Last modified: 2015-10-25 by ivan sache
Keywords: seine-maritime | havre (le) | lion (yellow) | salamander (yellow) | fleurs-de-lis: 2 (yellow) | crown (white) | ermine (black) | ermines: 2 (white) | bretagne-accueil |
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Municipal flag of Le Havre - Image by Pascal Vagnat & Arnaud Leroy, 14 October 2003
The municipality of Le Havre (183,900 inhabitants in 2006; 4,695 ha) is located on the northern shore of the estuary of the river Seine.
In the ancient times, the most important town near the estuary
were the port of Harfleur and the abbey town of Montivilliers,
located on the edge of the Pays de Caux.
After the port of Harfleur, sanded up, had to be abandoned, King Louis XI (1423-1483, King in 1461) ordered in 1478 the exploration of the estuary of the Seine. Louis XII (1462-1515, King in 1498), commissioned Sieur de Chaillou with the same duty.
François I (1494-1547, King in 1515) needed a protected port he would use in his struggle against England. Since he did not trust too much the burghers of Rouen, he asked Guillaume Gouffier de Bonnivet (c. 1488-1525), Great Admiral of France, to build a new port in the lower valley of Seine. In February 1517, Bonnivet was granted full power to build le dit havre et fortification au lieu de Grasse, au dit pays de Caux.
Bonnivet selected a desert, marshy and brackish area where the high tide lasted two hours longer than in the neighborhood.
In 1518, the vessel Hermine entered the King's Basin along with the flagship of the Royal Navy. The new port was named Le Havre-de-Grâce. The French word havre, used now to design a small protected port or a very peaceful area - not necessarily a port -, comes from Middle Dutch havene, and is probably cognate to German Hafen, Danish Havn etc. Le Havre was for a while renamed Françoise-de-Grâce.
The port was achieved in 1523 and developed commerce with Morocco and Brazil. The town progressively thrived with the creation of a tax-free zone and a market. Its population was around 5,000 in 1540. In 1541, the Italian architect Bellarmato organized the town according to a check pattern. Borough Notre-Dame was reorganized while borough Saint-François was created near the port. New town walls were built in 1551.
At the end of the 16th century, Le Havre was a very busy port, involved in whaling and trade with Peru, Brazil and the West Indies. Several Protestants were active in commerce, who left after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685. In retaliation, England bombed Le Havre in 1694 and 1696.
The economic activity resumed in Le Havre in 1716-1717 and was mainly targeted to the West Indies. Until the French Revolution, the port of Le Havre was a main point of entrance of colonial products (cotton, coffee, tobacco, tropical hardwood), which were reshipped all over Europe. The port was also used for resupplying the American insurgents.
The Revolution and Empire wars stopped the port activity, which resumed after the lift of the Continental System in 1808. New basins were built and the town walls were destroyed to allow the growth of the town. The Havre and Tancarville Canals were built to avoid the difficult navigation in the lower valley of Seine. Le Havre started its transatlantic career and received the nickname of porte océane (Oceanic Gate). Technical progress made the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean ever quicker. In 1850, the sail and paddle ship Franklin linked Le Havre to New York in 15 days. In 1864, the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, one of the legendary "French lines", launched the steamer Washington, which was succeeded by the famous Normandie, Íle-de-France, Liberté and France. The golden age of the "French lines" suddenly ended in the 1970s.
The development of international commerce caused the emergence of
a rich society of merchants and shipowners, who built big vacation
houses along the beach, north of the commerce port, and in the
neighbouring town of Sainte-Adresse. A
bathing station with expensive hotels was built. The neighbouring
villages of Sanvic and Bléville were incorporated to Le Havre,
and an upper town developed above the ancient lower town. The two
parts of the town were linked by a complex network of 89 stairs and a
funicular. Jules Siegfried, Mayor from 1878 to 1886, developed the
town and proposed in the French Parliament the Law on the habitations à bon marché ("cheap houses"), which allowed the lower classes to be decently housed.
