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Metz Travel Guide

Germans Gate, Metz
Germans Gate, Metz.


Metz (Divodurum in Latin ; pop. 125,000) is the capital of the Lorraine region and of the Moselle department. It was founded at the confluence of the Moselle and the Seille. The city is one of the highlights of north-eastern France, along with nearby Nancy, and Strasbourg.

Metz was the birthplace of Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), widely regarded as one of the greatest French poets.



Temple Neuf & Ile du Petit Saulcy, Metz

The region of Metz has a rich archeological past. There is evidence of Neanderthal occupation dating from 200,000 years ago. It seems to have been the Ligurians from northern Italy who set up the first agricultural society in the region, approximately 5,000 years ago, before being overrun by the Hallstatt Celts 3,000 years ago.

Around 1,200 BCE, Divodurum (the Celtic and Roman name of Metz, meaning "holy mount") became the capital of a Celtic tribe known as the Mediomatrici, who controlled the region between the Meuse, Moselle and Saar Rivers. The name of this tribe, abbreviated to Mettis, formed the origin of the present name.

Divodurum became a major city in Roman Gaul, more populous even than Lutetia (Paris). It was already famous for its Moselle wine, and had one of the largest amphitheatres in Gaul. One of the last Roman strongholds to surrender to the Germanic tribes, Divodurum was captured by Attila in 451, and finally passed into the hands of the Franks through peaceful negotiations toward the end of the fifth century. The oldest Christian church within the city walls was the oratory of St. Stephen, which was founded in the 5th century.

During the Merovingian period (511-751), Metz was the capital of the north-eastern half of the Frankish Kingdom, known as Austrasia. Charlemagne thought of making it its imperial capital, but opted for Aachen instead.

Following the split of the Carolingian Empire in 843, Metz was made capital of the Kingdom of Lotharingia (Lotharii Regnum in Latin), inherited by the eldest of Charlemagne's three grandchildren, Lothair I. Lotharingia, which originally spread from Rome to the Netherlands, was split in three parts upon Lothair I's death. It was the northern part, expanding from eastern France to the Netherlands, that kept the name 'Lotharingia'.

Cathedral of Metz

This new, smaller Lotharingia was ruled by Lothair I's eldest son, Lothair II. When he died heirless in 869, his uncles Charles the Bald and Louis the German agreed to divide his realm between themselves. This division would create the borders between France and Germany until the 17th century

The Duchy of Lotharingia was granted semi-independent status within the Holy Roman Empire from 910. The brother of Emperor Otto I, Bruno the Great, Archbishop of Cologne, decided to split the duchy into a Lower Lorraine and Upper Lotharingia in 959. Metz remained the capital of Upper Lotharingia, gradually known as Lorraine, until the 11th century, when it was transferred to Nancy.

Metz then became a Free Imperial City within the Holy Roman Empire, as well as the seat of the Bishopric of Metz, founded in the 3rd century. The Bishopric of Metz, along with those of Toul and Verdun, was de facto annexed to France by Henry II in 1552, and officially so by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

Metz is besieged during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and ceded to the German Empire by the Treaty of Frankfurt the next year. It would act as the capital of Reichsland of Alsace-Lorraine from 1871 until 1919, when Metz was returned to France.


Metz Cathedral

Metz Cathedral (photo by Romanodi - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

The main attraction of this old bishopric is naturally the St. Stephen's Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint Etienne). It was created by joining two perpendicular churches around 1220. The nave of St. Stephen, built in the 13th century, was attached to the north side of an older Roman church. The construction of the rest of the edifice lasted until 1520.

One particularity is that the clock towers are not located on the façade, as is usual in Gothic structures, but on the sides. The vaulting of the nave (41m high) is the third highest in France.

The cathedral is renowned for its stained glass windows, which cover the largest area in France (6,500 m2). It has the largest Gothic windows in Europe. The stained glass windows were created by Hermann of Munster, Theobald of Lixheim (both in the 14th century), Valentin Bousch (16th century), and by the painters Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Jacques Villon (1875-1963) and Roger Bissière (1888-1965) in the 1950's.

Centre Pompidou-Metz

Centre Pompidou-Metz (photo by Guido Radig - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Opened in May 2010 as a museum of modern and contemporary arts, this much acclaimed branch of the Centre Pompidou in Paris has immediately become one of the highlights of the Lorraine region.

