©SNAT 2019|Alexandre Lamoureux

Monuments and Heritage sites to explore in Saint-Nazaire

The town of Saint-Nazaire was awarded the prestigious title ‘Town of Art and History’, a title highlighting the unique history and heritage of the city. In Saint-Nazaire, heritage comes in many layers: urban and maritime, industrial and military, spectacular or personal. Observing, listening to and experiencing these places allows you to encounter the history of those who shaped the landscape. This is a place where you really can step back in time, whether it’s to the Neolithic era or the 1900s. Follow the guide: we’re off!

A long, long time ago... in Saint-Nazaire

Countless megaliths and archaeological remains prove that there have been settlements around Saint-Nazaire for many centuries. Around 6,000 years ago, early man settled here and erected stone buildings. The vast burial site of Dissignac Tumulus and the Trois Pierres standing stones in the town centre demonstrate a certain social organisation and spirituality in these early inhabitants of the Guérande Peninsula.

Click here to discover the Dissignac Tumulus.

In the 1800s, Saint-Nazaire spreads its wings

A town focused on the sea

In the mid-1800s, Saint-Nazaire’s fate changed dramatically. The decision to use Saint-Nazaire as Nantes’ outer harbour would change the face of the town and, indeed, its destiny: the town flourished and started to spread its wings. Shipbuilding yards soon followed and the town was chosen as the transatlantic port for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. This ‘Little Breton California’ started to come to life. The development of the town, intrinsically linked to maritime trade and shipbuilding, brought with it a population explosion: a new town was emerging. Despite the widespread destruction wrought by the Second World War, you can still see traces of the heritage from the 1800s as you walk around. These are the remaining gems from the town’s golden age.

To find traces of this era, start near the harbour basin of Saint-Nazaire, where several elements date back to this period, including the old jetty, completed in 1835, the 2 jetties with their lighthouse that form the crab-claw shape, and the lock just to the west of the harbour basin. A little later but still quite extraordinary is the raising plant, recognisable thanks to its big chimney; this building once had a vital role, maintaining the water level in all the harbour basins. Staying on the maritime theme, you can also see several lighthouses from this period, particularly the Villès-Martin lighthouse, which began its work in 1865, or Kerlédé lighthouse, which dates from 1897.

A few gems…

Your walk may well take you as far as the old railway station, which opened in 1867, located just a stone’s throw from the former transatlantic port; this old station has since been transformed into the Théâtre Simone Veil. The Galerie des Franciscains is an old chapel dating from 1875, and has since become an exhibition space. A little further along the seafront, you’ll come to Villès-Martin Fort, which dates from 1861 and overlooks the entrance to the Loire Estuary. Over in the neighbourhood of Penhoët, the market halls are from 1877 and are an example of Baltard style: this is the oldest public building in Saint-Nazaire still used today.

And don’t miss the district of La Havane, where the town as it was in the 1900s can be glimpsed in the beautiful bourgeois properties on the seafront, and the botanic garden. This ‘Jardin des plantes’, dating from 1887, is a peaceful haven in the heart of the town as well as enjoying a seafront location, making it an ideal place to explore in any season.

The Reconstruction of Saint-Nazaire

After World War Two, more than 85% of Saint-Nazaire was destroyed… Since then, the city has been a big construction site. In one 14-year period, 12,000 houses and apartments, a hundred public buildings and 120 kilometres of new or reworked roads appeared. Saint-Nazaire made its own comeback.

As of 1948, the city undertook the construction of small buildings imbued with regional, traditional or modernist features. The facades were clad in limestone, brick, pink or pale-yellow sandstone and adorned with clear glass blocks. The inhabitants of Saint-Nazaire discovered the comfort of bright and functional housing.

In 1999, the French ministry of Culture created the label ’20th Century Heritage’ in order to identify that century’s most remarkable examples of architecture and town-planning. Several buildings in Saint-Nazaire received this label, among them the town hall, the sports hall nicknamed the ‘Flying Saucer’ but also the submarine pens and the huge Normandie dock in the harbour. They were singled out because of their value as witnesses to economical, technical, social and cultural change in our society.

Explore all the historic sites and monuments  of Saint-Nazaire and its surrounding area

This map will enable you to find all the monuments of Saint-Nazaire and its surrounding area.

The Saint-Nazaire Bridge

The Saint-Nazaire Bridge

Elegantly curved, its towers painted red and white, the Saint-Nazaire Bridge, which was opened in 1975, spans the two banks of the Loire Estuary over a distance of 3.3 kilometres, between Saint-Nazaire and Saint-Brévin. It is one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in Europe, rising 61 metres above the Loire River.

Word to the wise: do not cross the bridge on foot or by bike as it’s very dangerous. Shuttle buses are available throughout the summer.