Laval, Ville d’Art et d’histoire (Town of Art and History), across the centuries...

“As you arrive in Laval on the route de Sablé, it seems like you are entering a village from the Middle Ages. A huge street crosses its greater length and is bordered by houses many of which have corbelled out elements. They look like pyramids set on their tip.”

Prosper Mérimée – Notes d’un voyage dans l’ouest de la France (Notes from a Journey to the West of France), 1836

Laval was created in the Middle Ages by a Lord seeking to control movement on the Brittany road. During Modern Times, Laval asserted itself as an economically dynamic town due to the trade of textiles. After the French Revolution, the urban framework was greatly transformed in line with the wishes of Napoleon I and Napoleon III.

Laval, the Stately Town (11th-16th Centuries)

Overlooking the Mayenne Valley since the 13th century, the high silhouette of the castle’s keep embodies the domination of the Guy de Laval line over their territory. A town, with quaint streets and many half-timbered houses, was established around the monument. The boundaries of this medieval urban area are visible thanks to the Beucheresse gate, the Renaise tower and the southern ramparts and are a reminder of the strong defensive enclosure that previously protected the town. Beyond them, peri-urban centres developed around religious foundations such as Avesnières to the south and Saint-Martin and the Cordeliers to the west.

Laval, the Bourgeois Town (16th-18th Centuries)

Canalisation of the river during the reign of François I meant Laval could increase trade with the ports of the Loire. If tufa was present in all major constructions such as the Château-Neuf or the Saint-Vénérand church, it also became common in private dwellings such as the Grand Veneur house. This profound change in architecture bears witness to the fortune achieved by the linen traders who, having opened up trade on an international level, claimed a higher social status. This desire was established through the creation of remarkable private mansions between courtyard and garden, that colonised the Gast and Bel-Air sectors during the 18th century.

Laval, the Imperial Town (19th Century)

The creation of the imperial road to the arsenal in Brest led to the development of a large east - west crossing around which the new town grew. A neoclassic inspired monumental adornment including a prefecture, town hall and theatre reflected the will of the new elite to establish Laval as a modern town. In the name of the hygienic ideology, quays were built around a river that had been diverted from its initial bed. Public walkways such as the Square de Boston opened near to Mayenne or on the heights where the Jardin Botanique de la Perrine (Perrine Botanical Garden) can be found. These green areas became venues for social interaction. This is also illustrated by the construction of the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) and other public buildings which are landmarks in the urban fabric familiar to Laval inhabitants.