This spectacular piece of architecture was designed by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines at the cost of 69 million euro. Its remarkable for its roof structure, one of the largest and most complex built to date, which was inspired by a Chinese hat.

The museum itself boasts one of the largest collection of modern art in Europe, and features temporary exhibitions from the French National Museum of Modern Art, the largest European collection of 20th and 21st century arts.

The Centre Pompidou-Metz is located in the Roman Amphitheatre district, near the railway station. It is open every day (except Tuesdays) from 11:00 am (10:00 on weekends) until 6:00 pm (till 8:00 pm on Saturdays). Admission is 7 €, but is free for anyone under 26 years old.

Others sights in the city centre

Opera-Theatre of Metz

Central Metz is crisscrossed by pretty historical streets and numerous hôtels particuliers (bourgeois town houses) dating from the 12th to the 16th centuries, and grand classical edifices from the 18th century. The eastern facade of the cathedral faces the majestic Place d'Armes with its imposing Hôtel de Ville (city hall) and the old Guard House (now the Tourist Information Centre).

100 metres north-west of the cathedral is the picturesque Ile du Petit Saulcy, an isle on the Moselle cut off from the much larger Ile du Saulcy. The vast Place de la Comédie occupies most of the island, with its sumptuous Opera-Theatre of Metz (built between 1739 and 1751) as its focal point. At the western extremity of the isle is the in the Jardin d'Amour (Garden of Love), where stands the neo-Romanesque Temple Neuf (1901–1904), a Protestant church dating from German annexation.

In the south-western part of town is the wooded area of the 19th-century citadel (now a luxury hotel) and the Parc du Lac aux Cygnes (Swan Lake Park). At the southern end of the park, you will find the German Baroque-style Palais du Gouverneur (governor's palace, built between 1902 and 1905), one of the city's most attractive and suprising buildings. Its German architecture would have one think that it was mistakenly built on the wrong side of the Rhine.

Other buildings of interest include the Neo-classical Palais de Justice (court of justice, built in 1776) between the citadel and the Temple Neuf, and the German Neo-Romanesque General Post Office (built between 1907 and 1911), located in the Imperial Quarter near the train station.

The footprint of the Roman Empire is generally hard to perceive north of the Alps, contrarily to the Mediterranean region. It may therefore come as a suprise that Metz possess France's oldest church, St-Pierre-aux-Nonnains, built between 380 and 395 CE as a Roman gymnasium, and converted into a Christian church in the 7th century. Ruins of Roman thermae were discovered under what is now the Musées de Metz Métropole La Cour d'Or, the city's largest museum, dedicated mostly to ancient and medieval history an archeology.

City Walls & Fortifications

Metz has retained parts of its old city walls. There is a small Roman section dating from the second century. The medieval walls were erected between the 13th and the 15th centuries, with additions made in the 17th and 19th centuries. Among the famous city gates are the Porte des Allemands (Germans' Gate), Porte Chandellerue and Porte Serpenoise.

After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Metz was re-annexed to Germany and extensive fortifications were constructed to protect the Reich. The fortifications around Metz are one of the strong points of the defense line running from Mulhouse to Luxembourg. It consists of casemates, concrete barracks, and concrete batteries equipped with rotating steel turrets.

How to get there

Metz is the main traffic hub at the crossroads of Germany, Luxembourg and North-Eastern France. To the north, the E25 motorway connects it to Luxembourg (65km). To the south, the E21-23 leads to Nancy (55km), then forks off to Dijon (E21) and Besançon (E23). Eastwards, the E50 passes through Verdun (65km), Reims (180km), and ultimately Paris (310km). The E50 and E25 merge west of Metz, then split again into the E50 toward Saarbrücken (70km) and Mannheim (200km), and the E25 toward Strasbourg (150km) and Colmar (200 km).

Since June 2007, the new TGV-Est line operates between Paris and Metz in only 1h25min, instead of 3h30min for regular trains. There are regular trains from/to Nancy (40min), Luxembourg (45min), Saarbrücken (about 1h), Verdun (1h30min), Strasbourg (1h45min). and Brussels (3h30min).

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