is a similar Porte Stanislas at the western extremity. This is the view looking out: looking in, it can be seen that the centre of the arch aligns with the statue of Stanislas in the main place.

We went a little further, to where the road crosses the Marne-Rhine canal. (Later we had a soporific boat cruise on the canal, which was unfortunately largely lacking in interest.)

 We now headed west and passed through the large and pleasant Jardin de la Pepiniere, admiring the central fountain and being delighted by the gilded bandstand near the exit. There is also a statue of the artist Claude by Rodin.

 We passed insight of the back of the arc de triomphe and in front of the vast and oddly named church of St-Eprve.It dates from the 19th century. The roof was blown off during a severe storm in 1999.

 Nearby is the Ducal Palace with its extraordinary gateway. It was rebuilt by Duke Rene II after his victory over Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in 1477.

Further along the Grand Rue you come to the fantastic medieval Porte de la Craffe which formed part of the 14th century fortifications. It was later used as a prison.

Beyond it lies a second gate: the Renaissance Porte de la Citadelle.

Conditions: hot and sunny.

Distance: about 4 miles.

Source: Michelin Green Guide - Alsace Lorraine Champagne.

Rating: five stars for Place Stanislas alone.

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