The Story of the French City Nancy, a Versailles for the People

Town hall of Stanislas Square in Nancy, France
Town hall of Stanislas Square in Nancy, France | © Pecold / Shutterstock
Photo of Alex Ledsom
5 April 2019

Nancy is France’s 20th largest city and owes a lot of its beauty to one man, King Stanislas, a huge architectural buff exiled from Poland. He remodelled Nancy into a veritable architectural wonder and many of the buildings are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Here’s the story of Nancy, which truly was built as a Versailles for the people.

King Stanislas had a foot in both France and Poland

Stanislas became King of Poland in 1705 amid huge civil unrest. After an invasion by Sweden, the Swedish King selected Stanislas to take over the rule of Poland. However, many Polish people wanted the old ruler back and when this happened, Stanislas headed to France to live between 1725 and 1733 in the rather grand Château de Chambord. His daughter became Queen of France as wife to King Louis XV and it was with his son-in-law’s help that he returned to Poland to become King again – only to once again have to abdicate three years later. It was then, in 1736, that he settled in Lunéville, and made the city of Nancy his own. Stanislas was responsible for much of its remodelling.

Ancient fountains and gate in Stanislas Square, Nancy, France | © Claudio Giovanni Colombo / Shutterstock

King Stanislas set about remodelling Nancy as a Versailles for the people

When he arrived in the area, he found that Nancy was divided into two clear sections separated by ramparts; a medieval Old Town with the Ducal Palace and a newer Renaissance town with straight, parallel roads. He decided to build a huge square in the centre, where the two different parts met. His architect, Emmanuel Héré, had a challenging task to bring together two architecturally different places in the same city and make them feel like one. He also had to ensure that the square could act sufficiently well as the backdrop to the large statue Stanislas wanted to erect of Louis XV.

Place de la Carriere, UNESCO heritage site in Nancy, France | © Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock

The centre of Nancy is a World Heritage Site

Work began in 1752 to build the large area in the centre of Nancy that we still see today. It is actually made up of three squares. The first, Place Stanislas, is where you find the Town Hall, which faces lower buildings that could accommodate the cannons on the old ramparts. A paved avenue leads to an Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Carrière, which was the old Renaissance Square where people used to have jousts. Architect Héré had to completely remodel it so that the entire area looked as if it belonged together. At the end sits the Government Palace and Gardens, which are symmetrical to the Town Hall. Finally, the third square, Place d’Alliance celebrates the friendship between France and Austria, and is a more homely area with rings of trees. All three squares have been UNESCO-listed since 1983.

Place d'Alliance, Lorraine, France | © Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

Nancy is a place where everyday people could enjoy the splendours of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles is one of the most recognisable castles in the world, expanded by King Louis XIV and home to the French royal family until the French Revolution. Stanislas wanted to emulate the grandeur of the architecture but for the man on the street. In Nancy, he established a learned society, the Academie of Stanislas as well as a huge library. Nancy today is one of the key places to study architecture thanks to his influence. Incidentally, Stanislas was the Polish King who lived the longest and he died of serious burns in 1766 after sitting too close to the fire. Stanislas, the Duke of Lorraine, was 88 years old.

Stanislas Square in Nancy, France | © Pecold / Shutterstock

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