Angers (French: [ɑ̃ʒe] (About this sound listen)) is a city in western France, about 300 km (190 mi) southwest of Paris. It is chef-lieu of the Maine-et-Loire department and was the capital of the province of Anjou until the French Revolution. The inhabitants of both the city and the province are called Angevins. Not including the metropolitan area, Angers is the third most populous commune in northwestern France after Nantes and Rennes and the 17th in France.
For centuries, Angers was an important stronghold in northwestern France. It was the cradle of the Plantagenet dynasty and became one of the intellectual centers of Europe during the reign of René of Anjou. Angers developed at the confluence of three rivers, the Mayenne, the Sarthe, and the Loir, all coming from the north and flowing south to the Loire. Their confluence, just north of Angers, creates the Maine, a short but wide river that flows into the Loire several kilometres south. The Angers metropolitan area is a major economic centre in western France, particularly active in industry, horticulture, and tourism.
Angers proper covers 42.70 square kilometers (16.5 sq mi) and has a population of 147,305 inhabitants, while around 394,700 live in its metropolitan area. The Angers Loire Métropole is made up of 30 communes covering 540 square kilometers (208 square miles) with 287,000 inhabitants.
Angers in located at the geographical center of the Maine-et-Loire department, on the road which connects Paris to the Atlantic ocean. The city is situated just south of the confluence of the Loir, Mayenne and Sarthe which form together the river Maine. The Maine crosses Angers and heads south towards the Loire. The confluence of the three rivers and the proximity of the Loire make up a natural crossroads which favoured the foundation of the antique Juliomagus.
Angers is located 91 km (57 mi) from Nantes, 124 km (77 mi) from Rennes, 132 km (82 mi) from Poitiers and 297 km (185 mi) from Paris. It is also 118 km (73 mi) far from Pornic, the closest sea resort, situated on the Atlantic ocean.
Elevation varies 12 to 64 meters (39 to 210 ft) above sea level. Angers is a hilly town, particularly marked by a rocky promontory dominating the lower valley of Anjou. This was the site of the ancient city and still houses the town's castle, cathedral, and medieval quarters.
At the north and south, where the river Maine arrives in and leaves Angers, the landscape is formed by islands, ponds and floodplains which are a haven for birds and a typical flora of the Val de Loire. The étang Saint-Nicolas and Lac de Maine, both artificial, are among the biggest green areas of the city.
Being both at the edge of the Val de Loire World Heritage site and on the largest river confluence in France, Angers has a high natural potential, notably highlighted by the Saint-Aubin island, situated north of the center and covering a tenth of the city total surface. Protected, the island is formed of swamps and natural meadows.
The oldest green areas date back from the Renaissance, when the moats of the castle were transformed into pleasure and kitchen gardens. Similar gardens were built by the aristocracy around their hôtels particuliers and medicinal gardens were planted in hospices cloisters. The Jardin des plantes, the first botanical garden, dates back from the beginning of the 18th century. During the 19th century, others were built, for example the Faculty of Pharmacy garden and the Roseraie. The first recreational parks, for their part, were built during the Second French Empire. The étang Saint-Nicolas, made by a sluice on a small river, the Brionneau, was protected as early as 1936.
The Jardin du Mail (Mall Garden), an esplanade situated outside the ring boulevards, was built between 1820 and 1880 on the former Champs de Mars (Fields of Mars, a place where the garrisons used to train and parade). Another esplanade, the Mail François Mitterrand, was built in 1999 together with a garden inside the new Saint-Serge business district. During the 1960s the old gravel pits around the Maine were filled with water to form the Lac de Maine, which now hosts a marina. In 2010, a large amusement park, Terra Botanica, was inaugurated close to Saint-Aubin island.
During the 19th century, the city was deeply influenced by the urban transformations in Paris. The city traditionally had a somewhat sombre appearance from the quantity of local slate used in construction but many quarters were gradually destroyed, redeveloped, or rebuilt on the Parisian model. The city wall, which formed a square around the old city core, was demolished around 1850 and replaced by wide boulevards. New districts of the city were also opened up on the opposite bank of the river.
In 1849, the Angers-Saumur railway was built; it was extended to Nantes two years later. When completed, the line connected Paris to the Atlantic coast.
In 1850, a catastrophic failure of the Basse-Chaîne suspension bridge caused the deaths of over 200 soldiers. The disaster inhibited the construction of suspension bridges in France for two decades. The accident was mainly caused by soldiers' lilting march which created resonance in the bridge structure.
In 1875, a "free faculty" was created. It was soon assimilated to the medieval Angevin University (Universitas Andegavensis), which had been dissolved during the French Revolution. The new faculty was canonically erected as the Catholic University of Angers (Université catholique d'Angers) by Pope Pius IX in 1879. However, in 1890, a law prohibited private institutions of higher education from calling themselves "universities". The institution was then renamed the "Free Faculty of Angers" (Faculté libre d'Angers), although it kept its original name on an informal basis. At the beginning of the 20th century, two higher education establishments, specializing in agriculture and commercial sciences, were opened.