Last modified: 2011-12-03 by ivan sache
Keywords: ain | bellegarde-sur-valserine |
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Flag of Bellegarde - Image by Ivan Sache, 31 August 2003
The municipality of Bellegarde-sur-Valserine (11,404 inhabitants in 2008, that is, the third biggest town in the department of Ain after Bourg-en-Bresse and Oyonnax; 1,525 ha) (municipal website) is located on the confluence of rivers Valserine and Rhône, 40 km south-west of Geneva.
The municipality of Bellegarde was created by an Imperial Decree
signed by Napoléon III on 6 December 1858. Before, the village of Bellegarde belonged to the municipality of Musinens. Following the
incorporation of Savoy to France in 1860,
a Greater Free Zone was set up; Bellegarde increased in
importance as a border town with the Free Zone.
In the same period, the industrial revolution and the building of the railway station boosted the development of Bellegarde. Factories powered by hydraulic energy were established on the banks of the Valserine and of the Rhône. Driving force was transfered from natural waterfalls to the factories through a system of cables driven by huge pulleys, called télémécanique. In 1883, the Swiss engineer Louis Dumont built a dam on the Valserine to produce electricity. Bellegarde was one of the first French town with electric street lighting.
Bellegarde increased in size and economical importance
until the end of the Second World War. North of the town, the Rhône use to disappear completely during the dry season in a 60-m deep fault called perte du Rhône (Rhône loss). The Génissiat dam, built south of Bellegarde, was inaugurated in 1948; the perte du Rhône was transformed in a 23-km long reservoir spreading from Génissiat to the Swiss border.
As a consequence, most power plants and factories built along the
Rhône were submerged and Bellegarde lost its most striking
natural site, the perte du Rhône, keeping only the perte de la Valserine, of similar geologic origin.
In the 1960s, Bellegarde resumed its development and absorbed the neighboring municipalities of Coupy (1966) and Arlod (1970).The TGV high-speed train reached Bellegarde, already an important station on the Paris-Geneva line, in 1981. Bellegarde is also located on the highway Lyon-Geneva-Italy, via the Mont-Blanc tunnel.
Ivan Sache, 31 August 2003
A vertical, forked, vertically divided yellow-green flag is flown nhear the railway station. These colors are, undoubtedly, the municipal
colors, shown on the municipal coat of arms, De sinople à une porte maçonnée d'argent,
sommée d'une étoile à cinq pointes d'or ;
cantonnées en chef, à dextre de la croix de la
Convention de Genève, à senestre de trois
éclairs de foudre en or, en pointe une roue
engrêlée aussi d'or ("Argent a pile couped in chief vert overall a gateway of the field masoned sable a dexter canton argent a cross couped gules in the sinister canton three lightning bolts issuant from sinister chief in base a cogwheel or").
These arms, adopted in 1946, attempted to incorporate the most characteristic features of the town, that is, the links with Geneva, and, especially, the help offerred during the Second World War, therefore the Red Cross; the border location, as expressed by the gate; the hydraulic energy, as expressed by the wind-mill; and the early electrification of the town, as expressed by the bolts.
Ivan Sache, 31 August 2003