views updated May 21 2018


One of the two main Atlantic harbors of France, Nantes is situated on the River Loire about 60 kilometers from the sea. Nantes came into existence around 1000 B.C. because of the iron and pewter trade. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the city's bourgeoisie became more powerful in the shadow of the Duchy of Brittany. Via the River Loire, the merchants brought wine, salt, grain, and textiles to the city, where they sold them to foreign merchants who had settled there. Thus, only really in contact with England and Spain (after 1385), the merchants in Nantes served as intermediaries in international trade. In spite of the passivity of that trade, the city's commerce slowly stimulated economic growth, thanks to the cod fisheries (at Newfoundland after 1560), to municipal privileges, and to certain niche markets (Nantes was the only port authorized to import salt into the Kingdom of France). After 1640 the traditional trades declined, and Nantes became a center for commerce with the colonies due to the old established contacts with the Iberian Peninsula, the arrival of new French entrepreneurs, the establishment of the headquarters of the Compagnie des Indes (until 1733), and the emigration from Nantes of indentured laborers destined for the Antilles. After 1688 Nantes entered the slave trade and became the most important slave-trading port in France, with 42 percent of the total French slave trade during the eighteenth century. The slave trade and some other activities produced several business fortunes, but development was limited (mainly to the production of so-called Indian textiles) because merchants invested mainly in trade, in land, in buildings, and in conspicuous consumption. The insurrection of the slaves of Saint-Domingue (1791) and the later wars with England caused economic decline that made clear that commercial activities had been too specialized. Some merchants survived these difficult years (1791–1815), and Nantes again became the foremost slaving port of France during the period between 1814 and 1831. In the following years there was a second wave of industrialization, based on the refining of sugar from the island of La Réunion. After 1863 the refining industry declined again because investments had been too speculative, and the business came into the hands of investors from Paris. The development of industries such as shipbuilding and metallurgy appeared with the laws of 1881 and 1893 aimed at helping the French merchant marine. The arrival of new entrepreneurs, often from the east of France, helped Nantes become France's capital of the food industry (biscuits, tinned foods) at the end of the nineteenth century. The city's investments remained commercial, in spite of some industry, and were hardly linked to the banking world at large. The recessions of 1930 and 1970 affected the economy of Nantes severely, as did the two world wars, which resulted in the closure of shipyards to the benefit of Saint-Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire estuary and in the restructuring of the food industry. The present economy of Nantes owes much to the policies of decentralization, to the city's efficient transport infrastructure, and to the dynamism of its middle, large and small businesses. The food industry, the tertiary sector, and the high-tech industry (aircraft, telecommunications) support the city's economy. Since the end of the 1980s the city government has presented a revamped image of the town as dynamic, open, and cosmopolitan. Thus, the commercial past of Nantes has become a new instrument for future development.

SEE ALSO Agriculture; Bordeaux; Cargoes, Freight; Cargoes, Passenger; Chambers of Commerce; Containerization; Empire, French; France; Free Ports; Harbors;La Rochelle;Marseilles;Mediterranean;Paris;Port Cities.


Bonin, Hubert, and Pétré-Grenouilleau, Olivier. "Deindustrialisation and Reindustrialisation: The Case of Bordeaux and Nantes. In Deindustrialisation and Reindustrialisation in Twentieth-Century Europe, edited by F. Amatori, A. Colli, N. Crepas. Milan: Franco Angeli, 1999.

Pétré-Grenouilleau, Olivier. L'argent de la traite. Milieu négrier, capitalisme et développement: un modèle (Slave Trade's Money. Slave Trade Circles, Capitalism and Development: A Model). Paris: Aubier, 1997.

Pétré-Grenouilleau, Olivier. Les négoces maritimes français, XVIIe–XXe siècle (French Maritime Trades, Seventeenth-Nineteenth Centuries). Paris: Belin, 1997.

Pétré-Grenouilleau, Olivier. Nantes au temps de la traite des Noirs (Nantes During the Slave Trade Era). Paris: Hachette, 1998.

Pétré-Grenouilleau, Olivier. Nantes. Plomelin: Palantines, 2003.

Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau


views updated May 11 2018


NANTES , city in Brittany, capital of the department of Loire-Atlantique, western France. The first mention of Jews there dates from 1234. In 1236 the Jews of Nantes, as well as those in the rest of *Brittany and other provinces of western France, were victims of a riot that broke out during the Sixth Crusade. The attack was followed by their expulsion in 1240. The importance of the community is shown by the cemetery for which evidence exists from 1231. The Rue des Juifs which the community occupied still retains its name.

From the second half of the 16th century many Portuguese of *Marrano origin settled in Nantes. The Vaz, Mendez, Rodriguez, and other families found here generally became loyal Christians, whose members frequently chose an ecclesiastical career. Some Marranos whose sympathies remained with Judaism occasionally passed through Nantes but did not settle there. Thus, toward the end of the 16th century, Abraham d'Espinoza, the grandfather of Baruch *Spinoza, stayed in Nantes with a few members of his family before establishing himself in Holland. In 1636, however, several Portuguese Jews of *Bayonne, expelled from this frontier town at the time of the Franco-Spanish War, settled in Nantes. At the end of the 18th century local merchants, led largely by the old clothes dealers, leveled legal charges against several Jewish merchants who were newly established in the town. Public opinion sympathized with the Jews, however, as evidenced in articles in the Journal de la Correspondence de Nantes of 1789 to 1791, and in the Feuille Nantaise of 1795. There were 25 Jewish families in Nantes in 1808–09. In 1834 they established an organized community with a membership of 18 families. A synagogue was built in 1870, and by 1898 there were about 50 families.

According to the census of 1942 carried out by the Vichy government, there were 531 Jews in Nantes. By the beginning of September 1943, the number had been reduced to 53 as a result of arrests and deportations. At first, some Jews were arrested and imprisoned in the Caserne Richemont of Nantes, but in January 1944 they were deported. After World War ii, few Jewish families settled in Nantes and in 1960 there were said to be only about 25. The growth of the city, and especially the arrival of Jews from North Africa, led to an increase in the Jewish population. By 1969 Nantes had over 500 Jewish inhabitants. There was a combined synagogue and community center, religious instruction classes, and youth activities.


H. de Berranger, Evocation du vieux Nantes (1966), 15, 25; Brunschvicg, in: rej, 14 (1887), 80ff.; 17 (1888), 123ff.; 19 (1889), 294ff.; 49 (1904), 110, 112: Z. Szajkowski, Analytical Franco-Jewish Gazetteer 1939–1945 (1966), 213.

[Bernhard Blumenkranz /

David Weinberg (2nd ed.)]


views updated Jun 11 2018

Nantes City in w France, at the mouth of the River Loire; capital of Loire-Atlantique department. France's sixth-largest city, it has been a trading centre since Roman times. In the 10th century, it was captured from Norse invaders by the Duke of Brittany. Nantes remained a residence of the Dukes until 1524. The city developed around its port and the trade in sugar and ebony. By the 18th century, it was France's largest port. During World War II, it was a centre of the resistance movement. Industries: shipbuilding, sugar refining. Pop. (1999) 277,728.