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Évian-les-Bains (Municipality, Haute-Savoie, France)

Last modified: 2018-01-13 by ivan sache
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Flag of Évian - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 5 September 2004

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Presentation of Évian

The municipality of Évian-les-Bains (8,139 inhabitants in 2009; 430 ha) is located on the southern shore of Lake Leman, 10 km east of Thonon-les-Bains and 17 km west of the village of Saint-Gingolph, which constitutes the Franco-Swiss border. The wide delta of river Dranse was in the past a kind of natural border that isolated Évian from the rest of Savoy and made traffic extremely difficult, especially in summer. The building of a new bridge and new roads solved the problem.

Évian was settled by the Celts and the Romans, but the town was developed much later by the Dukes of Savoy, who fortified it. Until 1865, Évian remained a small fortified town with walls bathed by the lake. The Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption church, built in the 13th century in early Savoyard Gothic style, was also fortified and projected into the lake.
Évian is one of the few French thermal spas not built on former Gallo-Roman thermae, since the thermal baths were opened only in the 18th century. Since the 17th century, the Dukes of Savoy used to take the iron-bearing waters in Amphion, a village located between Évian and Thonon, now part of the municipality of Publier, but Évian remained ignored. However, the name of Évian is related with water. Most probably derived from a Celtic or pre-Celtic root meaning "water", the name was written Aviano in 1150 and Yvians in 1268. Local pencil pushers invented the Latin form Aquianum in the Middle Ages.
In 1789, the Marquis de Lessert, a country squire from Auvergne, suffering from his kidneys and liver, took the waters in Amphion, to no avail. During a trip in Évian, he drank water from the St. Catherine's source, which gushed forth in Mr. Cachat's garden. Feeling better, the marquis promoted the "miraculous" source, which was rapidly recommended by doctors. The wise Mr. Cachat quickly enclosed his garden and started selling the water.

The first private bathing resort in Évian was opened in 1826 by the Swiss banker François Fauconnet, after having obtained permission from King Charles Félix (Letters Patented signed on 20 January 1826 in Turin). The first resort was built in 1827 in the rue Nationale, now the main street in Évian, on the site of the former St. Catherine's church. The resort, made of two buildings linked by a pump room and a large terrace, was sold in 1835 following Fauconnet's bankruptcy. In 1839, the Société des Eaux Minérales de Cachat purchased the resort and built the Hôtel des Bains, transformed in 1859-1860 into the Grand Hôtel des Bains.
In 1860, Savoy was incorporated to France, taking benefit of the industrial development of the Second Empire. The railway line was extended from Annemasse to Évian, officially renamed Évian-les-Bains in 1864, via Thonon.
The Société des Eaux d'Évian), incorporated in 1869, performed several drilling and acquired sources. The Society funded the building of big hotels, of a theater and of a pump room. In 1878, the French Academy of Medicine approved the use of the Évian mineral water. The appearance of the town was dramatically altered. Baron Louis-Eynnemond de Blonay bequeathed to the town his castle, soon transformed into a gambling house, and all the neighbouring land. The lake front was moved forward on the lake, moving the church and the center of the town 100 m away from the shore. In 1897-1898, the architect Brunnarius completely transformed the Grand Hôtel des Bains into the Hôtel Splendide, then the biggest palace on the French shore of Lake Leman. The Royal Hôtel (still active) was built in 1909. Évian attracted the European gentry. In 1873, the Swiss Compagnie Générale de Navigation (CGN) organized the first cruises on the lake.
Scientific evidence of the effect of the water on kidneys was provided in 1902. The baths were revamped in 1902 for 1.5 billion francs by Brunnarius, who died before the completion of the project. The main hall was 68-m long, 25-m wide and 31-m high. The modern casino of Évian was built in 1912 by the architect Hébrard, on the model of the Hagia Sophia basilica in Istanbul.
Évian declined in 1929 but water-cure activity resumed after the Second World War. A new pump room was built in 1956 by the architect Maurice Novarina, who also designed in 1983 the new water-cure establishment, partially built underground to preserve the homogeneity of the park. The casino is probably the most important source of income in Évian.
Évian housed in spring 2003 a summit of the G8.

