Last modified: 2005-03-05 by ivan sache
Keywords: marne | vitry-le-francois | fleurs-de-lys: 3 (yellow) | salamander (yellow) | war cross |
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by Arnaud Leroy
Vitry-le-François (17,000 inhabitants; 641 hectares) is a sous-préfecture of the department of Marne in Champagne. Vitry is located on a very important crossroad of communication routes: route nationale 4 from Paris (175 km westwards) to Nancy (120 km eastwards) and route nationale 44 to Châlons-en-Champagne (30 km) and Reims (80 km northwards), route départementale 395 to Bar-le-Duc (50 km northeastwards) and route départementale 396 to Brienne-le-Château (40 km southwards); railway Paris-Strasbourg and Calais-Lyon-Marseilles; and waterways: canal de la Marne à la Saône, canal de la Marne au Rhin and canal latéral à la Marne.
In the Gallo-Roman times, a man called Victorius owned the domain of
Victoriacum. The settlement that was built later there took the name
of Vitry. Due to its strategical location, the history of Vitry is made
of a succession of sieges, blaze and destruction.
King of France Louis VII (1120-1180, King in 1137) attempted to control the appointment of the Bishops, a main political concern at that time. In 1138, the Bishopric of Langres was vacant and Louis VII supported the candidacy of a monk from Cluny, against the wish of the powerful Bernard de Clairvaux. In 1141, the Bishopric of Bourges was vacant and Louis VII attempted to expel Pierre de la Châtre, who had been elected by the local chapter and was supported by Pope Innocent II. The pope excommunicated Louis VII. At that time, excommunication was the most severe sentence for a Christian prince and his whole state. Pierre de la Châtre fled to the County of Champagne, then a powerful feudal state ruled by Thibaud de Champagne, a potential challenger of the King of France and brother of King of England Etienne de Blois. In 1142, Louis VII invaded Champagne and seized Vitry (then called Vitry-en-Perthois). The 1,300 inhabitants were burnt alive in the church. However, Louis VII had to withdraw, acknowledge Pierre de la Châtre's election and promise to go on a crusade to obtain the lift of his excommunication. In 1145, he took the cross following the call of his old enemy Bernard de Clairvaux and fought in the Holy Land in 1147-1149. During his leave, his wife Aliénor d'Aquitaine started the plot that would cause the subsequent war between France and England.
In 1544, King of France François I and German Emperor Charles V trashed
Champagne. Charles V's army, with 100,000, besieged the city of
Saint-Dizier, defended by a garrison of 2,500. The garrison resisted
and the attackers were harassed in the rear by the French troops
stationed in Vitry. Charles V counter-attacked and seized Vitry. The
city was burned down to ashes by Charles V's soldiers, or maybe by
Francois I's soldiers doing scorched earth policy.
On 29 April 1545, Francois I ordered in lettres patentes the building of a new city in the neighborhood of Vitry, which would take the name of Vitry-le-François and be granted royal arms. The king appointed the military architect Girolamo Marini, from Bologna (Italy). Marini decided to build the new city on the site of the watermens' village of Maucourt, located a few kilometers south-west of Vitry-en-Perthois. The village of Vitry-en-Perthois has today 920 inhabitants.
Marini organized the city according to a square (612 x 612 m) grid pattern, arranged around a central square (117 x 117 m). Two main streets crossing at right angle on the central square determined four square boroughs, which were themselves divided into another four square boroughs. All streets were rectilinear, except the Tanners' Street, which followed a sinuous brook. The city walls were opened by one gate on each point of the compass, defended by a draw-bridge. A market hall, with a chestnut skeleton, was built in 1546 (and demolished in 1946); the gates were revamped in 1745: on the road to Paris, a triumphal arch (porte du Pont) celebrating Louis XIV's military victories was built in 1748, dismantled in 1939 and rebuilt in 1982 on the road to Châlons; the building of the church Notre-Dame started in 1557, was stopped in 1754, and eventually completed in 1898.
During the French Revolution, the city was renamed Vitry-sur-Marne. In 1814, Napoléon raided the rear of the enemy and just failed to capture the Tsar of Russia, the King of Prussia and the Austrian Generalissimo Schwartzenberg.
During the First World War, Vitry was the strategical center of the battle of Marne. Joffre set up his headquarters in Vitry on 4 August 1914 and abandoned it on 31 August. The German entered the deserted city on 5 September. Joffre launched the counter-attack and repelled the enemy 50 km northwards. Vitry was used all along the war as an hospital city.
On 16 May 1940, a German bombing burned down one quarter of the city. After the battle of the 13 June, 90% had been destroyed and swiftly replaced with groups of huts. An Allied bombing on 28 June 1944 killed 500 and completed the destruction of the city. Vitry was rebuilt after the Liberation, helped by the city of Toulouse: Marini's map was kept but the ditches and the canal bordering the city in the north were filled in. The only genuine remains of the XVIth century city are one house and parts of the city walls.
Vitry is the birth city of the mathematician Abraham de Moivre (1667-1754), a Protestant who emigrated to London after the revocation of the Edit de Nantes and became a good friend of Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley, and a Fellow of the Royal Society (1697). Moivre's most famous finding is the use of imaginary numbers in trigonometry. De Moivre formula is:
(cos x + i sin x)^n = cos nx + i sin nx,where i is the imaginary number defined as the square root of -1.
The de Moivre numbers are the roots of the equation x^d = 1. They give the coordinates in the complex plane of the polygon vertices of a regular polygon with d sides and unit radius.
Moivre also developed the probability theory; he showed that the Normal law was a good approximation of the binomial law.
Source: Municipal website
Ivan Sache, 13 November 2004
The municipal flag of Vitry-le-François, as seen by Pascal Vagnat on the city hall, is white with the greater municipal coat of arms in the middle.
The municipal coat of arms of Vitry-le-François is:
D'azur à la salamandre couronnée d'or sur un brasier de gueules, au chef aussi d'azur chargé de trois fleurs de lys d'or et soutenu d'une devise du même. (GASO)
D'azur à la salamandre d'or couronnée sur un brasier de gueules, au chef d'azur chargé de trois fleurs de lis d'or, soutenu d'une devise du même (Brian Timms)
Azure a salamander crowned or enflamed gules a chief azure three fleurs de lis or above a fillet also or
D'azur, à la salamandre d'or, la tête contournée et couronnée du même, couchée dans les flammes de gueules, au chef de France. (Mairie de Vitry via Timms)
Azure a salamander head contourned crowned or enflamed gules a chief azure three fleurs de lis or.
The municipal motto written on the scroll below the shield is Nutrisco et Exstinguo (I stoke and extinguish), The salamander and the motto belongs to François I. The same salamander and motto can be seen on the greater coat of arms and flag of Le Havre, another city designed by an Italian architect upon François I's request and later completely trashed during the Second World War.
The two decorations attached below the shield are the Croix de Guerre
(War Cross) 1914-1918 and 1939-1944.
The Croix de Guerre is also shown on the lanyard pennants of the French Navy.
The two decorations differ by the colours of the ribbon:
- 1914-1918: red with six vertical green stripes
- 1939-1945: red with four vertical green stripes in the middle.
Ivan Sache, 13 November 2004