Last modified: 2018-01-16 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Thonon-les-Bains - Image by Ivan Sache, 26 August 2004
The municipality of Thonon-les-Bains (34,895 inhabitants in 2015; 1,621 ha),located on the southern shore of Lake Léman, is the capital of the traditional Province of
Chablais, the northernmost province of Savoy, which was highly disputed between the Catholics and the Protestants after the Reformation. The town is built on terrace dominating the lakeshore, on which the borough and port of Rives was built later.
At the end of the Age of Stone (Magdalenian epoch), Chablais was mostly covered by the glacier of Rhône and a thin steppe. No remains of Magdalenian hunters have been found in the area but a mammoth tusk was discovered in 1885 near Bellevaux, now the masterpiece of the Chablais Museum, housed in the castle of Sonnaz, close to the Town Hall of Thonon.
Human colonization became significant in the second half of the fourth millenium BC. The oldest remains found in Chablais have been related to the Cortaillod civilization, which radiated southwards from Switzerland. In 1862, two lakeside stations were discovered during the revamping of the port of Thonon and of the borough of Rives. Those stations were an early Neolithic station and a bigger one dating back to the late Age of Bronze. The latter station was built on piles and stretched over a 140 x 40 m area. The level of the lake significantly varied through the ages and it is believed today that the lakeside stations were built on the shore and not directly over the waters of the lake.
During the Age of Iron, Chablais was inhabited by the Allobroges, a Gaul tribe living in Savoy and Dauphiné, submitted by the Romans in 121 BC. Remains from that period are scarce in Thonon, so that it is impossible to evaluate the importance of the settlement built there. During the Roman times, a vicus (administrative center) was set up on the plateau dominating the lake on the left bank of river Dranse, on which a bridge or a ford was built. The settlement, stretching over c. 10 hectares, hhas been identified as the stopping place on the 22nd mile of the Roman road linking Geneva to Saint-Maurice. In the first century, the vicus developed and might already have had a port. The villae (estates) set up at the periphery of the vicus,are the origin of the villages of Concise, Marclaz, Ripaille, Tully and Vongy, which were progressively incorporated in the town of Thonon whilst preserving some specific identity.
The urbanization of the town increased in the 2nd century, with the building of basins and water tanks and the establishment of a pottery workshop with eight ovens. In the second half of the 3th century, the vicus, threatened by the Alamans, was abandoned by the inhabitants and eventually burned down.
Nothing is known about Thonon during the Burgundian (443-534) and
Frankish (534-c. 1000) rules but a necropolis dated from 7th century
and a concession act granted in 929 by the Abbey of Saint-Maurice to
Count Turumbert and his wife Emina. The act mentions "villa Donona",
which was identified to Thonon by early historians, without firm
The name of Thonon is found for the first time in 1138, as Thonuns, in an act written by Prior Fulgerius for the foundation of the priory of Bellevaux. In 1250, the priory of Thonon and the churches of Concise and Marclaz were listed among the possessions of the abbey of Ainay, located near Lyon. Then a small village built around a priory, Thonon was protected by the fortress of Allinge-Neuf, which was erected on a hill located a few kilometers away from the village.
On 24 November 1266, Count Peter II of Savoy, aka as "the Little Charlemagne", purchased the rights on the town of Thonon from the priories of Bellevaux and Thonon. This new settlement on the lakeshore strengthened the strategical position of the fortress of Allinge-Neuf, which was no longer isolated among the possessions of the Lords of Faucigny and of the Counts of Genevois. The Counts of Savoy increased the importance of Thonon by granting franchises to the town. The franchises granted by Philippe I on 1 December 1268 in Chillon were confirmed and increased by Amadeus V the Great in 1285 and 1289. The burghers of Thonon were granted exclusive rights on trade, and, in 1301, the exclusive right to seize the goods of deceased usurers. In 1324, Count Edward granted rights on the trade of wines. The franchises boosted trade and economic development. Importants markets and a yearly fair were established. Lombard moneychangers opened a casane (shop) in Thonon, as did the famous merchant Palmeron Turchi.
