The town of Angers

Published on 13 April 2017 - Updated 16 November 2018

A town of the Loire basin on the banks of the River Maine

Let’s discover Angers, with Nadine Bulourde, a Guide-lecturer for the Ville d'Art et d'Histoire department in Angers.
The town of Angers spreads from north to south along the River Maine. It’s a town built along a river which gives access to the River Loire, and because of this, a gateway town to the Loire. Considered to be a town of the Loire (a ville ligérienne) even if it doesn’t lie directly on the River Loire, but then not all of the large towns which have played a part in the Loire landscape and Loire trade are to be found on the River Loire. Think of Châtellerault and Chinon on the River Vienne or even Vierzon on the River Cher, none of these towns are directly on the River Loire but we can only talk about the River Loire if we also talk about its tributaries.
All the same, in the area of Angers, the Loire is a very unstable, changeable river. That’s why the town is where it is today, with the château overlooking the River Maine, in order to control a river isthmus made up of the Rivers Mayenne, Sarthe and Loir - it’s slightly higher even than the River Oudon which crosses Angers under another name, the River Maine, which rejoins the River Loire at Bouchemaine, at the mouth of the River Maine. This isthmus has always been a very important river route. This site has been occupied since around 100/120 BC, so it’s a certified Gallic site.
The château was built at a later date, during the period when the Anjou region was returned to royal ownership once and for all. This was after the Plantagenet episode when the counts of Anjou were also Kings of England and Dukes of Normandy and very powerful. Angers was on the border of this territory with Brittany which explains the construction of the current fortress, a sort of barrier to the Loire Valley which was, for a long time, the centre of the Kingdom of France.
The river narrows making it controllable; later, mainly during the time of the salt tax, tolls could be put along it. It seems that Angers was one of the towns which paid the Grande Gabelle (Salt Tax) in the late Middle Ages whilst the neighbouring regions of Brittany and Poitou were pays rédimés and so exempt from tithe and the tax. It’s therefore quite obvious that we are in a frontier zone, for a long time in terms of tax, but also a physical border as the Maine-et-Loire area is also a geological convergence between two regions: the Paris Basin and the Armorican Massif. The Paris Basin finishes at Angers while the Armorican Massif begins here.