The Renaissance in Lorraine began in 1477.
Duke René II, as the victor at the Battle of Nancy, wanted to remove any traces left by the war and offer his town new perspectives of development and expansion.
René II’s development project met the challenge, renovating the town first by modernising its fortifications but also by constructing the Château of the Dukes of Lorraine – which in 1502 became the Ducal Palace – and the creation of tax regimes favouring the implementation of business. As a result, Nancy’s population increased hugely between 1477 and 1550. Soon the capacity of the medieval town (now the Old Town) had reached saturation point. People began to set up home outside the town, mainly to the south, in the Saint-Nicolas suburbs and to the north, in a village called Saint-Dizier (now the 3 Maisons district).
In 1552, Christina of Denmark, the regent and mother of Charles III, was instrumental in the development of the new urban space which would become Place de la Carrière. To allow room for the lively parades and tattoos, the square was originally planned to be outside the medieval town to the east. However, the problem quickly arose of how it was to be fortified. The regent brought in Italian engineers who advocated a new type of military protection: the fortified façade. The advice they gave was simple. It was necessary for all Nancy’s fortifications, including the new square, to be completely rebuilt. Endorsed by the powers that be, this recommendation marked the start of the works that were to radically change the face of Nancy.
The works began with the construction of three bastions (pentagonal fortification towers): the bastions of Vaudémont (now the Stanislas car park), Haussonville (now the Fine Arts Museum) and Danemark (to the north-west of the town under what is now Cours Léopold).
However, in 1559, when Charles III took over the duchy, there were as many inhabitants living outside the medieval town walls as within. This situation led to serious hygiene and security problems. In addition, major progress in the era’s artillery had rendered the town’s defences obsolete.
The military question lay at the core of Charles III’s concerns and he decided to completely rethink the town’s defences. He believed that religious wars threatened the independence of the town of Nancy, the meeting place of the Catholic League. Charles III therefore decided to design a new town to the south of the medieval town which would be protected by new fortifications also encompassing the Old Town.
Works on the New Town: a Dantesque project
The design of the New Town developed little by little, adapting as it went to various imperatives. A land inventory was drawn up, projecting the footfall of future urban sprawl, compulsory purchase orders were issued for the land, and the inhabitants were allocated new plots. However, it took more than 30 years for the idea to finally make the leap from the drawing board and the New Town did not become reality until around 1590.
Once the project was under way, eight additional bastions were built to protect the town, linked by curtain walls. The roads were planned according to the orthogonal pattern so typical of the Renaissance and leading out to the gates: gate Saint-Jean to the west, gate Saint-Nicolas to the south and gate Saint-Georges to the east. The New Town also contained a canonical quarter to the east (where the present-day cathedral is located), intended to welcome the highest of ecclesiastical dignitaries: the Primate.
To the north of Nancy, the fortifications were also modernised with the installation of a defence system consisting of the Notre-Dame gate and two bastions doubling the Craffe gate. These works required the razing of the village of Saint-Dizier – part of its population was moved to the new quarters and a street of the same name. This street, along with Rue des Moulins (now Rue Saint-Georges and Rue Saint-Jean) and the Faubourg Saint-Nicolas – which historically linked Metz to Saint-Nicolas de Port – formed the backbone of the New Town. Craftsmen set up residence, shoulder to shoulder with institutional and religious buildings, the market place and the hospital. An active, modern town was beginning to emerge, with the Old Town remaining the place where Ducal business was carried out.
While at the start of the 16th century Nancy would have covered a modest area of around 15 hectares, contemporaries of Henri II – Duke of Lorraine from 1608 onwards – would have known it as a fortified city extending over 70 hectares, with a dynamic New Town built by Charles III on the “fertile” foundations put into place by René II and Christina of Denmark. It is astonishing to imagine today what a challenge a project of this scope represented – a quadrupling in Nancy’s size.
In the time of Charles III, Nancy’s urban development and design was admired by the whole of Europe.
Some remarkable Renaissance sites in Nancy
The Porte Saint Nicolas: built during the Renaissance (from 1603 to 1608), as part of the New Town development, the Saint-Nicolas gate is set on the road leading to Saint-Nicolas-de-Port (from where it takes its name). A veritable symbol of ducal power, it was through this gate that the Dukes always made their entrance to the capital.
- Porte Saint Georges: Built between 1606 and 1619, the Saint-Georges Gate forms part of one of the city’s most attractive Renaissance monuments. In fact, it only narrowly escaped destruction when in 1878, the local council decided to demolish the gate to facilitate the laying of the tramway. There were violent demonstrations against the plan and finally, in 1879, the Lorraine archaeological society, supported by Victor Hugo and Emile Gallé, succeeded in saving the gate by having it classified as a Historic Monument.
- The remains of late 15th century/early 16th century fortifications, including a barbican, are visible in the auditorium of the Nancy Fine Arts Museum.
- The Vaudémont bastion is one of the last remaining sections still visible today of the fortifications designed during the Lorraine Renaissance that once stretched more than 5km around the town. Part of the Haussonville bastion is also visible in the basement of the Nancy Fine Arts Museum.