In the 13th century, a new borough called Rives, mentioned for the
first time in 1283-1284, was built on the lakeshore near the port. In
1289, war broke out with the Lord of Faucigny. Wooden fortifications
were built, to which a stone gate, a fortress and a tower were added in
1295-1296 to protect the port. The tower, still standing, is
called the Tongues' Tower), for a feudal tax paid by butchers to the lord as the tongue of every slaughtered ox or cow. Increased several times and completely rebuilt around 1365, the castle lost its strategic importance when war between Dauphiny and Savoy ended. In 1413, Mary of Burgundy, Amadeus VIII's wife, settled to Thonon and had a new castle built on the site of a former, smaller fortress. The castle had a donjon and at least four towers, fifteen windows and fifteen fireplaces, several
fountains and a chapel. Amadeus' son, Louis, married Ann of Cyprus and
increased the wealth of the castle, furnished with expensive
tapestries, furs and furniture. Thonon was then the main residence of
the ducal court and remained so all along the 15th century, attracting
several immigrants who dramatically increased the population and
activity of the town. Amadeus VIII purchased a vineyard from the
Cartusians and built bigger town walls in 1431-1438.
Amadeus VIII also rebuilt the castle of Ripaille, located east of Thonon, near the mouth of the river Dranse. Ripaille was a Roman villa, and later a hunting lodge for the Counts of Savoy, who enjoyed hunting in the neighbouring forest. During the reign of Count Amadeus VI (aka the Green Count) and his wife Bonne of Bourbon, the court moved to Ripaille. Count Amadeus VII (aka the Red Count) was killed in the forest of Ripaille during hunting and the castle was abandoned. Amadeus VIII rebuilt the castle with seven towers, retiring there with his former brother of arms and setting up the Order of Saint-Maurice. Elected anti-Pope as Félix V by the Council of Basle, the duke resigned in 1449 in order to solve the Greater Western Schism. Voltaire wrote a famous epistle in which he claimed that Amadeus VIII's retirement was more voluptuous than religious (Tu voulus être pape et cessas d'être sage - You wanted to be the Pope and ceased to be wise). In French, a ripaille is indeed a voluptuous lunch, but the name of the castle of Ripaille has nothing to do with that; accordingly, Voltaire made an undeserved, bad reputation to Amadeus VIII.
In the 16th century, Duke Charles III could not preserve Savoy from foreign
invasion. Most of the Duchy was occupied by France, whereas soldiers
from Bern occupied Chablais and set up in Thonon a bailiwick, building the first Town Hall. To suppress the Roman Catholic, Bern sent to Chablais the Protestant pastors Farel and Fabri. Bern withdrew from Chablais in 1567 but war broke out
between Savoy and Geneva, which seized up Thonon, then lacking any town
walls, in 1589. After several episodes of Savoyard reconquest and
Genevan occupation, Chablais was eventually retroceded to Savoy in 1598
by the Treaty of Vervins. The Treaty of Thonon, signed in 1569 with
Valais, set up the eastern border of Savoy at the river Morge, still the border between France and Switzerland, separating the village of Saint-Gingolph into a French and a Swiss municipalities.
