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Valenciennes (Municipality, Nord, France)


Last modified: 2021-01-28 by ivan sache
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Flag of Valenciennes, three successive versions - Images by Olivier Touzeau & Luc M. Martin, 27 June 2020

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Presentation of Valenciennes

The municipality of Valenciennes (in Dutch, Valencijn; 42,426 inhabitants in 2006; 1,384 ha), located on the Scheldt, close to the border with Belgium, is the capital of the French Hainaut.

Valenciennes is said to have been mentioned for the first time in 693 as la vallée des cygnes (The Swans' Valley), later transformed into Val en Cygnes and eventually Valenciennes. The Latin name name of the town, Valentiniana, rather refers to an anthroponym, maybe Roman emperor Valentinian.

After the fall of the Carolingian Empire, Valenciennes was incorporated to the County of Hainaut, as a border town of the German Empire. Follwing the death of Count Godfrey I in 964, Emperor Otto I detached the County of Valenciennes, granted to Amalric, from the County of Hainaut, which was recentered around the town of Mons and granted to Richar. The County of Hainaut was reunified by Count Herman of Hainaut, appointed Margrave of Valenciennes in 1049.
In 1088, starvation and black plague spared the town, thanks to the Blessed Virgin who surrounded the town with a cordon; every year, the miracle is recalled by a 14-km march called Tour du Saint Cordon. Valenciennes was granted a charter in 1114 by Count of Flanders Baldwin III. The belfry symbolizing the municipal rights was built in 1222, demolished in 1237 and rebuilt in a more suitable place in 1238-1260; the belfry crashed down during a general revamping on 7 April 1843, killing the watch and six inhabitants of neighbouring houses.

In the 15th century, Valenciennes, then under the Burgundian rule, was a main center of arts and culture, thanks to the chronicler Georges Chastelain, the poet Jean Molinet, the painter Simon Marmion, the sculptor Pierre du Préau and the goldsmith Jérôme de Moyenneville. In spite of having welcomed Emperor Charles V in 1524, Valenciennes took the Protestant party. In 1562, the mob prevented protestants to be burned at stake, this event being recalled as the Journée des Maux [Mal] Brûlés (Day of the Ill-Burned). The Protestants were eventually expelled from the town by Alexander Farnese in 1580.

In the 17th century, the Scheldt was canalized, which allowed the development of cloth industry in the town; the famous Valenciennes lace was invented at that time. After a failed attempt in 1656, the French army commanded by Vauban seized Valenciennes in 1677; allocated to France by the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678, the town was heavily fortified by Vauban. Valenciennes remained French after the battle of Denain, won by Marshal Villars in 1712.
The town and its surroundings were looted by the British-Austrian troops in July 1793, the town being reconquered by the French army only in August 1794. Valenciennes was decommissioned as a fortress town on 6 August 1890, which caused most of the fortifications to be demolished in 1891-1893.

Coal extraction in the region of Valenciennes started at Fresnes in 1718 while the Compagnie des Mines d'Anzin was founded in 1757. Due to the developmpent of coal mining, Valenciennes was in the 19th century the steel capital of North France.

Valenciennes was nicknamed in 1860 the "North Athens" because of the great number of artists born in the town and trained in its arts schools. The most famous of them is the painter Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), pioneer of the Rococo style and inventor of the fêtes galantes paintings. His student Jean-Baptiste Pater (1695-1736) worked, in a similar style, for Frederick the Great. Charles Eisen (1720-1778), mostly known for his dissolute life, was also a famous engraver, illustrator of La Fontaine, Boccacio and Ovid. The sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875) made the famous group La Danse (La Danse) for the facade of the Paris Opera, which was deemed "an offense to common decency" at the time. The landscape painter Henri Harpignies (1819-1916), a friend of Corot and member of the Barbizon School, was nicknamed by Anatole France "Michelangelo of trees and peaceful countryside".

The historian and politician Henri Wallon (1812-1940), born in Valenciennes, has remained famous for the Wallon Bill (Amendement Wallon), adopted by the Chamber on 30 January 1875. Prescribing the election of the President of the Republic by the National Assembly (Chamber of Representatives + Senate) for a seven-year term, the bill was adopted by a majority of one (353-352) in first reading, widely conformed in second reading (413-248), and eventually incorporated in Article 2 of the Constitutional Law of 25 February 1875, forming the legal base of the Third Republic. Wallon said "My bill does not proclaim the Republic, it makes it" and was nicknamed "The Father of the Republic".

Valenciennes is the birth town of Charles Nungesser (1892-1927), a pilot who won 43 fightings during the First World War for the French Air Force and disappeared on 8 May 1927 with François Coli, when attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean on the Oiseau Blanc (White Bird). His name was given to the football stadium of Valenciennes.

Ivan Sache, 13 December 2009

Flag of Valenciennes

Valenciennes successively used three flags, all white with different renditions of the logo:
- monochromous emblem with text on the right (photo), since 2016;
- colored emblem with text on the right (photo), used in 2014;
- colored emblem with text beneath it (photo), used in 2009.

