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Vresse-sur-Semois (Municipality, Province of Namur, Belgium)

Last modified: 2019-07-30 by ivan sache
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Presentation of Vresse-sur-Semois

The municipality of Vresse-sur-Semois (2,861 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 10,104 ha) is the southernmost municipality of the Province of Namur, located in the Ardenne, on the borders with the Province of Luxembourg and with France.
The river Semois (210 km) has its source near Arlon, waters Etalle, Tintigny, Florenville, Tintigny, Herbeumont, Bouillon and Vresse, changes its name to Semoy when entering France, and flows into the Meuse in Monthermé. The municipality of Vresse-sur-Semois is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Vresse (including Laforêt and Membre since 1964), Alle (including Chairière and Mouzaive since 1964), Bohan, Nafraiture, Orchimont, and Sugny (including Bagimont and Pussemange since 1964).

Alle is the cradle of the once flourishing growing of tobacco in the valley of Semois. In 1855, Joseph Pierret, a retired school teacher, planted one are (100 sq. m!) of Kentucky tobacco. The tiny plot yielded a lot of upper quality tobacco, and Pierret increased the tobacco acreage year after year. In spite of the jibes of the villagers and of his own father-in-law ("Rather sow grain for your children and quite growing such a bad plant!"), Pierret did not give up and sold his crop every year; helped by his friend Dufort, who recommended the new tobacco to his friends, recommending them to recommend it to their friends, Pierret was the only, but very successful tobacco grower in the valley of Semois for nearly 25 years. The inhabitants of Alle and the neighbouring villages eventually understood he was right and the tobacco fever broke out in the valley, nicknamed "Little Cuba". Tobacco replaced oilseed rape, whose oil had been superseded by petrol for lighting, and hemp, which had disappeared with the clothing industry crisis. In 1895, there were 23 ha grown with tobacco in Bohan and another 11 ha in Alle; in 1905, there were 7 million plants of tobacco in the valley, a number that increased to 9 million in 1910, for an acreage of 400 ha (65 ha in Bohan; 50 ha in Alle; 37 ha in Rochehaut...) The valley of Semois became a tobacco monoculture, tobacco being grown on the same plots year after year, "in spite" of the poor soil indeed very suitable for tobacco growing. Protected from the northern winds by a row of hills and rocks, the lowlands of the valley of Semois had a higher temperature and more sunny days than the neighborhood. The famous fog of the valley supplied the crop with the required wetness and protected it from frost.
However, every Semois tobacco did not necessarily comes from the valley since the "Semois" brand was never registered; the local production in 1934-1935 was 2.2 million kg while the sales of "Semois" tobacco reached 4 million kg in 1934!
There were still nine tobacco growers in the valley of Semois in 1995, of which only three are still active today, one in Alle and two in Corbion.

Bohan has a strong relationships with bears, explained by an old story. In spring 1760, a bear captured in the Tatra Mountains (stretching today over Poland and Slovakia) for the Royal Zoo of Paris escaped near Strasbourg. Crossing the Jura mountains, the bear killed twelve soldiers, two hunters and one shepherd and carried on rambling through the Ardenne (which is, geographically speaking, quite inconsistent since Jura is located south of Strasbourg and Ardenne north-west!). A pilgrim, shipping beer casks from Bouillon to Bohan, where the new parish church had to be inaugurated, met the bear in the forest. Scared, the pilgrim jumped out of his cart, opened two casks and climbed up to a big oak. The bear drunk all the beer and fell asleep in the cart, where he was easily captured. The mighty bear is recalled in Bohan by several products, including the L'Ours de Bohan (The Bohan Bear) beer.

Nafraiture was immortalized by the painter Baron Léon Frédéric (1856-1940). Back from a long stay in Italy in 1883, the young painter visited one of his nieces engaged with the school teacher of Nafraiture. Fascinated by the local landscape, he made most oh his paintings in Nafraiture; they are shown today in museums in Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels and in the Nafraiture parish church, to which he offerred in 1892 three of his masterworks forming the Holy Trinity Tryptich (The Holy Face, God the Father, the Holy Spirit). Crowded with allegories and symbols, these non-coventional paintings shocked the villagers, who had expected more classical images.

Orchimont (lit., "the Bears' Mount"), today a peaceful village built on a rocky spur, was in the Middle Ages a town surrounded by city walls and protected by a fortress. Deemed impregnable because of its location, the fortress of Orchimont was seized and burned down by Louis XIII's troops on 11 May 1635. In 1878, the building of a road contributed even more to the destruction of the historic site of Orchimont.
During the Second World War, Orchimont was the place of an important anti-German maquis, recalled by the Flachis chapel, built on the tomb of a Flemish maquis killed there on 2 September 1944.
The hamlet of Mointerne, located of the border with France, is nicknamed "Ici la France" (Here is France).


Ivan Sache, 14 December 2007

Flag of Vresse-sur-Semois

The municipal flag of Vresse-sur-Semois is white with the municipal coat of arms in the middle.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 24 April 2000 and confirmed by the Executive of the French Community on 29 September 2000.

The municipal arms of Vresse-sur-Semois are Tranché, au premier d'argent au lion léopardé de gueules, couronné d'or, passant sur un rang de quatre rochers de sinople, mouvant du tranché; au deuxième de gueules à la bande coticée d'argent ("Per bend, 1. Argent a lion gules crowned or passant on four rocks vert issuant from the fess, 2. Gules a bend cotised argent").
The coat of arms of Vresse-sur-Semois can be seen on the website of the Houille-Semois Regional Police. The dexter part of the arms of Vresse-sur-Semois is used as its municipal arms by the neighbouring municipality of Gedinne. A similar dexter part, but "Or a bend cotised gules", is used on the municipal arms of Beauraing.
The lords of Orchimont are reported to have used "Argent a bend cotised gules".

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 14 December 2007