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Narbonne (Municipality, Aude, France)

Last modified: 2022-03-06 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Narbonne - Image by Ivan Sache, 28 November 2009

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Presentation of Narbonne

The municipality of Narbonne (55,516 inhabitants in 2019; 17,296 ha; municipal website) is located between Montpellier and Perpignan. Narbonne has the biggest municipal territory among the municipalities in the fromer Region Languedoc-Roussillon, of which only one fourth is urbanized, mostly as the town of Narbonne, located 10 km west of the coast, and the sea resort of Narbonne-Plage (Narbonne-Beach).

Narbonne was founded around 118 BC by the Roman Senate after the conquest of the territories located west of river Rhône. Located between Italy and Spain on th junction of two important ways, the Via Domitia and the Via Aquitania, and close to the mouth of river Aude (then knon as Atax), the colony was so strategic that Triumvir Julius Caesar refounded it in 35 BC. Settled by veterans from the 10th Legion who were allocated plots, the colony of Narbo Martius was described by Cicero as "the Roman people's observatory and stronghold. Placed under the protection of Mars, god of War, Narbo Martius was used as a base of operations by the Roman army.
Around 27 BC, Emperor August made of Narbonne the capital of the Province of Gallia Narbonensis (aka Provincia Nostra, "Our Province", often shortened to Provincia, and the remote origin of the name of Provence). The colony became a wealthy town with a forum and a temple dedicated to the Imperial cult.

In the middle of the 3rd century, the Roman Empire was threatened by the Barbarian Invasions. Left uprotected until then, Narbonne was surrounded by a 1,600-m long wall separating an urban area of 17 ha (cité) from the other boroughs of the town (bourg). While the number of towers defending the wall is not known, there were only two gates, in the northern and southern entrances of the town. The stones used to build the wall were mostly picked up from the big funerary monuments erected outside the town during the Pax romana period. According to Sidonius Appollinaris, the wall stil existed in 465, but had been severely damaged during the siege of the town by the Visigoths in 436-437.

Eventually conquered by the Visigoths in 461, Narbonne became the capital of Septimania; the Carolingian reconquest of the area in the 8th century was secured by the set up of the Viscounty of Narbonne, nominally vassal of the County of Toulouse. Viscountess Ermengarde reigned from 1134 to 1192, inviting in her brilliant court the most famous trobadours of the times.
In the 12th-13th centuries, Narbonne was a wealthy river and sea port. The bourg developed as a new town protected by its own walls, separated from the cité by the Old Bridge. Narbonne was ran by three competiting powers, the Viscount, the Archbishop and the Consuls. Strictly controlled by the Archbishop, Narbonne was hardly influennced by Catharism and was, accordingly, not damaged during the Albigensian Crusade, in spite of the unsuccessful claim by Simon de Montfort to be appointed Duke of Narbonne.

In autumn 1355, Narbonne was attacked by the Black Prince. According to Froissart's Chronicle, the old Roman wall resisted but the assaulters seized the bourg; the walls were revamped and adapted to artillery. In the middle of the 15th century, Narbonne gained again strategic significance because of the emergence of the Spanish power. In 1507, King of France Louis XII purchased the Viscounty of Narbonne from his nephew, Gaston de Foix, making of Narbonne "the key and guard of the whole of our country of Languedoc". Appointed Archbishop and Governor of Narbonne, Cardinal Briçonnet completely transformed the town. After the disaster of Pavia (1525), King Francis I gave up his international ambitions and fortified the border of the Kingdom of France, Bayonne and Narbonne becoming the most important fortified towns on the southern boundary of France. Designed by Italian architects and reusing again Roman stones, the bastioned fortifications of Narbonne, among the earliest in France, made of the town an "open air museum"; Francis I, fond of the Italian Renaissance, is said to have supervized himself the revamping of the new fortifications, which he visited in 1533 and 1542. The new wall was 3.5 km in length and enclosed an area of 46 ha, including both the cité and the bourg.
Achieved in 1615, the fortifications of Narbonne were a part of the "Iron Belt" that protected France from the Spaniards. In 1637, the Spaniards besieged the castle of Leucate and reached the outskirts of Narbonne. A counter-attack prevented them to besiege the town. In 1659, the Treaty of Pyrenees allocated Roussillon to France, moving the border with Spain far southwards and making of Narbonne a "second rank fortified town", with little strategic significance. At the end of the 17th century, two more gates were built to facilitate trade in the town.
Narbonne declined in the 18th century, being too far from the Canal du Midi connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Considered as obstacles to the development of the town, several parts of the fortifications were suppressed.