The First World War ruined the sea resort, and most hotels and rich houses were sold and destroyed. A few houses were kept, the most famous of them being the Villa Maritime, built in 1890 by architect Toutain for Mrs. Aldecoa, who sold it in 1896 to Dufayel, the owner of the Nice havrais in Sainte-Adresse. The house has an area of 1,200 sq. m and 42 windows, and includes a glasshouse and two artificial grottos. Later owned by the writer Armand Salacrou (1899-1989), the villa is now a restaurant.
The port and the lower town of Le Havre were completely destroyed
during the Second World War. In June 1940, the German Air Force
bombed the oil port and sunk the ship Niobé, killing
800 passengers and crew members. In September 1944, the battle of
Normandy was over and Paris was liberated, but the Germans still kept
Le Havre. A series of 146 bombings started on 2 September, killing
more than 4,000, destroying 9,935 buildings and damaging 9,710 other
ones. More than 80,000 were homeless. Before surrendering on 13
September, the Germans blew the port with dynamite. The architect
Auguste Perret (1874-1954), known as "the wizard of reinforced
concrete", rebuilt Le Havre following Bellarmato's original plan. The
new town was organized around the town hall, made of a long flat
building flanked by a tower, and the St. Joseph church, surmonted
by a 109-m high bell-tower. The Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer
(b. 1907, the designer of Brasilia)
built the Vulcano near the Commerce Basin. One of the only remains of
the ancient town is the Notre-Dame cathedral (1575-1630).
It took two years to clear the port, whose activity progressively resumed. Le Havre is now the first commerce port in France and the fifth in Europe.
The writer Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737-1814) was born in
Le Havre. His main book is the exotic idyll Paul et Virginie.
Raymond Queneau (1903-1976), also born in Le Havre, founded in 1960
the Oulipo as a branch of the Collège de
'Pataphysique; very diverse, his works include novels, some
of them taking place in Le Havre, mathematics, poems, linguistical
analyses, etc. President René Coty (1882-1962, President of
the Fourth Republic, 1954-1959) was born and passed away in Le Havre.
The Swiss composer Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), member of the
Groupe des Six, was born in Le Havre.
Two painters from Le Havre, Raoul Dufy (1877-1958) and Othon Friesz (1879-1949) were among the founders of the Fauvist group. The name of Fauves (wildcats) was coined by an art critic in 1905 because of the agressive modernism of their works. Eugène Boudin (1824-1898), born in Honfleur, on the other bank of the Seine, spent most of his life in Le Havre. Boudin is considered as a precursor of Impressionism. Most of his paintings are shown in the Museum André-Malraux in Le Havre, including a striking collection of studies of cows.
In 1874, Claude Monet showed a painting called Impression soleil levant. Attempted to be amusing, a critic derogatively called Monet and his friends Impressionnistes because he did not find Monet's impression impressive at all. Once famous, the Impressionist painters did not reject the name, which was later given to musicians such as Debussy, Ravel, Dukas, Roussel and Satie. Impression soleil levant was most probably painted in a small room located in Le Havre near the Commerce Basin.
Ivan Sache, 14 October 2003
The municipal flag of Le Havre is white with the greater municipal
coat of arms placed in the middle.
The flag is hoisted over or in front of municipal buildings such as the municipal police station and the tourist office. It does not seem to be hoisted over the town hall, which bears the flags of the twenty-five members of the European Union on its flat building and the French flag over its tower. Two rows of five French flags each are also found on the big square in front of the town hall.
Ivan Sache, 14 October 2003
The arms of Le Havre blazons as (blazon and history from Brian Timms De gueules à la salamandre d'argent, couronnée d'or sur un brasier du même; au chef d'azur chargé de trois fleurs de lis d'or, et surchargé d'un franc-canton de sable au lion d'or armé et lampassé de gueules ("Gules a salamander argent in flames crowned or a chief azure three fleurs-de-lis or overall a canton sable a lion rampant or armed and langued gules").
