SHIFTboston blog» Blog Archive » Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in Nantes, France – Opens and Receives European Award

Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in Nantes, France – Opens and Receives European Award

During the 15th and 19th centuries, many ports in Europe were used in the slave trade. During the 18th century,  the city of Nantes, France became France’s largest slave port. In 1848 slavery was abolished in France, but it was not until the 1990s that Nantes began to acknowledge its role in slave trade.

Earlier this year, Mayor Jean-Marc Ayrault of Nantes, France invited designers from around the world to compete in a design competition to create a memorial that would commemorate the abolition of the slave trade and serve as a reminder of this dark period in the Nantes’ history. Artist Krzyszt Wodiczko and architect Julian Bonder both of  Wodiczko + Bonder, an award winning Cambridge, MA architecture and design firm, designed the winning Nates Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery.

Wodiczko and Bonder wanted the the site to be a place of remembrance of crimes against humanity and commemorate all past and present efforts of resistance to enslavement. Wodiczko + Bonder transformed 350 meters of the coast of the Loire River, in Downtown Nantes into the memorial space, by using pre-existing embankments that have existed since the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries. The 130 metres-long sub-surface space, ‘found’ in archival documentation, along and often below the level of the water, is the heart of the memorial. The project required complex engineering to construct a protective ‘cuvelage’ due to the tides of Loire. The space is meant to give the feeling of the extreme confinement experienced aboard the slave ships. An enormous open-air staircase leads to the undergroud passageway where visitors are welcomed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, behind which the word ‘freedom’ is displayed in over fifty languages from countries around the world affected by slave trade. Key historical dates and locations also highlight the scale of the events that led to the abolition of the slave trade, as well as the ongoing fight to end enslavement today.

The project have since received a Special Mention at the Biannual European Prize for Urban Public Space and the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery is currently the largest in the world that is dedicated to the remembrance of slavery and the slave trade.



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