The logo of Valenciennes was designed by Luc M. Martin, student at SupInfoCom, a school of computer graphics based at Valenciennes. Its elaboration was made progressively, using different, converging elements. For instance, research made on the image the inhabitants have of their town, of the phonetics of the name "Valenciennes", close to "Val des Cygnes". A coat of arms of the town featuring a swan [see above] was also used, as was, mostly, taken a more original and esthetic party prescribing the use of the figure of the swan, as opposed to the lion (also used on some versions of the coat of arms, but more common). The triangular shape, point downwards, of the logo, can recall the shape of a slag heap, very common in the heritage of this coal-mining region, but standing on the point, therefore with an idea of dynamic revival.
The three basic colours of the logo, middle blue shaded to white, yellow and bright yellow brushstrokes, are also intended to evoke a young dynamism through their vividity and by stressing a move to the right therefore, in some sort, to the future. The yellow and red brushstrokes are then sometimes taken as reminders in the visual communication of the municipality.
The matching typography and the whole graphic charter required for a normed use were set up at the SupInfoCom school to allow the official launching of the logo, made in September 1990 on the Place d'Armes of Valenciennes.

The triangular shape must also recall the "V" of Valenciennes.

Olivier Touzeau, , Luc M. Martin & Ivan Sache, 27 June 2020

Banner of arms of Valenciennes


Banner of arms of Valenciennes - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 13 December 2009

Valenciennes used to fly a red flag with a yellow lion with blue tongue and claws (photo), that is a banner of the municipal arms, "Gules a lion or armed and langued azure".

According to Borel d'Hauterive (Histoire des armoiries des villes de France), who gives "Gules a lion or", the lion has always been the symbol of the Counts of Valenciennes, as a common heraldic symbol in the region (see the lion of Flanders). A seal of Valenciennes stamping a document dated 1374 shows a fortress and a lion flanked dexter by a sun and sinister by a crescent; another seal, dated 1509, shows an octofoil framing a lion flanked by two fleurs-de-lis. The arms of Valenciennes are sometimes presented as "Per pale, 1. Gules a lion or, 2. Azure a swan argent on a sea vert", which is an erroneous (Borel writes "a pitiful pun"!) derivation of canting arms from the spurious etymology mentioned above.

In his Recueil de généalogies, fragments, notes et épitaphes des provinces du Nord, recueillies d'anciens manuscrits, renseignements particuliers et autres ouvrages, rédigées par ordre alphabétique (manuscript in 14 volumes, 19th century), the local scholar Casimir de Sars de Solmon presents the arms of the County and the Town of Valenciennes, as follows (Vol. 1):
- The arms of the County of Valenciennes are "Vert a lion or [...] argent". Supporters two swans of the same. Crest the lion of the shield issuant).
- Since then, having kept only the title of Town, bears "Gules a lion or armed and langued gules". Supports two swans. Ducal coronet.

Olivier Touzeau, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 13 December 2009

Valenciennes Football Club


Valenciennes supporters' flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 3 May 2006

The football club of Valenciennes is a legendary French football club and one of the three main clubs of the north of France, along with RCFC Lens and Lille OSC.
The club was founded in 1913 as Union Sportive Valenciennes Anzin (USVA), Valenciennes and Anzin being two neighbouring towns. The club became professional in 1933 and joined the First League in 1935, starting with a defeat 12-1 against the outgoing champion FC Sochaux. The club could not stay in the First League. In 1951, USVA, still playing in the Second League, played the final of the French Cup in Colombes and lost against RC Strasbourg (3-0). In 1956, the club joined back the First League after having defeated its local rival Lille. USVA went down to the Second League in 1961 but came back to the First League the next season. The club ranked 3rd in 1964-1965 and 1965-1966. That season, Serge Masnaghetti scored three times in seven minutes, which has remained the most rapid hat-trick in the French football. In the 1970s, USVA was often involved in the "lift", that is often moved between the First and Second League. In 1981, the club was elected for the second time best French club for the training of young players by the magazine France-Football. It was the model of a club with modest ambitions and a strong local identity.

In June 1982, USVA was defeated by Mulhouse in play-down (5-2; 1-1) and the club started its descent to hell. The name of the club was changed to USVAA (the second A for Arrondissement) in 1987 and joined back the First League in 1992. This was the year of the infamous "VA-OM affair", a fixed match involving the controversial president of Olympique de Marseille Bernard Tapie. The club joined back the Second League next year and was relegated to the National Championship (Third League) in 1994. In 1995, the club went into liquidation and was relegated to the Amateur France Championship (CFA).

In 1996, the club was restructured and took his current name of VAFC (website).
In 1998, the club won the CFA and joined the National Championship. After another year in CFA, VAFC won the National Championship in 2005. With a small budget and a team of young players trained by Antoine Kombouaré, VAFC unexpectedly won the Second League in 2006 and played in the First League until 2014.

The traditional colours of VAFC are red and white. During the matches of the 2005-2006 season, supporters consistently waved flags vertically divided red-white.

Ivan Sache, 13 December 2009