METZ (pronounced "Mess"), the capital of Lorraine, lies on the east bank of the River Moselle, close to the Autoroute de l'Est, linking Paris and Strasbourg, and the main Strasbourg– Brussels train line. Its origins go back at least to Roman times, when, as now, it stood astride major trade routes. On the death of Charlemagne it became the capital of Lothar's portion of his empire. By the Middle Ages it had sufficient wealth and strength to proclaim itself an independent republic, which it remained until its absorption into France in 1552. Caught between warring influences, Metz has endured more than its share of historical hand-changing; reluctantly ceded to Germany in 1870, it recovered its liberty at the end of World War I, only to be re-annexed by Hitler until the Liberation. Metz in effect is two towns: the original French quarters, gathered round the cathedral, and the ville allemande, undertaken as part of a once-and-for-all process of Germanification after the Prussian occupation in 1870. To the south the latter, unmistakably Teutonic in style, has considerable elegance and grandeur.
Although the only really important sight is the magnificent cathedral, beautifully lit at night, Metz deserves its self-styled title of Ville jardin or Garden City; impeccable flowerbeds, the warm hues of mustard-yellow stone buildings and the waters of the Moselle all make for a seductive cityscape.