The production of mineral water was industrialized in 1960, the famous bottle with the pink label being sold in supermarkets. Évian is now the first exporter of mineral water in the world, with 4,000,000 of bottles produced per day in the bottling factory located in Amphion. Évian, part of the Danone group, is still known locally as "la Cachat", from the name of the source.

The Évian Accords, signed on 18 March 1962, acknowledged the independence of Algeria and appointed the FLN as single speaker for further negociations.
Discussions had started on 5 March between the French government and the Provisory Government of the Algerian Republic, founded on 19 September 1958. The cease-of-fire was signed on 19 March. The agreement was approved in France by a referendum on 8 April and in Algeria by a plebiscite on 1 July.
Radical supporters of French Algeria (OAS) tried to stop the discussions by committing a bomb attempt, killing the Mayor of Évian, Camille Blanc, who was not even involved in the discussions.

During the town's Gilded Age, several writers oversummered in Évian, in particular Anna de Noailles and Marcel Proust.
Anna, Countess Mathieu de Noailles (1876-1933), born Princess Brancovan in the Princely House of Wallachia (Romania), spent most of her summers in the house bought by her father in Amphion. Her work was deeply inspired by Lake Leman. She wrote three novels, an autobiography and several lyric, neo-romantical poems. These poems seem now fairly conformist and old-fashioned, and it is difficult to imagine how popular Anna de Noailles was. One of the first aristocrats to join the Dreyfusard party, she was the first woman to be appointed Commander of the Order of the Legion of Honour. Anna de Noailles was buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetary in Paris, but her heart remained in the cemetary of Publier, with the following epitaph "Here sleeps my heart, vast witness of the world".
Marcel Proust (1871-1922), an ardent admirer of Anna de Noailles, once wrote her that she was even better than the Blessed Virgin. Proust spent a few summers in Évian with her mother in the beginning of the 20th century. Proust used several events of his own life to compose the novel À la recherche du temps perdu. An important place in the novel is the sea resort of Balbec, where the narrator met characters such as Albertine, Robert de Saint-Loup and the painter Elstir. The narrator lived in the Grand Hôtel, whose main model is the Grand Hôtel in Cabourg (Normandy). However, some elements of the landscape might not be of Normand origin, especially the green mountain the narrator saw from his room. It is therefore possible that the Hôtel Splendid in Évian was among the models of the Grand Hotel in Balbec.
An important event of the novel was directly transposed from Proust's real life. In September 1905, two hours after arriving in Évian, Proust's mother was struck down by an uremia crisis. Brought back to Paris, she died from nephritis on 26 September, aged 57. Proust never recovered from this sad event, which he transposed as the death of the narrator's grand-mother.

Ivan Sache, 5 September 2004

Flag of Évian

The flag of Évian, as seen on the Town Hall (December 2002), is vertically divided blue-red with the municipal coat of arms placed in the middle.

The coat of arms is "Azure a fish argent per fess swallowing a smaller fish of the same, a chief gules a cross of the first". The shield is surmounted by a mural crown or
Fishing has long disappeared from Évian but is still active in the neighbouring smaller ports of Petite-Rive, Grande-Rive and Meillerie. The chief is made of the arms of Savoy, often used in the local municipal heraldry.

