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Saint-Gervais-les-Bains (Municipality, Haute-Savoie, France)

Last modified: 2018-01-13 by ivan sache
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Flag of Saint-Gervais - Image by Ivan Sache, 16 August 2017

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Presentation of Saint-Gervais

The municipality of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains (5,546 inhabitants in 2014, 6,363 ha) is located 20 km west of Chamonix, on the border with Italy. Saint-Gervais is often self-styled Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc, reflecting a long struggle for recognition of "property rights" (mostly for image purpose) on Mont Blanc. Chamonix was officially renamed to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc on 21 November 1921.
The exact location of the border between France and Italy is still an unresolved issue. From the Italian point of view, the border follows the top crest of Mont Blanc, shared by Chamonix and Courmayeur. From the French point of view, the border is slightly different, placing the whole Mont Blanc on French territory; on official maps, a part of the southern slope is assigned to the municipality of Saint-Gervais, therefore the claim.
[France 3 Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, 2 January 2014]

Saint-Gervais is made of different mountain villages and hamlets. The main settlement are Saint-Gervais proper, Le Fayet, Le Bettex and Saint-Nicolas-de-Véroce.
[Florence Deprest and Philippe Duhamel. 1993. Territoires de Saint-Gervais. Espaces géographiques, 22,15-25]

In 1806, the miner Pierre Kirchner noticed during a fishing party in the Bon-Nant torrent a source of hot water releasing sulfur-bearing vapor. Commissioned by the préfet of the department of L&ecute;man, physicists and chemists from Geneva analyzed the nature, property, flow and temperature of the water. In 1809, the Paris School of Medicine and the Lyon Medical Society confirmed the "efficiency and great value of the thermal water" of the source. The spa that was established in Le Fayet near the source soon gained national and international fame. In 1883, the Compagnie Générale d’Eaux Minérales et Bains de Mer, a consortium which acquired sources of mineral water all over France (Alet, Allevard, Andabre, Châteldon, Contrexéville, Desaignes, Euzet, Fumades, Salins-les-Bains, Vals and Vichy) and in Belgium (Spa), took over the spa, revamped it and built a modern hotel.
During the night of 12 July 1892, a catastrophic flood of the Bon-Nant destroyed the Bionnay hamlet, a part of Le Fayet village and the spa, claiming more than 200 lives. The origin of the catastrophe was investigated by prominent scientists of the time, such as Louis Duparc (1866-1932, Professor of Mineralogy and Petrography at the University of Geneva), François Forel (1841-1912, Professor at the University of Lausanne and founder of limnology - the study of inland waters) and Joseph Vallot (1854-1925, director of the Mont Blanc observatory. An avalanche caused the collapse of a moraine-dammed lake that had been formed formed by the Tête-Rousse glacier (3,500 m asl) under the influence of the high summer temperature, transforming the Bon-Nant into a huge flood carrying mud, rocks, ice blocks and tree trunks.
Rebuilt, the spa is owned today by the SAS Thermes de Saint-Gervais-les-Bains-Le Fayet. It is considered as an European reference for the cure of atopy and, more generally, of skin diseases.
[Le Messager, 13 January 2016; Joseph Vallot. La catastrophe de Saint-Gervais (12-13 juillet 1892). La Nature, No. 1003, 20 August 1892; Marc Le Roux. La catastrophe de Saint-Gervais : Théorie de l'accident. La Science illustrée, No. 246, 13 August 1892]

Le Fayet (590 m) is the starting point of the Mont Blanc Tramway, proposed in 1902 by the engineer Henri Duportel and achieved in 1914. The line ends at the Eagle's Nest (2,390 m), at the foot of the Bionnassay glacier, considered as the start of the "Royal Way" to Mont Blanc. In summer, the tramway also serves the Tête Rousse and Goûter refuges. In winter, the tramway stops at Bellevue (1,800 m), serving the ski domains of Les Houches and Prarion.
Saint-Gervais is part of the ski domain known as Évasion Mont Blanc, together with another five resorts (Saint-Nicolas, Megève, Les Contamines-Montjoie, Hauteluce, Combloux, La Giettaz - 445 km of pistes).

Ivan Sache, 16 August 2017

Flag of Saint-Gervais

The flag of Saint-Gervais is white with the municipal logo on the left third and the writing "SAINT-GERVAIS / MONT-BLANC" on the remaining part of the flag.
The flag was displayed on the top of Mont Blanc by Antoine Denériaz (b. 1976, gold medalist in downhill at the Turin 2006 Olympics), Maxime Alexandre and Alexis Profit (an aspiring mountain guide from Saint-Gervais) during a event supporting the Paris bid for the 2024 Olympic Games (video).

The logo used on the flag is slightly different from the official, stand-alone logo. "SAINT-GERVAIS" is written in smaller characters, and the left space is filled with "MONT-BLANC". Accordingly, "MONT-BLANC" is written twice on the flag, here and in the graphical part of the logo. The double "M" pattern used, and, especially, the white (blanc) central peak, is another straightforward reference to the territorial claim of Saint-Gervais on Mont Blanc.

Ivan Sache, 16 August 2017

Compagnie des guides de Saint-Gervais/Les Contamines


Flags of the Compagnie des guides - Image by Ivan Sache, 16 August 2017

The Compagnie des guides de Saint-Gervais/Les Contamines was established in 1864 by mountain guides from Saint-Gervais and the neighboring village of Les Contamines-Montjoie, on the model of the Compagnie des guides de Chamonix (the oldest mountain guides' association in the world, 1821). Those associations originally aimed at collecting and managing funds for mutual aid and support to the families of disappeared guides.

The flag of the association, also displayed during the aforementioned event, is white with the association's logo in the center, made of the association's badge and name, with the additional writing "DEPUIS 1864" (since 1864).
The badge shows Mont Blanc, a guide's ice axe, all black, on a white background, surrounded by a circular black rope. The coat of arms of Saint-Gervais, "Azure a semi-lion or" is superimposed in the center, framed in yellow, black and white.

Ivan Sache, 16 August 2017