10 largest cities in France


Le Mans


Le Mans is a town that is one of the large cities of the French West, located in the Pays de la Loire region and the Sarthe department of which it is the prefecture.

The city is located at the confluence of the Sarthe and Huisne rivers. Former provincial capital of Maine and Perche from the sixteenth century, it saw the marriage of Geoffroy V d'Anjou and Mathilde l'Emperesse, daughter of the King of England, thus laying the foundations of the Plantagenêt Empire, and the birth of Henri II. Old Mans, called Cité Plantagenêt, is the historic district of the city. Le Mans is an old "red city", because of the particular color of its Gallo-Roman wall, partly preserved, dating from the third century.

In 2017, the city had 142,946 inhabitants, making it the first city of the Sarthe, the third city of the Pays de la Loire for the number of intramural inhabitants after Nantes and Angers and the 23rd city in France. With 347,626 inhabitants, the urban area of ​​Le Mans is the 28th in France and the 3rd in the region. The city, labeled City of Art and History, has the Saint-Julien cathedral and many medieval monuments, such as the Hôtel Dieu Coëffort (12th century), the abbey of la Couture or the Palace of the Counts of Maine.

The Automobile Club de l'Ouest organizes each year, the second weekend of June, the most important automobile race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 2014 edition of which attracted more than 263,000 spectators. The 24 Heures Moto, the leading motorcycle sporting event in France in terms of attendance and the French motorcycle Grand Prix are also organized at Le Mans. The city was the birthplace of the modern automobile of the French Grand Prix in 1906 and the first flight of the Wright brothers.

Economically, the city is marked by the insurer MMA (formerly Mutuelles du Mans Assurances), the automotive industry (the Renault ACI factory in Le Mans) and its Novaxis technopoles, the Université-Ouest and the Technoparc. As for cultural life, the city of Le Mans notably hosts The Night of Chimeras highlighting the historical heritage of the city.

The city is the seat of the University of Le Mans. It has more than 11,000 students, and has a center of excellence in acoustics, notably with the Acoustics Laboratory of the University of Le Mans.



Le Mans is considered as the first city to have achieved a European alliance treaty, with the German city of Paderborn. This first alliance is sometimes called "the light of Europe". The two cities signed the first cross-border treaty of brotherhood in Europe in 836.

Its inhabitants also proclaimed it the first commune attached to the royal power of France, in 1066.

From the Neolithic to the end of Antiquity
The first human traces on the ground of Le Mans date from around 4000 BC.  They are first found on the hill of Vieux-Mans. The first inhabitants left behind cut stones as well as tools or even timber. A menhir today called Pierre au Lait remains today, exposed to the public, on the northern slope of the cathedral which took place on the very site of ancient pagan cults. These first inhabitants, little known, are invaded and assimilated by Celts: the Aulerques who settle between Loire and Seine. A tribe was then born: the Cenomanians. Among the other Aulerques are the Diablintes (in Mayenne) and the Eburovices (Normandy). The Aulerci Cenomani are important builders, farmers and traders. The Sablons treasure, found south of Le Mans in the eponymous district, proved the importance of trade in the city even before the arrival of Roman troops in Gaul, and the Cenomanian monetary productions ditto. Julius Caesar relates in his Gallic Wars that the Cenomans send 5,000 men to Vercingetorix to fight him, that is to say a quarter of all the combatants of western Gaul. The number attests to their power among the other peoples of the West.

The Gallic city of Vindunum or Vindinum (from Celtic vindo-white) is the capital of the Aulerci Cenomani. It was conquered in 56 BC by the Roman troops and therefore takes the name of Civitas Cenomanum or Civitas Cenomanensis (the city of the Cenomanians) which becomes Celmans, Cel Mans, then Le Mans. The great traces of the first Roman occupations appear on the margins of the valley of the Isaac stream, east of Vieux-Mans. From the middle of the 1st century, the city became Romanized. The peace brought by the Romans benefits the expansion of the city and already the suburbs are placed on the right bank of the Sarthe. Two aqueducts are built to provide water to the inhabitants of the city. Thereafter, thermal baths were built as well as a forum (current Place Saint-Michel) and an amphitheater (current Jacobins' quincunxes). At the end of the third century, the city was surrounded by an enclosure to be able to face the barbarian invasions. The enclosed town is limited to 9 ha, ie the limits of the town's initial hillock. During Late Antiquity, the city was both the administrative center of the Cenomani civitas and the seat of the military prefecture, controlling the roads throughout western Gaul. The city was however taken during the fifth century by the Franks.


