Metz (pronounced “Mess”), the capital of Lorraine, lies on the east bank of the River Moselle, close to the Autoroute de l’Est linking Paris and Strasbourg, and the main Strasbourg–Brussels train line. Today the city has another connection to the capital in the much-awaited and much-lauded satellite branch of the Centre Pompidou. Along with its rather splendid cathedral, a strong dining scene (inspired by the Renaissance writer and famous gourmand, Rabelais, who lived here for two years), large and beautiful flower-lined public spaces and riverside setting, the honey-coloured city of Metz is something of an undiscovered gem.
The city’s origins go back at least to Roman times, when, as now, it stood astride major trade routes. On the death of Charlemagne it became the capital of Lothar’s portion of his empire. By the Middle Ages it had sufficient wealth and strength to proclaim itself an independent republic, which it remained until its absorption into France in 1552. Caught between warring influences, Metz has endured more than its share of historical hand-changing; reluctantly ceded to Germany in 1870, it recovered its liberty at the end of World War I, only to be re-annexed by Hitler until the Liberation.
Metz is, in effect, two towns: the original French quarters of the Vieille Ville, gathered round the cathedral and encompassing the Île de la Comédie, and the Quartier Impérial, undertaken as part of a once-and-for-all process of Germanification after the Prussian occupation in 1870. Developing with speed and panache is a third section: the Quartier de l’Amphithéâtre, south of the train station, heralded by the Centre Pompidou and the adjacent sports stadium – shops and offices are slowly following.