Le Mans looks back on a very rich history. As Vindunum, it prospered under the rule of the Roman Empire and was protected by a defensive city wall still visible today. The medieval city towered by the cathedral Saint Julien developed within the walls and went on playing an important role in French-Anglo history as the cradle of the royal house of Plantagenet: it started when Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and Maine married the Empress Matilda in Le Mans in 1128. Grand-daughter of William the Conqueror, she was the heiress of the kingdom of England and of the dukedom of Normandy. Their son Henry, future King of England Henry II, was baptised in the cathedral in 1133 and married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, who brought the entire south-west of France in her dowry. The county of Maine and its capital Le Mans became thus involved in the many conflicts between the kingdoms of England and France, eventually passing under French rule in the 13th century.
- The cathedral's most striking feature is its architecture mixing Romanesque and Gothic styles. The nave and the western front, built in the 11th and 12th centuries are in pure Romanesque style whereas the transept, the choir and its radiating chapels built in the 13th and 14th centuries are best examples of Gothic. Walking through the edifice felt a bit like reading a treatise on Christian architecture.
- The medieval city or Cité Plantagenêt is a real gem: it has retained many still inhabited timber framed houses and Renaissance hotels set along picturesque cobbled streets and stairways, a feast for the eyes.
Today, apart from the 24 hours car race, the cathedral and the medieval city are the main draw for visitors to Le Mans. The “modern” city outside the walls is pleasant with a few churches and some grand administrative buildings typical of the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately all museums were closed when we visited, Monday being the weekly closing day for most museums in France.
$updated from: Cathedral Cities.htxt Sun 13 Dec 2020 16:00:13 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$