From the High Middle Ages to the Renaissance
In 490 or 510, Clovis overthrows by force Richomer, brother of King Ragnacaire, to attach his domain to the kingdom of France. The geographical location of the city makes it a main point of convergence of two main roads in Neustria. In order to ensure total control, the Merovingians placed men of confidence in the city's bishopric, in order to better control it.

Charlemagne in turn made it a stronghold of entry into the march of Brittany. It then becomes a citadel of the new frontier of the Frankish Empire.

The times of conquest: Bretons, Vikings and Normans
In the ninth century, the city had a hard time against invaders. After the Bretons, barely pushed back, it was the Vikings who went up the Loire, Maine and Sarthe to present themselves at its doors. Twice, in 844 then in 865, they manage to loot it without destroying it. In 836, the relics of Saint Liboire were put in safety in Germany, in Paderborn, where there is a royal palace founded by Charlemagne. The two cities then conclude a "pact of eternal fraternity".

Then came the time of feudal conflicts. The enmities between the Normans and the Manceaux ("Angevin" party) are vigorous for many decades, but in a city located at the confluence of Normandy and Aquitaine, dissidences are numerous, the counts and the bishops are sold. to the highest bidder without ever really respecting their commitments. The King of France never asserts himself, sometimes supporting one side, sometimes the other.

After the conquest of the city around 1060, William the Conqueror was hardly reassured by the people of Manceau, whom he considered as revolted as possible. He decides to settle down permanently. To do this, he erected the keep and had two raised clods built: the large and the small Barbet (on the Petit Barbet, already a Gallo-Roman military training ground, today is the Montesquieu high school).

Guillaume had to face three insurrections in Le Mans: in 1063, in 1069 and in 1083. South of the old town, he changed the entrance from the Saint-Nicolas suburb, and at the same time had the Saint-Pierre collegiate church recreated. the courtyard. For the rest of his life, Guillaume only administered the city from afar. However, the city was the first to benefit from municipal institutions in France, as early as 1070, under the aegis of the bishop and in connection with the institutions inscribed in the peace of God.

The Plantagenêt dynasty
Geoffroy le Bel receives in 1129, the county of Maine as a hereditary, with the counties of Anjou and Touraine. He reigned over these territories from 1128 to 1151. The senechaussees of Maine were also administered by the seneschals of Anjou and Maine. It was in 1128 that he married, in Le Mans, Mathilde of England, granddaughter of Guillaume. She brought him by her ancestry not only Normandy, but in addition the hopes of one day reigning on the throne of England. Their son Henri II was born in Le Mans in 1130. It was he who became king of England in 1154. He administered the Plantagenêt empire from Angers and Chinon, a larger domain than that of the king of France, while he is the vassal. But the Plantagenêt empire ended with the defeat of Le Mans against the Capetian Philippe Auguste in 1189. He gave the city a dower to the widow of Richard Coeur-de-Lion, Berengaria of Navarre. Little appreciated within the city of which she is supposed to be mistress, she must be wary of everyone. For her, the 26 years spent alone at Le Mans are years of exile. She spends most of her life at the Royal Plantagenêt Palace. She was the sponsor of the Abbey of Epau from 1229, where she brought in the Cistercian monks.

The Hundred Years' War and attachment to the Crown
The ramparts, still standing, prevent the English led by the Duke of Lancaster from taking the city in 1356. Du Guesclin entered Le Mans in 1370. On August 5, 1392, Charles VI left for a visit to the city. He has the first fit of madness in a forest south of the city. He attacks his own troop and kills four people before being overpowered. His lucidity returns after two days, but this is only the beginning, and these fits of madness multiply.