The salamander is the personal emblem of King François I, the founder of the town. The kings of France had a personal device that
was supposed to reflect their personality and ambition. For instance,
Charles V used a winged deer and Louis XII a porcupine. The
salamander was said to be able to stay alive in flames - probably
because of its thick and always wet skin - and even to be able to
extinguish a fire.
The scroll below the shield bears François I's personal motto
Nutrisco et extinguo ("I stoke and extinguish"), another
reference to the alleged fireproofing ability of the salamander.
The decorations below the scroll are the Cross of the Legion of Honour and the War Cross.
On a document dated 1532, the arms of Le Havre are shown as "Azure a salamander argent between three fleurs-de-lis or". In the 18th century, the fleurs-de-lis were moved to fesswise in chief.
The arms used in the First Empire have the fleurs-de-lis removed and a chief added, as D'azur à trois étoiles d'or surchargé d'un canton dextre d'un N couronné d'or, the "N" standing for Napoléon.
At the Restauration the fleurs-de-lis were reinstated, this time on a chief of France. After the First World War, the present canton with the arms of Belgium was added to honour the King of the Belgians, whose government stayed in the neighbouring town of Sainte-Adresse during the War.
The Armorial Général overrode the arms granted by François I and ascribed completely different arms to Le Havre, which were, of course, never used,D'azur à un navire d'or sur des ondes d'argent et amarré par un câble d'argent à une ancre d'or qui trempe dans les ondes.
Ivan Sache, 14 October 2003
Promenade des Ports du Monde (Promenade of the Ports of
the World) is the name given to the sidewalk of Boulevard
Georges-Clémenceau, between the entrance of the commerce port
and the beach and along the marina.
The Promenade is marked out with 25 national flags hoisted on tall poles. Each pole bears a rectangular shield on which the names of the country and port(s) are written. All the flags are of the same size and proportions (2:3).
Ivan Sache, 18 October 2003
Flag of BABHE - Image by Ivan Sache, 15 August 2010, after the image shown on the BABHE website
Bretagne-Accueil Les Bretons du Havre et des Environ (BABHE, website) is an association set up by the Breton community in Le Havre and
A massive immigration of Bretons in Le Havre occurred in 1875-1940; it is believed that 40% of the today's inhabitants of the town are of Breton origin. Like most immigrants, the Bretons grouped and set up mutual aid associations, the first of them, the Aumônerie Bretonne (Breton Chaplaincy), being created in 1875 with the support of the Roman Catholic Church. The non-religious Association des Bretons du Havre, founded in 1909, merged in 1986 with Bretagne- Accueil to form BABHE.
BABHE is today a cultural association aimed at spreading and supporting the Breton culture and at preserving the Breton heritage in the Le Havre. The association organizes every year a festival celebrating St. Ivo of Kermartin, the patron saint of Brittany.
The flag of BABHE (description) is horizontally divided blue-white-green with a golden crowned salamander all over. The flag was chosen by the
members of the association among proposals designed by the Bannieloú Breizh association. It was inaugurated on 23 May 2009 during the St. Ivo Festival, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the association.
Blue and green are the traditional colours of the Association des Bretons du Havre. They also recall the two components of Brittany, the sea (armor, blue) and the land (argoat, green), as used on the logo and flag of Region Bretagne. The black ermine spot in the white stripe recalls the Breton traditional flag. Moreover, the three stripes and the three ermine spots recall the triskelion emblem.
The salamander comes from the coat of arms and flag of Le Havre.
Photos taken during the inauguration of the flag confirm that the salamander should be crown. The drawing shown on the BABHE lacks the crown. Many of the details on the salamander are different between the website image and the flag in the cloth, including the salamander's expression.
A photo of the flag is shown on the cover of Al Lumanidig, the review edited by Bannieloú Breizh, No. 9, June 2009.
Ivan Sache & André Coutanche, 15 August 2010