Thursday, March 4, 2010


Our friend John Campbell, who works in Amsterdam, visited last weekend, and we took the opportunity to see the nearby city of Nancy, Metz's great rival. The two cities, about 35 miles apart, are connected by rivers: the Meurthe, which flows through Nancy, joins the Moselle, which flows through Metz on its way to the Rhine. The train from Metz to Nancy follows the river, and so you see villages and industries along the banks and barges on the water.

As a city, Nancy is probably a thousand years younger than Metz. Its first castle was built in 1061. By the late 15th Century it was the prosperous capital of the Duchy of Lorraine. Under Louis XIV, France conquered the city and installed Stanislas, the deposed king of Poland, as ruler. At Stanislas's death 30 years later, Lorraine became officially part of France. Under the dukes and then, especially, Stanislas, Nancy took on the grand trappings of nobility and royalty, even if it had a small population. With the annexation of Metz and the Mosellan region by Germany in 1870, though, the city grew rapidly with an influx of refugees, more than doubling in population to 130,000 by 1914. The center of Nancy still retains the grand large set-pieces of Stanislas's era, including the Place Stanislas itself, with facades and gilded ironwork inspired by Versailles.

As a result, Nancy has sort of imperial cast. There's a triumphal arch connecting the Place Stanislas and the Place de la Carriere. And squares like the Place de la Carriere, the Place Carnot, and the Cours Leopold serve as vast esplanades that, I imagine, once saw parades of troops. The streets of the city center run in a grid, unlike the medieval meanderings of Metz.

Perhaps in reaction to the formality of these spaces, at the turn of the 20th Century Nancy developed a thriving community of art-nouveau architects, sculptors, makers of furniture, makers of stained glass, and painters. Known collectively as the Nancy School, these designers and artisans created works that dot the city. You can walk by, and sometimes visit, some of the houses, and there's a museum that displays many pieces of furniture, windows, and objets d'art from the era.

Susie, John and I tramped through much of the west side of Nancy tracking down art-nouveau houses. The house below, as nice as it is, faces the railroad tracks.

The doors and windows of the art-nouveau houses held my interest the most. Here are two of these details.

Having walked a couple of miles by the time we got to the museum, we took a city bus back to the train station. The station itself is not particularly interesting, especially as compared to the Metz's Rhenish-Romanesque fantasy. Before the train left, we took a few minutes to have drinks at a sidewalk table of bar across the street. Here's a picture of Susie, even if bundled up, enjoying the sunshine.

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