Saturday, July 7, 2012

Stage 6 of the Tour de France - En Passant par la Lorraine

Metz was honored of the arrival of the 6th stage of the Tour de France. The capital of the Lorraine region, Metz, located at the confluence of the Moselle and Seille rivers has over 3000 year history.   It was an important Gallo-Roman settlement, then in the Middle Ages an independent republic that ruled till the 15th century.   It came peacefully into the Kingdom of France in 1552 under the treaty of Chambord.  After the Franco-Prussian  war of 1870, Metz was annexed to the newly created German Empire.   Returned to France following the armistice that ended WWI,  Germans occupied the city again in 1940.  In 1944, General George S. Patton of the US Third Army commanded an attack to retake the city from the German army.  After a fierce battle that lasted several weeks, Metz was finally captured by the American forces in November 1944 and the city returned to France after the war.

The old town of Metz is compact and centered on the Place d'Armes, an 18th century square flanked by the Hotel de Ville and the Gothic Cathedral Saint Etienne,  France's tallest and with the largest expanses of stained glass windows designed by master craftsmen in the 14th, 16th and in recent times by Marc Chagall.  The rue Serpenoise, the main Roman north-south road is a bustling pedestrian shopping street leading to the Place Saint Jacques, a lively square filled with cafes and restaurants.  The old historic town features  ancient cobblestone streets with names evoking the trades plied by former residents -- Chapelerue was for the hatters or Forges for the blacksmiths.

The town is considered one of the greenest cities in France with many parks and flower gardens; its river banks lined with weeping willow trees are inviting for strolls. The Moyen Pont, down on the Moselle, offers the best views onto the river banks and its monuments.  Up on the Esplanade above the River Moselle sits Saint Pierre des Nonnains, considered to be one of the oldest surviving churches in France dating back to the 4th century.

Just opened in 2010 is the Centre Pompidou-Metz, a branch of the Paris museum for Modern and Contemporary art. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban,  it features temporary exhibitions and live performances.  At present, the exhibit "Year 1917"  is underway which addresses the theme of artistic creation in wartime (till September 24).

Metz is an important university and cultural city which holds many festivals during the year.  In the summer the Mirabelle, the local golden plum is feted; Les Montgolfieres de Metz one of the largest hot air balloons fair is held at the beginning of September; and in november /december the festive Christmas markets of Metz attract large crowds.

 To get to Metz is fast and convenient thanks to the TGV train (about 1h30 minutes from Paris).  Note   though the TGV station is 30 km from the center of town.  A shuttle bus service links the TGV station to Metz.

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