Chablais still being a Protestant country, the duke commissioned Francis of Sales (1567-1622), Prevost of the cathedral of Geneva-Annecy, to convert the Chablais back to the Roman Catholic religion. Francis was a brilliant, lively preacher, but the local people were hard to convince. Since people did not want to hear him, Francis wrote his best lectures on small paper leaflets he slipped nightly under the doors of their houses. This original propaganda was fruitful when a few notables converted back to Catholic religion. On 24 December 1596, Francis celebrated the first midnight mass since 60 years on the new altar of the St. Hippolyte church. In 1598, he organized the Thonon Fourty Hours, a ceremony presided on 20 September by the Duke of Savoy and on 1st October by the Cardinal of Medicis. During the ceremonies, Francis was officially appointed Apostle of Chablais and converted several hundred of people, including nobles and ministers. Francis build in Thonon the Holy House, where reading, cathechism, theology, arts, medicine and law was taught. In 1601, Francis appointed the printer Marc de la Rue, who printed several Catholic booklets, such as L'Antidote contre le cathéchisme de Genève par le Révérend Pere Gambarini, capucin (1601), Constitutions Synodales de Mgr François, Evêque de Genève 1603), Vie de Saint Bernard de Menthon (1606, reprinted in 1612), Messe du Très Saint Rosaire de la Bienheureuse Marie toujours Vierge (1606), as well as a weird leaflet entitled Miracle arrivé dans la ville de Genève, en cette année 1609, d'une femme qui a fait un veau, telling the miracle of a women who allegedly gave birth to a calf. It is not known when de la Rue stopped his activity, but Thonon remained without a printing house until 1860. Another important component of the Sainte Maison was the Arts' House, where the newly converted Catholics, especially those coming from Protestant regions, were given professional education. However, the lack of available funds and the improvement of the relations with Geneva transformed Francis' original project into a charity house, which disappeared during the French Revolution.
Francis of Sales was so brilliant that he was later appointed Bishop of Geneva, with his see in Annecy. He wrote several books considered as masterpieces of French language and always refused to leave Savoy.
During the 17th century, Thonon had c. 2,500 inhabitants; six
monasteries were set up in the town by the Visitation Sisters (1627), the
Ursulines (1636) and the Turchine Nuns (1637) for women, and the
Capuchins (1602), the Barnabites (1616) and the Minims (1636) for men.
The monasteries were sponsored by the Duke of Savoy, who offered them
stones and other stuff from the old castle, which had been destroyed by
the French in 1589. The famous quietist mystic Madame Guyon (1648-1717)
stayed for a while in the Ursuline convent, which was then directed
by her spiritual adviser, Father Lacombe, also Provost of the Barnabites.
In the 18th century, the monasteries increased in importance, limiting the development of the town. The princes of the house of Savoy often stayed in Thonon when they went to the neighbouring spa of Amphion, later superseded by Évian. On 20 August 1724, the wedding of Charles-Emmanuel, Prince of Piedmont, with the Princess of Hesse-Rheinfels was celebrated in the St. Hippolyte church.
On 7 June 1791, the young physician Joseph Dessaix and his fellows attempted to seize, to no avail, the prison to liberate a young man jailed because he had sung Ça ira, a revolutionary song. The revolutionaries fled to Switzerland, whilst they were hung in effigy on the market place and their goods were confiscated. On 21 September 1792, General de Montesquiou entered Savoy. Five days later, the Municipal Council of Thonon dated a session from "Year IV of the French Republic and Year I of Equality" and expressed "submission and acknowledgement to France". In October, Thonon welcomed the first Allobroges Legion, commanded by Captain Joseph-Marie Dessaix (1764-1834), born in Thonon. Dessaix had founded in Paris the Club des Allobroges, where Savoyards in exile prepared the incorporation of Savoy to France. He later led the Allobroges Legion, which helped the French revolutionaries to invade Savoy. Napoléon I nicknamed Dessaix "Intrepid" and made of him a Division General and a Count. Incorporation of Savoy to France was voted on 27 November and a violent dechristianisation campaign was set up.
During the First Empire, Thonon was a sous-préfecture< of the department
of Léman, which slightly improved irs economical. After Napoléon's
fall, Savoy was reincorporated to the Kingdom of Sardinia. The Town Hall
of Thonon was rebuilt in 1821-1825 by Mazzone in neo-Sardinian style.
When Napoléon III and Cavour started to negociate the reincorporation of County of Nice and Savoy to France, a pro-Swiss party developed in Thonon. On 30 March 1860, the Geneva Representative John Perrier and a few of his friends, all fairly drunk, hijacked the steamship L'Aigle and landed in Thonon to rouse the population, to no avail. They drunk even more absinth and other strong beverages in the pubs and sailed to Évian, where they had the same lack of success. The lawyer Dessaix celebrated the expedition in the song La Cacade, which is a reference to the famous fiasco of l'Escalade, the expedition set up by the Duke of Savoy against Geneva in 1602.
