Of pre-Roman origin, the city was the capital of the Mediomatrici, a Gallic people. One of the most important cities of Roman Gaul, it was invaded and destroyed by the Vandals (406) and the Huns (451). Metz was an early episcopal see and became the capital of Austrasia (the eastern portion of the Merovingian Frankish empire) in the 6th cent.
After the division of the Frankish empire (8th cent.) the bishops of Metz greatly increased their power, ruling a relatively vast area as a fief of the Holy Roman Empire. Metz was a major cultural center of the Carolingian Renaissance (8th cent.) and was later (10th cent.) a prosperous commercial city with an important Jewish community. Metz became a free imperial city in the 12th cent. and was then one of the richest and most populous cities of the empire. During the Reformation the bourgeoisie of Metz welcomed Protestantism, but the city never became a bastion of Calvinism, and the uneasy bourgeoisie accepted the protection of the French crown.
In 1552, Henry II annexed the three bishoprics of Lorraine (Metz, Toul, and Verdun ), and soon after, Metz, under the command of François de Guise, resisted a long siege (1552–53) by Emperor Charles V. The Peace of Westphalia (1648), ending the Thirty Years War , confirmed the three bishoprics in French possession. An important fortress and garrison town, Metz was besieged (1870) by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War , and after a two-month siege, 179,000 French soldiers under Marshall Achille Bazaine capitulated. During the German annexation of E Lorraine (1871–1918), Metz, largely French-speaking, was a center of pro-French sentiment. During World War II the city suffered greatly under German occupation.
There are many Gallo-Roman ruins in Metz, including an aqueduct, thermal baths, and part of an amphitheater. Much has also been preserved from the medieval period. The celebrated Cathedral of St. Étienne, built from c.1221 to 1516, has one of Europe's largest collections of stained glass. The Place Sainte-Croix is a square surrounded by medieval houses (13th–15th cent.). Metz has several other churches, including St. Pierre-de-la-Citadelle Basilica, mansions from the Middle Ages, and many beautiful promenades. The city is also the site of the futuristic Pompidou-Metz museum (2010), the first regional branch of Paris's Beaubourg (Pompidou Center). Paul Verlaine was born in Metz.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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