After Azincourt, the Treaty of Troyes in 1420 put the entire county under English domination. The city is the place of all excess. Acts of resistance, just as numerous as against William the Conqueror nearly four centuries earlier, were severely punished. In 1428, John Talbot seized the city.


The city did not become French again until 1448. The last count of Maine, Charles V, died in 1481. His property was bequeathed to the King of France, Louis XI. Maine therefore returns to the royal domain. Its inhabitants therefore have the right to elect a mayor as well as aldermen. This is the end of the era of bi-lateral domination of the city: a religious side with the bishop, and the other feudal with the count. The bishop in turn becomes in the service of the king (who appoints him) and the city is managed by a real municipality, a large part of which is nevertheless chosen by the royal power.

From the Renaissance to the French Revolution
Today, the city retains a number of buildings built between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, such as the houses of the Red Pillar, the Two Friends, Adam and Eve and the Hôtel de Vignolles. Guillaume du Bellay's funeral, which took place on March 5, 1543, was a national event.

They notably allow the gathering in the city of Pierre de Ronsard, Jacques Peletier du Mans and Joachim du Bellay. Jacques Peletier publishes, in his Poetic Works, a poem by Joachim du Bellay entitled À la ville du Mans. The poets from Le Mans Nicolas Denisot and Jacques Tahureau in turn made their entry into the Pléiade in 1553. René du Bellay was later the protector of Pierre Belon when he was Bishop of Le Mans. But the economic and cultural development of the city was stopped in the second half of the sixteenth century because of the wars of religion. For thirty years, the city is torn: the bishop and the lieutenant general are faithful to the king while the presidial is considered as a league as a whole. The hotel du petit Louvre, refuge of Jean de Vignolles is a recognized Protestant stronghold. The Bois-Dauphin ligueur seized the castle of Le Mans by force in February 1589, but Henri IV went to Le Mans in December 1589. He led a rapid fight at the present Place de l'Éperon, before the Manceaux leaguers do not capitulate. The damage was thus limited but the suburbs of the right bank, as well as the Saint-Nicolas suburb, suffered greatly.

The 17th and 18th centuries
From the end of the sixteenth century and until the Revolution, we find an important know-how for polychromic terracotta sculptures, today visible in the museums of Le Mans or in the religious buildings of the city. Such works of art find their roots in the works of Germain Pilon. On the other hand, the 17th and 18th centuries were marked by the development of wax and textile production. The quality of the wax from the Pré district is recognized and sought after even in the major European courts. Two churches continue to impose themselves on a city which remains rather tight on itself: the Saint-Julien cathedral and the Saint-Pierre-la-Cour collegiate church. The populations hesitate to settle in the suburbs. For centuries, they were the first to be affected by incessant wars. Yet, the mark of a new expansion (and the offensive of the Tridentine Counter-Reformation), in forty years (1602-1642), no less than five new religious orders settled in the suburbs, creating five new monasteries. The weavers and workers of flax, copper or hemp, were pushed back to the edges of the left bank of the Sarthe. The new “low quarters” are emerging. Dirty and gloomy, it was not until the second half of the 19th century to see them disappear, like the districts of Gourdaine or the faubourg des Tanneries.

In the eighteenth century, the agglomeration included sixteen parishes, eleven of which were on the right bank. To the east and south of the city, the population is expanding and economic life is taking place at Place des Halles. The urban extension is limited by the cultivated lands which belong to the monasteries. The royal administration sees the evolution of the city and installs new magistrates and royal officers there. The elites become bourgeois. The wealthy merchants left the original hill to settle in the new southern and eastern suburbs: these are the future districts of République and Bollée. Rich and spacious hotels were built outside the walls, like the Desportes de Linières hotel, built in 1760.

From the French Revolution to the 21st century
During the revolutionary period, priests of the diocese as well as the bishop of Mans, Mgr Jouffroy-Gonsans, found asylum in Paderborn.


