Pop.density (people per km2): 100
Three principal communes
Nantes is the capital of the Loire Atlantique department and the Pays de la Loire region. In the 1500s, it became part of the Duchy of Brittany, until its separation from the Vichy government in 1941.
When France developed trade with its colonies, Nantes became an important sea port and, prior to abolition, was a slave trade capital of France. Today the Nantes/ Saint Nazaire area is a major industrial region of western France, concentrating on port activities, ship building plus sugar processing and the production of food products, tobacco, household appliances, building materials and textiles.
Significant historical buildings include the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, the Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul Cathedral and Musee des Beau Arts. Notable citizens have included the politician Georges Clemonceau and the writer Jules Verne.
Angers, capital of Maine-et-Loire, has a long history and many impressive medieval buildings, the finest being the twin spired Cathedral of St Maurice, dating from the 12th century. Angers is also a centre of learning. Its educational institutions host 30,000 students and provide faculties of theology, law, science, letters and agriculture, as well as national school of arts and trades. Local industries include liqueur distillation (Cointreau) and the manufacture of cables, robes, electrical equipment, machinery, woollen and leather goods.
Le Mans (190,000)
Le Mans, capital of the Sarthe, has many notable buildings which provide a testament to its historic past, including the Saint-Julien Cathedral (11th-15th century), the Church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Couture (10th-13thcentury), and the Church of Sainte-Jeanne d'Arc (11th Century).
Modern Le Mans is an industrial and marketing centre, home to numerous manufacturers of automobiles, railroads, textiles, plastics and tobacco products. It is also known as the 'insurance company town' of France. But is is perhaps best known for its motor sports, in particular the Le Mans Circuit de la Sarthe, which hosts the renowned 24 heures automobile raced.