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Le Mans

LE MANS, a town of north-western France, capital of the department of Sarthe, 77 m. S.W. of Chartres on the railway from Paris to Brest. Pop. (1906) town, 54,907, commune, 65,467. It is situated just above the confluence of the Sarthe and the Huisne, on an elevation rising from the left bank of the Sarthe. Several bridges connect the old town and the new quarters which have sprung up round it with the more extensive quarter of Pr on the right bank. Modern thoroughfares are gradually superseding the winding and narrow streets of old houses; a tunnel connects the Place des Jacobins with the river side. The cathedral, built in the highest part of the town, was originally founded by St Julian, to whom it is dedicated. The nave dates from the nth and 12th centuries. In the 13th century the choir was enlarged in the grandest and boldest style of that period. The transepts, which are higher than the nave, were rebuilt in the isth century, and the bell-tower of the south transept, the lower part of which is Romanesque, was rebuilt in the isth and 16th centuries. Some of the stained glass in the nave, dating from the first half of the 12th century, is the oldest in France; the west window, representing the legend of St Julian, is especially interesting. The south lateral portal (12th century) is richly decorated, and its statuettes exhibit many costumes of the period. The austere simplicity of the older part of the building is in striking contrast with the lavish richness of the ornamentation in the choir, where the stained glass is especially fine. The rose- window (isth century) of the north transept, representing the Last Judgment, contains many historical figures. The cathedral also has curious tapestries and some remarkable tombs, including that of Berengaria, queen of Richard Coeur de Lion. Close to the western wall is a megalithic monument nearly 15 ft. in height: The church of La Couture, which belonged to an old abbey founded in the 7th century by St Bertrand, has a porch of the 13th century with fine statuary; the rest of the building is older. The church of Notre-Dame du Pre, on the right bank of the Sarthe, is Romanesque in style. The h6tel de ville was built in 1756 on the site of the former castle of the counts of Maine; the prefecture (1760) occupies the site of the monastery of La Couture, and contains the library, the communal archives, and natural history and art collections; there is also an archaeological museum. Among the old houses may be mentioned the H6tel du Grabatoire of the Renaissance, once a hospital for the canons and the so-called house of Queen Berengaria (16th century), meeting place of the historical and archaeological society of Maine. A monument to General Chanzy commemorates the battle of Le Mans (1871). Le Mans is the seat of a bishopric dating from the $rd century, of a prefect, and of a court of assizes, and headquarters of the IV. army corps. It has also tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a council of trade-arbitrators, a chamber of commerce, a branch of the Bank of France, an exchange, a lycee for boys, training colleges, a higher ecclesiastical seminary and a school of music. The town has a great variety of industries, carried on chiefly in the southern suburb of Pontlieue. The more important are the state manufacture of tobacco, the preparation of preserved vegetables, fish, etc., tanning, hemp-spinning, bell-founding, flour-milling, the founding of copper and other metals, and the manufacture of railway wagons, machinery and engineering material, agricultural implements, rope, cloth and stained glass. The fattening of poultry is an important local industry, and there is trade in cattle, wine, cloth, farm-produce, etc. The town is an important railway centre.

As the capital of the Aulerci Cenomanni, Le Mans was called Suindinum or Vindinum. The Romans built walls round it in the 3rd century, and traces of them are still to be seen close to the left bank of the river near the cathedral. In the same century the town was evangelized by St Julian, who became its first bishop. Ruled at first by his successors notably St Aldric Le Mans passed in the middle ages to the counts of Maine (q.v.), whose capital and residence it became. About the middle of the 11th century the citizens secured a communal charter, but in 1063 the town was seized by William the Conqueror, who deprived them of their liberties, which were recovered when the countship of Maine had passed to the Plantagenet kings of England. Le Mans was taken by Philip Augustus in 1189, recaptured by John, subsequently confiscated and later ceded to Queen Berengaria, who did much for its prosperity. It was several times besieged in the isth and 16th centuries. In 1793 it was seized by the Vendeans, who were expelled by the Republican generals Marceau and Westermann after a stubborn battle in the streets. In 1709 it was again occupied by the Chouans.

The battle of Le Mans (ioth-12th January 1871) was the culminating point of General Chanzy's fighting retreat into western France after the winter campaign in Beauce and Perche (see FRANCO-GERMAN WAR). The numerous, but ill-trained and ill-equipped, levies of the French were followed up by Prince Frederick Charles with the German II. Army, now very much weakened but consisting of soldiers who had in six months' active warfare acquired the self-confidence of veterans. The Germans advanced with three army corps in first line and one in reserve. On the pth of January the centre corps (III.) drove an advanced division of the French from Ardenay (13 m. E. of Le Mans). On the loth of January Chanzy's main defensive position was approached. Its right wing was east of the Sarthe and 3-5 m. from Le Mans, its centre on the heights of Anvours with the river Huisne behind it, and its left scattered along the western bank of the same river as far as Montfort (12 m. E.N.E. of Le Mans) and thence northward for some miles. On the loth there was a severe struggle for the villages along the front of the French centre. On the nth Chanzy attempted a counteroffensive from many points, but owing to the misbehaviour of certain of his rawest levies, the Germans were able to drive him back, and as their cavalry now began to appear beyond his extreme left flank, he retreated in the night of the nth on Laval, the Germans occupying Le Mans after a brief rearguard fight on the 12th.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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