The battle of Le Mans, on December 12 and 13, 1793, was the deadliest confrontation in the Vendée war during the Virée de Galerne. The Vendée army reached Le Mans on December 10, 1793, after a short fight in Pontlieue. This success was short-lived and, soon, the Vendéens, disorganized, were forced to fall back on Laval. The bloody confrontation in the city will also see the massacre of thousands of stragglers between Le Mans and Laval. 10,000 to 15,000 Vendéens are killed, sometimes during atrocities which will be matched only by the infernal columns that will follow, and which contrast with the relative calm with which the Cenomanian city will cross the Revolution of 1789, the ephemeral reconquest of the city by the Chouans in 1799, then the Empire.

The political and economic revolutions of the nineteenth century
Very quickly, Les Manceaux understood the importance of the railroad. Le Mans station was opened to train traffic on May 28, 1854, which resulted in three days of celebrations.

In 1842, Ernest Sylvain Bollée set up his bell foundry and subsequently created several large companies. His son, Amédée Bollée father created several steam cars from 1873. In 1896, Amédée Bollée fils made his first gasoline car.

On January 11 and 12, 1871, the Battle of Le Mans took place. 3492 French soldiers and 362 German soldiers who died in this fight were gathered in an ossuary located in town, in the "great cemetery of the West".

With the growth of the automobile, Georges Durand founded the Automobile Club de la Sarthe, which later became the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO). He organized a first grand prix in 1906, ancestor of the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

It was in Le Mans, by Ariste Jacques Found-Chauvel, another automobile enthusiast, that the creation of the first decentralized banks and Mutual Insurance Company passed in 1841, inertia later giving birth to insurance groups, banks and mutualities.

At the same time, aviation is in its infancy, initiated by the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright. Wilbur was invited by the Bollée brothers, and it was at Les Hunaudières on August 8, 1908 that the first public flight of the Flyer III took place.

At Les Jacobins, is the largest market in the West region. Before the war, it absorbed most of the local markets in the department. The traded materials are barley, wheat, oats, hemp, potatoes. The fodder and grain trade is even practiced. Many freight forwarders buy Manceau and Breton products there to distribute them throughout the Paris basin and more widely, throughout France. The onion fair which took place every last Friday in August remained as a symbolic date because even today the 4-day fair takes place at this time of the year, one of the largest in France by its reception capacity and its success.


Twentieth century
First World War
The Sarthe and Le Mans are, through the organization of the transport network, a transit zone for American soldiers (2nd Depot Division), where more than 195,000 soldiers will be trained in modern warfare.

Seven hundred and seven children of the municipality fell to Champs-d'Honneurs during this conflict.

Second World War
On June 19, 1940, during the Battle of France, the Germans of the 38th Army Corps (XXXVIII.Armee-Korps), commanded by General Erich von Manstein, seized the city. The latter reports in his memoirs: “I crossed Le Mans where my grandfather had entered victorious seventy years before and visited the magical cathedral. "

Le Mans was liberated from the Germans88 on August 8, 1944 by General George Patton's Third Army (General Haislip's XVth Army Corps), during the Battle of Normandy, despite the actual blasting of almost all the Le Mans bridges by the Germans on the run during the night of August 7-8. Almost all the bridges, because the Gambetta bridge was saved in extremis from destruction by local resistance fighters after the placement of German dynamite (a commemorative plaque and tribute in particular to the resistance fighters who prevented the blasting was installed on the parapet near 'one end of the bridge), and again preserved on August 8, again thanks to locals, from a scheduled American airstrike that was to hit it.

A bunker used by the staff (ArmeeOberKommando, AOK) of the 7th Wehrmacht Army (rue Chanzy, college Berthelot) has since been preserved in almost identical condition to its state in mid-1944. Its rehabilitation took place in 2014, before the festivities of the seventieth anniversary of the Normandy Landings and the Liberation.

21st century
By the decree of February 19, 2019, part of the territory of the municipality of Le Mans is attached to the municipality of Allonnes.