In 1840-1850, the progress of viticulture and the industrial revolution started a new Gilded Age for Narbonne. The building of the railway line, factories, and wealthy houses by the wine traders, required the suppression of the obsolete fortifications. Decommissioned in June 1867, the fortifications were progressively suppressed and replaced by boulevards, a process which was achieved in 1884, restoring Narbonne as the open town it had been in the Roman period. Fortunately, the Archeology and Literature Commission of Narbonne was able to preserve several artefacts, mostly Roman engraved stones, kept in the Lapidary Museum, the richest in France, housed in a former church.
The wine crisis that broke out in 1905 caused poverty in all Languedoc and the the 1907 Winegrowers' Uprising. On 5 May 1907, 100,000 demonstrators gathered in Narbonne, supported by Mayor Ernest Ferroul (1853-1921); Socialist, "Doctor of the Poors" and poet, Ferroul was the spokeman and tribune of the winegrowers, who founded the General Confederation of the South Winegrowers. On 19 June, Ferroul was arrested and jailed in Montpellier; the next day, the army shot again, killing six, including Cécile Bourrel, aged 20, who went to the market of Narbonne (recalled by the song Cecila, by Yves Rouquette).

Narbonne is the birth town of the poet Joê Bousquet (1897-1950); shot during the First World War, Bousquet spent all the rest of his life in a his room at Carcassonne (now the museum La Maison des Mémoires), writing poems, managing a literature review and exchanging letters with other famous writers. Another underrated poet born in Narbonne, Pierre Reverdy (1889-1960) moved to Paris in 1916 where he met the Dadaist and Surrealist groups; he retired in 1927 at the abbey of Solesmes, where he wrote his best poems.
Narbonne's most famous poet is Charles Trenet (1913-2001; website), nicknamed "The Singing Madman". During his long career, Trenet has composed and performed songs that are now considered as national or even international standards (Fleur bleue, 1937; Y'a d'la joie, 1937; Boum !, 1938; Que reste-t-il de nos amours ?, 1942; Douce France, 1943; La Mer [Beyond the Sea], 1948; L'âme des poètes, 1951; Le Jardin extraordinaire, 1957; Narbonne mon amie, 1961).

Rugby Club Narbonne Méditerranée (RCNM) was founded in 1907 as Racing Club Narbonnais (RCN). National champion in 1936 and 1979 and nine times winner of Challenge Yves du Manoir (~ French Cup), RCNM plays now in ProD2 (Second League).
Several players from RCNM have played for the French team, the must famous of them being Walter Spanghero, Jo Maso, François Sangalli, Didier Codorniou, Franck Tournaire and Jean-Baptiste Poux. Born in Narbonne, the colourful prop forward Amédée Domenech (1933-2003), aka "The Duke", never played for RCNM, however.

Ivan Sache, 1 September 2021

Flag of Narbonne

The flag of Narbonne (photo, photo, photo, photo) is vertically divided blue-red. The colors are taken from the municipal arms, "Per pale; 1. Gules a key or; 2. Gules an archiepiscopal cross argent a chief azure three fleurs-de lis or".
These arms are featured in the Armorial Général (image). "Gules plain" were the arms of the Viscounts of Narbonne. The key symbolizes the municipal power while the cross recalls the Archbishops of Narbonne. The chief of France indicates that Narbonne was among the "good towns" of the Kingdom of France, which indeed it was not!

Ivan Sache & Olivier Touzeau, 1 September 2021


[Flag]         [Flag]         [Flag]

Flags seen in Narbonne-Plage - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 1 September 2021

Beside the usual flag of Narbonne, another three flags have been seen in Narbonne-Plagen the town's sea resort:
- the usual flag charged with the white words "Ville de Narbonne" (photo, photo);
- a white flag charged with the muncipal logo adopted in 2015 (photo, photo);
- a white flag charged with the logo of "Tempos d'été", the municipal summertime programme (photo).

Olivier Touzeau, 1 September 2021

Narbonne in the "Book of All Kingdoms"


Flag of Narbonne in the "Book of All Kingdoms" - Image by Eugene Ipavec, 17 January 2010

The "Book of All Kingdoms" [f0fXX], of 1350, tells the voyages of an anonymous Castilian friar and is illustrated with 113 flag images, referred to (though seldom described) in the text.
The 25th flag mentioned and illustrated in the "Book" is attributed to Narbonne.
The 2005 Spanish illustrated transcription of the "Book" [f0f05] shows a white flag with a red cross whose arms have three-lobed petal-like ends and on each corner a ponty wedge pointing to the center; the flag is shown in the ogival default shape of this source.
The anonymous author of the "Book" describes the flag thusly: "Its lord has for device a white pendon with a red cross like the one of Toulouse and on each corner a symbol like this." The said Toulouse flag, #5 in this source, shows a very different design, but the design shown for Narbonne matches much better the Occitan flag as we know it.

António Martins, 15 November 2007