The city of Nancy, on the River Meurthe, is renowned for the magnificent place Stanislas, cited as a paragon of eighteenth-century urban planning and today the finest in France. For its spectacularly grand centre, Nancy has the last of the independent dukes of Lorraine to thank: the dethroned king of Poland and father-in-law of Louis XV, Stanislas Leszczynski. During the twenty-odd years of his office in the mid-eighteenth century, he ordered some of the most successful construction of the period in all France. The city is also home to some impressive examples of Art Nouveau furniture and glassware hailing from the days of the École de Nancy, founded at the end of the nineteenth century by glass-master and furniture-maker, Émile Gallé.
From the gare SNCF, walk through Porte Stanislas, straight down rue Stanislas to reach the rococo place Stanislas. Both this gate and Porte St-Catherine opposite are meticulously aligned with place Stanislas’s solitary statue – that of the portly Stanislas Leszczynski, who commissioned architect Emmanuel Héré to design the square in the 1750s. On the south side of the square stands the imposing Hôtel de Ville, its roof topped by a balustrade ornamented with florid urns and winged cupids. Along its walls, lozenge-shaped lanterns dangle from the beaks of gilded cockerels; similar motifs adorn the other buildings bordering the square – look out for the fake, two-dimensional replacements. The square’s entrances are enclosed by magnificent wrought-iron gates; the particularly impressive railings on the northern corners frame fountains dominated by statues of Neptune and Amphitrite.Read More
Stanislas Leszczynski, born in the Polish–Ukrainian city of Lemberg (now Lviv) in 1677, lasted just five years as the king of Poland before being forced into exile by Tsar Peter the Great. For the next twenty-odd years he lived on a French pension in northern Alsace, but after fifteen years Stanislas’s luck changed when he managed, against all odds, to get his daughter, Marie, betrothed to the 15-year-old king of France, Louis XV. Marie was not so fortunate: married by proxy in Strasbourg Cathedral, having never set eyes on the groom, she gave birth to ten children, only to be rejected by Louis, who preferred the company of his mistresses, Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry. Bolstered by his daughter’s marriage, Stanislas had another spell on the Polish throne from 1733 to 1736, but gave it up in favour of the comfortable dukedom of Barr and Lorraine. He lived out his final years in aristocratic style in the capital, Nancy, which he transformed into one of France’s most beautiful towns.