Le Château des Ducs de Bretagne, or Nantes Castle for short, is not just the medieval home of the famous Anne de Bretagne (yes, the one from the Musketeer novels), but also a veritable source of history.
The castle has has been completely renovated and turned into a museum depicting the history of Nantes: 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 aficionado’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 among us.
Nantes is, as many 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 as 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 courtyards, worth the visit in themselves, 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).
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.
A side-note, 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 while having a castle picnic either.
Nantes, being a city near the water, has a rich maritime history, which is focused on 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 museums in France are French and French only.
What sets this museum apart is that they haven’t left anything out. They display Nantes history, but not just its victories and famous people. No, they delve in the city’s sordid past, including the horrors of slavery and Nazi torture practices. Of course, nothing is explicitly graphic, and the exhibits are set up with utmost respect, but they aren’t shunning away from it.
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 peoples 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. It will take you better the part of an hour to see the outside areas alone. Be prepared to spend close to half a day here altogether.
More photos here.