The coat of arms dates back (at least) from the 15th century. The original Latin motto of the town, Deo et ducis fidelis perpetuo (To God and the Duke, a perpetual loyalty), was slightly changed to Deo et regis fidelis perpetuo when the Duke of Savoy was succeeded by the King of Sardinia.
A watercolor by Victor Ferrero, from the end of the 19th century, shows the coat of arms with a white cross on a blue field in chief instead of the traditional chief of Savoy (white cross on red) and the fish proper on a white field, instead of white fishes on a blue field. Moreover, there is a thin yellow fimbriation between the field and the chief of the shield.
[Évian à travers les siècles, exhibition catalogue, Éditions du Nant d'Enfer, 2001]

Ivan Sache, 5 September 2004

Évian Les Thermes

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Flags of Évian Les Thermes - Images by Ivan Sache, 14 August 2017

Three flags are hoisted in front of the spa (commercially branded Évian Les Thermes, thermes being the usual word in French for "a spa"). From viewer's left to right, the flags are red, blue and pink, respectively. Each flag is charged with three white mountain silhouettes.

The pink color and the mountains are taken from the graphic identity of the eau d'Évian (Évian water) brand (website).
Pink appeared in the Évian water identity in the 1930s; at the time, infant care was the main commercial target for bottled water. Évian water was self-styled "the water for bottle-feeding", due to its mineral content and microbio:ogical purity. Pink is a symbol of youth, especially for babies; traditionally, pink buns was a sign of baby's health.
With time, Évian water conquered the market of adult general health and fitness, the mineral balance and purity if the balance being still highlighted. The pink color became less prominent - the plain pink bottle labels were progressively replaced by white and blue labels, some pink elements being kept, probably as a reference to the historical bottles.
In the 1960s, the three mountains were added to the label to highlight the natural origin of the water. Maintained up to now on all successive Évian logos, the three peaks do not seem to represent a particular mountains in the area. Rather, they convey the idea of water gushing forth from a mountain source, which is definitively not the case.

Évian water indeed comes from the Gavot impluvium (600-900 m asl), a natural area (3,224 ha) of water and snow collection, located 10 km north of Évian (presentation). Water filtration through several geological layers until the source take at least 15 years.
The Association pour la Protection de l'Impluvium de l'Eau Minérale d'Évian (APIEME, website) was established in 1992 by the SA des Eaux d’Évian (2/3) and the municipalities of Évian, Publier, Neuvecelle and Maxilly (1/3) to maintain wet areas required for water filtration and preserve the water from pollution. The impluvium was registered on the Ramsar list (List of Wetlands of International Importance) on 15 September 2008 (as Évian impluvium, registration file).

Ivan Sache, 14 August 2017

Club de l'Aviron d'Évian


Burgee of CAE - Image by Ivan Sache, 18 December 2004

Some members of the rowing club Club de l'Aviron d'Évian (CAE, website) have won international fame:
- Émile Clerc, aka Milou, born in 1934, was a professional fisher in Yvoire; he started rowing in the Club de l'Aviron de Thonon and won the Henley regatta with the eight from the Bataillon de Joinville (sports unit of the French army). Milou competed in the Olympic Games in Melbourne (1956), Rome (4th in eight) and Tokyo (10th in coxless four); he is today responsible of the rowing club Excenevex Skiff with Jacques Vignon, former coach of the rowing club of Geneva.
- Patrick Raymond won five national titles and took part to the Olympic Games in Montreal (1976); he is today a coach of the national French team in rowing.
- Serge Fornara started rowing in 1969 and won ten national titles, including five of them with Patrick Raymond and another two with Barathay Sr. and Jr, the second title ten years later; he took part to three Olympic Games.
- Samuel (Samy) Barathay was born in 1968 and is one of the best French rowers ever. He was champion of the world in double scull with Y. Lamarque in Rudnice (1993), bronze medalist in Indianapolis (1994) and in the Olympic Games in Atlanta (1992) with F. Kowal. He also won several national titles. Samy is today a regional coach for the national team in Chambéry.

The burgee of the CAE is blue with a red border and a black triangle bordered red and charged with the red letters CAE placed near the hoist. Blue and red are the municipal colours of Évian.

Ivan Sache, 18 December 2004