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La Turbie (Municipality, Alpes-Maritimes, France)

Last modified: 2019-06-25 by ivan sache
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Flag of La Turbie - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 18 April 2010

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Presentation of La Turbie

The municipality of La Turbie (3,1546 inhabitants - Turbiasques - in 2004; 742 ha; municipal website) is located on the French Riviera, a few kilometers north-west of Monaco. Located 500 m above the Mediterranean Sea, the site of la Turbie allows watching the coast from Bordighera (Italy) to the Estérel mountains. The municipalities of Beausoleil and Cap d'Ail (formerly known as La Turbie-sur-Mer) seceded from La Turbie in 1904 and 1908, respectively; accordingly, the today's municipal territory of La Turbie is landlocked.

The name of La Turbie appeared in 1078 as "Turbia", a bastardization of turris via, "The Tower on the [Roman] Way" or tropea, "a trophy". The medieval village indeed developed around the remains of the Trophy of the Alps (Tropaeum alpium) built by the "Roman Senate and people" (Senatus populusque romanae - SNPQR) as a tribute to the submission of the Ligurian tribes by Octavius (later crowned emperor as Augustus). The submission campaign, which lasted from 25 to 14 BC, achieved the pacification of the area and the set up of the pax romana.
Achieved in 7 or 6 BC, the monument was probably designed by a disciple of the famous architect Vitruvius. The text engraved on the western wall of the trophy lists 44 to 49 (depending on the interpretation) defeated tribes; this text was also transcribed by Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia, III).
The site of the monument was not selected randomly. Located at the highest point of the new via Julia Augusta, that linked Italy to the new colony of Cemenelum (today Cimiez, on the heights of Nice), the place was dedicated to Hercule (or his equivalent) by the Ligurians, the Phenicians, the Greeks and the Romans; according to the Antonine Itinerary, La Turbie is, "on top of the Alps" (ad summa alpes) the border "where Italy ends and where Gaul begins".
As reconstituted by Jules Formigé, the monument had a square base of 35 m in side supporting a plateform located 12 m above the soil level, crowned by a circle of 24 columns supporting a pyramid topped by a statue of August Imperator, 49 m above the soil level.

In the 5th century, the monks of Lérins led by St. Honorat suppressed the statues of the emperor and his generals; nicknamed turris beata, the Happy Tower, the monument was then a popular place of pagan celebrations and superstitions. Severely damaged during the Barbarian invasions, the ruined monument is today "only" 35 m in heighth.
The trophy was transformed in 1125-1325 into a fortress named "Castro Torbia", around which the village of La Turbie progressively increased. The village, crossed by the Roman way, was protected by two gates; a smaller gate (portetta) allowed the villagers to go to the church, which was located outside the fortifications. Included into the fortress, the Roman trophy was forgotten - and, therefore, preserved - for centuries and rediscovered in the late 17th century by the local historian and priest Pierre Gioffredo (1629-1692).
Part of the defense system of Savoy, the fortress of La Turbie was often besieged but never seized; after the surrender of the garrison without fighting in March 1705, Duke de la Feuillade, on behalf of Louis XIV, ordered to suppress the tower, "of not the least use for the king", which was done on 4 May 1705, causing some additional damage to the Roman trophy. However, the thick core of the monument resisted and was subsequently used as a stone quarry by the villagers, for instance for the building of the nearby St. Michael church in 1764-1777.

On 11 September 1857, Michel Rossetto, Mayor of La Turbie, convinced the visiting Sardinian sovereigns to preserve the historic monument, which was added a "Sardinian wall". Further preservation works and archeological excavations started in 1894 upon request by Alexandre Baréty, General Councillor of Nice. In 1905, the historian - and later Mayor of La Turbie - Philippe Casimir (1853-1939) founded a local archeological society, patroned by Prince Albert of Monaco, to restore the monument. The first stage was the complete extrication of the Roman trophy from the remains of the medieval fortress that were, unfortunately, completely lost. Restoration started in 1909, with the official visit of President of the Republic Armand Fallières and President of the Council (Prime Minister) Georges Clémenceau on 27 April. Further funding for the restoration was provided by the American art patron Edward Tuck (1842-1938) in 1929-1933. Remains of the trophy scattered over various museums were repatriated, except the bust of Drusus, still in Denmark. The Edward Tuck Museum and the revamped Trophy of the Alps were officially inaugurated on 26 April 1934.

Visiting La Turbie in 1860, the poet Théodore de Banville (1823-1891) was fascinated by a huge baytree, which he celebrated by the poem Au laurier de la Turble (To the baytree of La Turbie). Quite forgotten today, the poet was one of the most famous of the time, so that the baytree became, for a while, even more famous than the Trophy of the Alps.

La Turbie is the cradle of automobile mountain races. On 31 January 1897, the last stage of the Marseilles-Nice race was a 17 km hillclimb between Nice and La Turbie; André Michelin, at the wheel of a De Dion powered by a stem engine, won the race at the incredible average speed of 31.8 km per h. On 30 March 1900, the German pilot Wilhelm Bauer crahsed and died, being the first pilot killed during a hillclimb speed event. On 1 April 1903, William Eliot Morris Zborowski, Count de Montsaulvain, died at the wheel of his Mercedes nearly at the same place as Bauer. This event was quoted by Alfred Jarry in his famous parody La Passion considérée comme course de côte (The Passion considered as an uphill bicycle race). As reported in The New York Times, 2 April 1903, the French Minister of the Interior ordered the Prefect of Alpes-Maritimes to "stop the further use of the Nice-La Turbie course for automobiles". The race organizer, the Nice Automobile Club, obtained the lift of the ban in 1909 and the race resumed.

Nearly the same route was used for the last stage of the cyclist race Paris-Nice from 1968 to 1995 (excepting 1977). This time trial often decided the final winner of Paris-Nice. In 1972, Raymond Poulidor was able to defeat Eddy Merckx, who had defeated Jaxques Anquetil three years before. Sean Kelly, seven times in a row winner of Paris-Nice (1981-1988) won five times the La Turbie hillclimb.
In 1996, upon financial pressure by the town of Nice, the arrival of Paris-Nice was relocated on the Promenade des Anglais.

Ivan Sache, 18 April 2010

Flag of La Turbie

The flag of La Turbie, as hoisted on and in front of the Town Hall, is diagonally divided blue-yellow by the descending diagonal, with the greater municipal arms in the center, surmounted by the name of the town in white capital letters.

The arms of La Turbie are made of the shield "Azure the Trophy of the Alps proper" surmounted by a three-towered yellow mural crown and surrounded by two green branches tied by a silver scrolls charged, on top with the Latin words "ARX HERCULIS" (Hercule's Altar) and, on bottom, by "TROPAE AUGUSTI AD SUMMA ALPES" (Trophy of Augustus on top of the Alps).

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 18 April 2010