Napoléon III visited Thonon soon after the incorporation of Savoy into France in 1860 and promoted the development of the town: the sous-préfecture, the prison, the gendarmerie and a modern port were built. The writer Francis Wey (1812-1882), known for his enthusiastic and often fanciful travel stories, nicknamed Thonon "Marseilles of the Small Mediterranean See". The railway was inaugurated in 1880 while new roads were built to links the valleys to Thonon. A spa was opened in 1888, a grand hotel and a casino were built, as well as a funicular linking the port and the upper town.
Thonon increased slowly in the beginning of the 20th century. The 50th
anniversary of the incorporation of Savoy to France was celebrated on 6
September 1910. President of the Republic Armand Fallières came to
Thonon by railway and was welcomed by bells and 101 gun shots.
In 1923, the suppression of the Greater Tax-Free Zone boostered trade in the town. During the Second World War, Thonon was occupied by the Italians and later by the Germans. The repression of the resistance movement was harsh and the liberation of the town was difficult. One of the leaders of the anti-German resistance, the lawyer Georges Pianta (1912-1997), was appointed Mayor and was constantly reelected until his retirement in 1980. Pianta was also constantly elected Representative at the National Assembly. He expressed there fairly conservative views but managed Thonon in a very progressive manner. In 1950, the municipality purchased all the lands and old houses on the lakefront and opened the blevederes, from which the view on the Swiss coast and the port of Rives is wonderful. In 1952, a new municipal beach was opened near the castle of Ripaille. Two years later, the spa was completely rebuilt. The beach and the port were linked in the 1960s by the new Ripaille quay. In 1965, Thonon was one of the first towns in France where urban renovation was performed to replace the old, slummy, boroughs around the Visitation convent. Thonon was also one of the first French towns to have pedestrian streets.
Most ancient industries (the Capitan pasta, the Zig-Zag cigarette papers) have disappeared; Thonon lives today mostly from winter and summmer tourism, trade with Switzerland and its mineral water.
The architect Maurice Novarina (1907-2002) designed several buildings in Thonon,
for instance the church of Vongy and the Cultural Center. He also designed the Bonlieu Center in Annecy and his masterpiece, the Notre-Dame de Toutes Grâces church in Plateau d'Assy, a borough of the municipality of Passy, near Saint-Gervais and Chamonix. The church was decorated by Léger, Lurçat, Bazaine, Rouault, Richier, Bonnard, Matisse, Chagall and Lipchitz.
Valère Novarina, Maurice's son (b. 1942) is one of the most interesting French theater writers. His plays are characterized by an extremely profuse language, including several local words and expressions gathered by the author in the valleys and mountains of Chablais. Novarina followed the way of Jacques Audiberti, multiplying language without destructuring it, as opposed to Ionesco and Beckett.
Another famous writer from Thonon is the French Academician Henry Bordeaux (1870-1963), who wrote several novels a la Paul Bourget, characterized by a traditionalist and provincialist style today totally old-fashioned and hardly readable.
[Joseph Ticon, Bernard Crola, Marcel Sauthier and Claude Sache. Histoire de Thonon et des principaux châteaux du Chablais]
Ivan Sache, 26 August 2004
The flag of Thonon-les-Bains is vertically divided yellow-blue. It is a
banner of the municipal arms, "Per pale or and azure".
The arms are said to have been granted to the town by Count of Savoy Philip (1268-1285), who actually granted its first franchises to the town; therefore it is possible that he also granted the municipal arms, but there is no record of such a grant.
The flag of Thonon can be seen on the balcony of the Town Hall, which flies from the viewer's left to right the flags of Thonon, Savoy, France, the European Union and Chablais. The flag is also widely used in the port and other places of the town.
Ivan Sache, 26 August 2004
Flag of École hôtelière Savoie-Léman - Image by Ivan Sache, 10 January 2018
École hôtelière Savoie-Léman (official website, centenary website) is the oldest public hotel managements shcool established in France.
