|Saint Étienne rises from the center of Metz|
|Mac Chagall's famous glass|
|A chartcuterie in the covered market|
|wines and cheeses abound|
|Coming out of the covered market - Place de Chambre|
|Time to pick a bistro|
Metz is a city sizzling with history, wine, food, and culture, just across the border from Germany…no, I mean just across the border from France…no, wait; now it’s in France. Hard to keep track. Metz has crossed the border more times than the German army. Right now it is in France, or at least all the people speak French and don’t smile much.
Like most cities in this part of the world, the history of Metz goes back to well before Julius Caesar came, saw, and conquered. Metz was first fortified by the Celts around 110 BCE. Roman, Frankish, French, German, and American armies have all seen battle here. You may have heard of the nearby Maginot Line, which the German Army overran in 1940. In 1944, it was the Germans who had their backs against the wall. A vicious, three-month battle ensued, with German defenders holding on until George Patton’s 3rd Army broke through.
Sitting at the confluence of the Moselle and Seille Rivers, Metz (pronounced Mess by the French and Matz by the Germans) was once a part of the Holy Roman Empire. In the 18th Century it became a part of Lorraine (of quiche fame), which is also when The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg became independent.
Now Metz is known by yours truly for it’s fabulous old style food market, it’s astounding cathedral, and for it’s wonderful bistros
First, let’s amble through the Saint Etienne Cathedral. Etienne is the French version of Stephen, pronounced et-t’-YIN, from the Greek word for crown. Its nickname is God’s Lantern, named for having about 6500 square meters, or 70,000 square feet of stained glass. The cathedral’s first stained glass dates to the 13th Century. Note the deep blue, called “bleu de Chartres.” Marc Chagall did the latest and most modern windows in 1963. In 2008, vandals broke into the cathedral through a hole in the window (since repaired).
Lots of myths and legends surround the Metz Cathedral. Myth, legend, truth? You pick. According to tradition, Saint Peter sent Clement to Metz in the 1st Century to spread Christianity. There are several miracles surrounding Saint Clement. He is said to have killed a dragon, The Graoully. This dragon and a host of snakes inhabited the Roman amphitheater, poisoning the air with their breath. After getting a promise from the locals that they would convert to Christianity if Clement dispatched the dragon, he walked into the amphitheater, was attacked, but made the sign of the cross. This tamed the snakes, apparently including the dragon. But, this tale has dragoned on long enough. You can see representations of The Graoully in various places around Metz. Don’t forget to visit the cathedral museums!
On to the famous covered market, adjacent the cathedral, in the Place de Chambre. Begun in 1785 as the Bishop’s Palace, a little disagreement called The French Revolution stopped its completion. In the early 19th Century it became a market and has remained so. More than a market, it’s a step back in time, especially for Americans, who may be astounded to find sausages and hams hanging from hooks and patés that are not entombed in adult-proof plastic wrap. Cheeses, vegetables, meats, fruits, seafood, all are wonderfully fresh. Oh, ya gotta try some breads! Prices are reasonable (if you don’t count what’s happened to the dollar). Look around and you’ll see why. Mostly locals shop here, unlike an unnamed market in Seattle, which attracts upwards of 10,000 tourists a day. Big difference. Metz market is a must see. Of course, that’s just my ever so humble opinion.
Now we’ve worked up an appetite. It’s time to thumb through the dusty memories of our high school French and do our best Maurice Chevalier imitation at a French bistro. When hunger is at hand, don't’ limit yourself to the cathedral/ market area. Come out of the covered market into Place de Chambre, make a right turn, then turn left about 25 yards later at the flower stand. That lane will lead you to another open plaza, lined with wonderful bistos. Restaurants are open for lunch from about 1130 to 1400 (2p.m.). After that, best of luck finding more than a snack kiosk open. The bistros open again about 1700 (5p.m.). Best bets for my taste are the quiche Lorraine (After all you are in Lorraine!) and a meat platter of local sausages and hams on a bed of sauerkraut. The region is also famous for it’s Mirabelle plum brandy, and its wines. If you're a beer connoisseur, try one of the excellent French beers, such as Fischer.
A final tourist tip for Metz. On the side of the cathedral is another large plaza, the Place d’Armes, so named because it was built in the 18th Century to symbolize the four seats of power, the church, the government, the courts (justice), and the army. Only the army has been replaced, by a tourist bureau. Sign of the times. (Office de Tourisme Place d'Armes. http://tourisme.metz.fr/en/commun/contact.php ) The tourist office has a lot of great information about where to see the Roman remnants inside and outside the city, but best of all, they also have toilet facilities at a price of only 50 European cents!