In old Lorraine, at the junction of the Moselle and Seille rivers, Metz greets visitors amid history, art and nature. An excellent city for a midway stop, a coffee or a stroll by the river, Metz stands at a strategic point between France, Germany and Luxembourg, and it is perhaps because of this geographical location that the city has been at the mercy of various conquerors, swinging from one side to the other
Metz: from its origins to today in a few lines
The Romans took it from the Gallic population and, during the Middle Ages, Metz was capital of the kingdom of Austrasia and later capital of the Duchy of Lorraine. It was annexed to France in the 1500s and, between the 1800s and 1900s, the city bounced between France and Germany until, at the end of World War II, the city was finally annexed to France. Auf wiedersehen crauti e wurstel! Bon jour baguette e croissant!
Why visit Metz
If the historical plot did not convince you, the buildings, alternately Roman, Gothic, German, Baroque, lush with spires and tinsel or extremely simplistic, certainly will. Metz is an excellent intermediate stop for those passing through it along the way: small, cozy, calm, full of stories just waiting to be told. Personally, I found myself in Metz to attend a friend’s wedding. So while I was waiting for the Blablacar to take me back to Strasbourg, where I currently live and work, I took the opportunity for a quick touch down of the city.
Unfortunately, having very little time, I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked… but no matter: I will thus have an excuse to return to Metz!
I begin to discover the city by starting at the Railway Station, which is an enigmatic monument in itself: the tower looks like a bell tower and the central body looks like a church, with glass four-light windows lined up on the facade. Opened in 1908, this structure replaced the old station that was entirely made of wood.
While, not far from the station it is possible to see the water tank, the château d’eau, which supplied the steam locomotives. A decidedly peculiar structure!
I continued on and taking advantage of the station’s wi-fi I searched Google Map for the city center. I did not want the exact itinerary, I just wanted to know in which direction to walk and then choose on the spot which streets to walk. So, gecko-like I walk following the shadows of the tall buildings, at each traffic light a building to admire, now an ornate window, now an unexpected fountain. The biggest surprise was when, just as the curtains of the curtain open on the scene, the concrete and buildings give way to greenery: these are the gardens of the Esplanade.
The gardens cover an area of 9,200 square meters: immense. Yet, the size does not deter the diligent French, who with impeccable grace and care keep the park elegant and clean: as if it were a huge aristocratic drawing room of flowers, splashes of water, where a large square hosts the city’s main events: the Été du Livre in June, the Mirabelle festival between August and September, the carnival and Christmas markets. Today, far from impending festivities, the square rests lazily in the sunshine.
Europe’s largest Gothic glassworks
A constant landmark, the cathedral looms on the horizon and the Gothic spires, from their 88-meter height, soar from the roofs of the buildings. By nose, I walk through the streets in the direction of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne), inside which is a work by Chagalle. Height is not the only primacy acknowledged to the cathedral; the stained glass windows cover an impressive area: 6,500 square meters – making it the largest Gothic glassworks in Europe. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
The sun comes through the stained glass windows and makes the interior atmosphere of the place magical and unique. So much so that it earned the cathedral the nickname Lanterne du Bon Dieu. Chagall, certainly among my favorite artists, participated in the remaking of some of the stained glass windows that were destroyed during World War II.
Begun in 1220, the cathedral visible today is the result of a series of renovations and refurbishments, to name a few: the central door was destroyed during the Prussian reign, and was later replaced by today’s neo-Gothic gable. In May 1877, fireworks in honor of German Emperor William II set fire to the roof and completely destroyed it (when they say “no half measures”) it was then decided to raise the roof level by 4.5 meters.
Next to the cathedral is the Covered Market, which unfortunately was closed. In France, in fact, most stores close on Sundays. Nevertheless, before overlooking the river, I wandered downtown for a bit of healthy “window shopping “as the British call it: when not being able to go inside, you shop window shopping. Cheap, if nothing else.
I cross the river on Pont des Roches and go to the Petit-Saulcy Island and get a pang in my heart at the memory of l’Île de la Cité in Paris. Here, instead of Notre Dame, I find Temple Neuf, the Protestant church where I attended a wedding celebration the previous day. Stylistically and artistically completely different from the cathedral, Temple Neuf is in the Neo-Romanesque style: the same style as the train station. This Protestant temple testifies to the political “Germanization” through architecture, carried out at the hands William II (the same as the fireworks).
It is a little more than an hour to the Blablacar meeting, so I decide to abandon the churches and take an en plein air stroll along the riverbank in the direction of the train station. Very peculiar are some little boats that swing slowly and idly along the first stretch of the river.
Little boats give way to small waterfalls, urban buildings are replaced by tall trees and green lawns. I walk alongside cyclists, fishermen, and groups of young people picnicking while water reflects off the belly of the bridge, creating strange shadow plays:
The medieval walls form a popular circuit for locals on Sundays; they were one of the first fortifications to succeed the Roman walls. Built in the 13th century, the walls stretch for 7 km jagged with 38 towers and 18 gates. I arrive at the Tour au Diable, where the Seille River flows into the Moselle, and take a selfie leaning against the rampart: click!
I continue on and cross the Allée des Sarcophages, which, as the name suggests, houses sarcophagi (some on display at the Musée de la Cour d’Or), and arrive at Tour des Esprits, a watchtower that, unfortunately due to a collapse, gives a glimpse of the inner vault.
Porte des Allemands concludes my itinerary along the Seille, I am fascinated by the pride with which the fort, almost intact, stands defending the town. With dual functions, as gate and bridge, the castle owes its name to the order of the Teutonic Knights (a monastic-military order) who founded a hospital in the adjacent street, which was destroyed in 1552 at the hands of Charles V of Habsburg.
Despite my curiosity to continue discovering this beautiful city and region, I must leave Lorraine and return to Alsace. I have jotted down some things to see on my next visit, which I hope will not be too late to come:
1- Église Saint-Livier, which looks very much like the abbey of San Galgano in Tuscany from the photos.
3- Centre Pompidou
I leave you with a linguistic joke, what will this “zon” be?