Set in the historic heart of Nantes, the Château des ducs de Bretagne is the city’s most important historic building, along with the Cathedral St. Pierre.
It was built in the late 15th century by François II – the last Duke of Brittany – and later by his daughter, Anne of Brittany, who was twice Queen of France. This castle is filled with six centuries of history, and a palatial residence with sophisticated façades and Renaissance-era loggias. Recent archaeological, historical, and architectural discoveries allow for the history of this monument to be approached differently. In the heart of Nantes’ medieval district, the courtyard, ramparts, and moat are accessible. You’re invited to come and enjoy a moment of relaxation and one of the many great cultural events that take place here.
The first ducal castle was built in the 13th century on top of the (still visible) Gallo-Roman wall of the town, where the Namnetes people settled. It was demolished in the 15th century to make way for the present building. The current castle was the work of Francis II, the last Duke of an independent Brittany, who wanted to make the Château des ducs de Bretagne both a military fortress, which could act as a defence against the King, and the principal residence of the ducal court. Enhancement work was continued by Duchess Anne of Brittany, twice Queen of France through her marriages to Charles VIII and Louis XII. Her influence can be seen in the sculptural décor (dormer windows overlooking the main residence, as well as the coat of arms and loggias on the ‘Golden Crown’ tower), marked by the first signs of the Italian Renaissance. Following the integration of Brittany into France in 1532, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Château des ducs de Bretagne became the residence of the kings of France when they visited Brittany, and later a military barracks, an arsenal, and a prison. For three centuries, it endured countless transformations and considerable damage: fortifications, a fire in 1670, construction of the Military Saddlery (Bâtiment du Harnachement) for storing artillery equipment, an explosion in 1800, and so on. Listed as a historical monument in 1862, it was sold by the government to the City of Nantes in 1915 before becoming a municipal museum in 1924. During World War II, the occupying German forces built a bunker in the courtyard.
The 1990s focused on restoring the Jacobins’ Tower (Tour des Jacobins), the façades of the Principal Governor’s Palace (Grand Gouvernement – 15c/17c) and the 15th-century Golden Crown Tower (Tour de la Couronne d’Or). The Military Saddlery (Harnachement – 18c) refurbished in 1997, was used for temporary exhibitions. In 2000, work began on restoring the white tufa façades of the main ducal residence (Grand Logis – 15c) to their full glory. These are the oldest and most impressive sections of the building, providing a visual link between the Château des ducs de Bretagne and the Loire Châteaux. The bell tower was rebuilt and the spires replaced on the Golden Crown Tower (Tour de la Couronne d’Or). The interior of the ducal residence was also completely restored and redeveloped to house the museum. Following 15 years of works, during nearly three of which the Château was fully closed to the public, the site reopened in 2007 and has since housed the Musée d’histoire de Nantes. This was the first time a full restoration had been completed.