Monday 22nd May 2017, Nantes, Loire Atlantique
Nantes has often been considered as the capital of Brittany though administratively is actually in the region of Loire Atlantique. It is here that the Loire finally reaches the sea. It is possible though that it may now be back in Brittany as a result of the recent revision of the administrative districts of France. Either way, la Duchesse Anne de Bretagne would claim Nantes as her capital and it is from here that she managed her kingdom and had her palace.

We decided to spend a couple of days here now it wasn't raining as it had been during our last visit. Discovering the existence of an excellent campsite with easy access from the motorway, we made our way here on Sunday morning when the roads were very quiet. The site is near the University of Brittany's Nantes campus, and there are regular trams into the city centre every few minutes. As with Bordeaux there is a cheap flat price ticket regardless of distance and the trams are clean and smart.

So we have spent the last two days exploring this very clean and lively city. For us though, the weather has been too hot. We never seem satisfied but walking around a large city (7th largest in France) in 30 degrees of heat and little shade is draining. Fortunately it is pleasant until around 11.30am, after which we need to take shelter until around 4pm at least.

Reading back to our earlier account of Nantes we seem to have seen and noted so much. There is little point in posting similar pictures again and our previous account reads pretty well for today.

There were a few additional things we have discovered. Today for example we visited an excellent museum of printing and also visited the tranquil Jardin des Plantes. This proved to be a cool and pretty place to pass the heat of the day and to enjoy a picnic lunch beneath the trees. There are several lakes with colourful ducks, herons, terrapins and huge fish. There are lovely glasshouses with rare and exotic plants - which we did NOT visit in this heat! There is also a pleasant restaurant and coffee terrace with shady umbrellas. Students were sheltering under the shade of the trees with their phones and tablets while mothers entertained tiny children beside the lake. There were also botanical specimens of a huge range of plants gathered from around the world in the 19th century.

Alice in Wonderland experience as Jill tries to sit down in the Jardins des Plantes, Nantes

Ian has dreams of a similar lawn back home! Jardin des Plantes, Nantes

Last time we were in Nantes we missed the Musée d'Imprimerie, the printing museum attached to the large modern complex of the Médiathèque, which was closed at the time. Today it was open and, once inside, we found a bustle of activity. It was set up as a municipal museum in 1986 with a private organisation, Pro Arte Graphica as the moving force, more recently supported by a Friends' organisation.

The four or so rooms were packed with printing equipment, type fonts, binding and papermaking materials, lithographic stones, books and examples of printing, including unusual moulds used to "print" the biscuits produced by Lu, including the famous Petit Écolier chocolate biscuits which are manufactured in Nantes. Much of the printing materials seems to have come from Nantes workshops. There was a group producing delicately detailed illuminated miniatures, a gaggle of schoolchildren being initiated into the art of copperplate printing, and various tourists, including several from Middlesbrough who were intrigued to discover that both places had an elevator bridge, the one in Nantes being featured on one of the lithographic stones.

There were craftsmen working some of the equipment, and we had a long conversation with a printer operating a traditional lithographic press. The limestone block was inked, the dampened stone repelling the ink from areas that were not to be printed and a piece of handmade paper laid on it. The paper was backed by a plastic sheet covered with grease to smooth the path of the blade which applied the pressure to transfer the ink to the paper when he turned the capstan. We learned that pig's fat was used, so vegans should be wary when purchasing lithographs – as indeed should Islamic and Jewish bibliophiles. Strange that it was lithography that finally broke down Islamic resistance to printing in the 19th century – Jews had adopted moveable types for printing their scriptures from as early as the 15th century. The Museum produces a range of publications including posters for the library and the city of Nantes, prints featuring large format wooden types, lithographic blocks from their extensive collections, limited edition booklets of verses and snippets of printing history etc. A fascinating visit, and the museum was in no hurry to usher visitors out for the obligatory lunchtime closing – and, unlike so many museums in France, it was actually open on a Monday.

Lithographic press, Museum of Printing, Nantes

We had not realised quite how involved the city of Nantes had been in the slave trade. Today we discovered the city's harrowing monument to the injustice and lack of humanity shown by European countries in selling on captured peoples from Africa into slavery. In the interests of commerce and profit African people were treated as any other commodity and sold to work on sugar plantations, in mines and wherever required for menial work and forced labour across the Atlantic.

Throughout Europe between the 15th and the 19th centuries over 27,233 slave trading expeditions were recorded leaving European ports. In total, more than 12,500,000 men women and children were torn from their African homeland and transported to America and the Caribbean.

Over 1,800 slave trading expeditions left from Nantes alone, to transport 550,000 slaves to America. Nantes ships left France laden with trinkets and baubles which were exchanged in Africa for a human cargo that was then sold on in North and South America to finance a return cargo of spices. It should be pointed out that these figures are put in the shade by the numbers traded from voyages from the British ports of Liverpool, Bristol and London.

Over 4,200 French trading voyages, with their human cargoes left African shores carrying 1,380,000 captured slaves and splitting families without conscience. Many died along the way and others were subject to disease, malnourishment and appalling standards of hygiene during the voyages.

Plaque showing slave routes between Africa and America between the 15th and 19th centuries, Nantes

We left the monument feeling suitably subdued but with the niggling sensation that whilst Europe today is trying to atone for such a barbaric trade by recognising publicly how wrong its actions had been, there is a resounding silence from Africa, and certainly no acknowledgement that the African people sold as slaves were actually captured and traded by African profiteers, greedy to make personal profit from their own people. They too should stand up and be counted! There were even some raids by African slave traders in our own direction where white Europeans were captured and sold into slavery by North African slave traders! Why are we not asking these traders to atone for their crimes against their fellow humans?

The tramway through the city centre divides Nantes into two halves by a wide boulevard, the old town of narrow streets with the Cathedral and the Église Sainte Croix to one side and the homes of the wealthy 18th and 19th century ship owners to the other.

This later is now the main commercial centre of the city. Here we rediscovered the beautiful glass and iron arcade known as the Passage Pommeraye opened in 1843, on three levels and housing sixty-six shops. It is as impressive and beautiful today as it must have appeared back then. It was the dream of Louis Ange Hyacinthe Pommeraye (1806-1850) who longed to transform a decrepit area of the city into something uniquely impressive.

Passage Pommeraye, Nantes

Passage Pommeraye, Nantes

Passage Pommeraye, Nantes

Passage Pommeraye, Nantes

Passage Pommeraye, Nantes

Passage Pommeraye, Nantes

On the other side of the boulevard can be found the old streets of Nantes, the Ducal Palace and the Cathedral as well as the Église Sainte Croix.

Cathedral, Nantes, badly damaged by fire in 1972

Interior of the Cathedral, Nantes

Tomb of parents of Anne de Bretagne,Francois II and Margaret de Foix, Cathedral, Nantes

Stone carving in the Cathedral depicting The Last Supper, Nantes

Detail from the tomb of Francois II and Margaret de Foix, Cathedral, Nantes

Ducal palace of Anne de Bretagne, Nantes

Palace of Anne de Bretagne, Nantes

Bronze statue of Anne de Bretagne, Nantes

Église Sainte-Croix, Nantes

Tower of Église Sainte-Croix, Nantes

Along the Boulevard we found a monument to the Cinquante Otages. These were fifty members of the Resistence shot on 22nd October 1941 on the order of Hitler in retaliation for the death of the Nazi Feld Kommandant of Nantes, killed by young resistance fighters two days previously.

Monument to the Cinquante Otages, Nantes

Related Links
Our previous visit to Nantes, 2007