LAVAL, capital of the department of Mayenne, France, is situated on the Mayenne, 186 miles by railway west from Paris. On the right bank of the river stands the old feudal city, with its ancient castle, and its irregularly built houses whose slate roofs and pointed gables peep from the groves of trees which clothe the hill. On the left bank the regularly built new town extends far into the plain. The river, here 80 yards broad, is crossed by the handsome railway viaduct, a beautiful stone bridge called "Pont Neuf," and the Mayenne bridge of three pointed arches, built in the 16th century. There is communication by steamer as far as to Angers. Laval may justly claim to be one of the loveliest of French towns. Its most curious and interesting monument is the sombre-looking old castle of the counts, now transformed into a prison. The new castle, elating from the Renaissance, is now the court house. Laval possesses several churches of different periods : in that of the Trinity, which serves as the cathedral, the transept is of the 12th century while the choir is of the 16th ; the chapel of the Carmelites is an imitation of the Sainte Chapelle at Paris ; Notre Dame des Cordeliers, which dates from the end of the 14th century or beginning of the 15th, has some fine marble altars. Half a mile below the Mayenne bridge is the beautiful 12th century church of Avenie,res, with an ornamental spire of 1534 and a handsome modern pulpit. The finest remaining relic of the ancient fortifications is the Beucheresse gate near the cathedral. There is a scientific museum, and a library containing 25,000 volumes. The town is embellished by fine promenades, at the entrance of one of which, facing the mairie, stands the statue of the celebrated surgeon Ambrose Pare. On the Place de Cheverus is a statue to the cardinal of that name, archbishop of Bordeaux. The principal industry of the town is the linen manufacture, introduced from Flanders in the 14th century. A large cloth hall (Halle-aux-toiles), built in last century is used now for industrial, artistic, and agricultural exhibitions. At present tickings are chiefly made. This industry occupies ten thousand workmen, who are not gathered together in great factories, but scattered all over the town. Cotton spinning is also carried on, and there are tanneries, flour-mills, foundries, paper-works, and dye-works. Here also the marbles of the neighbourhood are sawn, the greater part being converted into lime: Laval is the seat of a bishop, and has a lyceum. Population 27,000.
The history of Laval goes back only to the beginning of the 11th century, but from an early date in the feudal period the barons of Laval were distinguished by their valour and power, and by their alliances. One of them followed William the Conqueror into England. After having assumed the cross they allied themselves with the Montmoreneys and Alontforts, and their barony passed on later to the Colignys and the La Tremoilles. Laval was taken by Talbot in 1423. It changed hands several times during the wars of the League and the war of La Vendee in 1793.