The first hotel management school in the world was established in 1893
in Lausanne (Switzerland); in 1911, the French Ministry of Commerce and Industry decided to establish a state hotel management school. The
proposal was considered with great reluctance by the hotel owners of
Paris, who had inaugurated their own, private school one year before and claimed they would not hire anyone but their own students. The hotel
owners of several big towns turned down the proposal for the very same
Jules Mercier (1835-1923), Mayor of Thonon-les-Bains (1882-1883; 1902-1920), Representative (1894-1909) and Senator (1909-1920) from the Department of Haute-Savoie, and President of the General Council of Haute-Savoie (1910-1920), was more a visionary, offering to accept the new school in his town; in spite of being quite small (7,000 inhabitants) and outlying (on the French map), Thonon was a prosperous spa town, located in the scenic environment of the south shore of Lake Léman, close to Italy and Switzerland. Mercier said that the brand new Municipal Secondary School, inaugurated in 1910 by the Ministry of Public Instruction, Gaston Doumergue, during the official visit by President Armand Fallières, but soon deemed oversized, could easily house more students. The proposal was backed up by another local notable, Fernand David (1869-1935), Representative (1898-1919) and Senator (1920-1935) from Haute-Savoie, then Minister of Commerce and Industry (1912-1913).
Approved on 19 July 1911 by the Municipal Council, the establishment of the École pratique d'Industrie hôtelière was prescribed by a Decree signed on 2 April 1912 by Fernand David. Renamed to École pratique d'industrie hôtelière de la Savoie et du Léman on 31 July 1917, the school experienced hard times because of the war and its conflict-generating, double-headed direction: the director of the municipal school, as the administrative responsible of the building, had priority over the acting director of the hotel management school.
Eventually granted full autonomy, the hotel management school was
transferred in 1935 to a brand new building designed by the modernist
architect Louis Moynat (1877-1964), who had already redesigned the
school's rooms at its early seat.
Louis Moynat designed several buildings in Thonon: the Norris villa (1906), the Carnot school (1906; demolished in the 1900s to increase the hotel management school), the aforementioned Secondary School (today, Jean-Jacques Rousseau secondary school), the municipal sports hall (1922) the Breda villa (1924), the Walter villa (1926), and the Boccard villa (1929). His most famous works are the hotel management school and the Versoie "Mushroom", a collective fountain supplying fresh water, still highly prized by the inhabitants of the town and tourists. Moynat also designed the worker's estate of the Zig-Zag cigarette paper factory, located in the borough of Vongy.
Moynat's style, originally inspired by Art déco and geomatric kaines, eveolved after 1925 to modernism and simplification (cubic structures and flat roofs, lack of external decoration), as exemplified in the hotel management school and the neighboring Moynat Tower, where the architect established his office.
In the 1950s, Moynat set up partnerships with young architects, such as Roger Buisson, and Maurice Novarina (1907-2002) - who soon became an architect of international repute and overshadowed Moynat's fame.
[Le Messager, 7 June 2012]
During the Second World War, the school, whilst still active, was the headquarters of the Milice française, who tortured and killed there several members of the anti-German resistance. A monument commemorates the sacrifice of the Communist militants Ange Angeli, Marius Bouvet, Jean Genoud, André Grépillat, Jean Tailleu and René Trolliet (shot in the school's courtyard on 26 February 1944 "short after the sentence pronounced by the Martial Court of the French State") and Maurice Flandin-Granget (dead under torture). Armand Antonietti (1903-1988), professor at the school and active member of the Resistance, arrested and transferred to Annecy on 21 April, escaped from jail with the help of his son and a student.
After the liberation, the hotel management school resumed activity. In
2015-2016, 600 students were taught in the school. Practical training is
performed in two restaurants open to the public and a 32-room hotel.
The most famous of the alumni of the hotel management school is Georges Blanc (b. 1943, graduated in 1962; official website), chief and restaurateur at Vonnas (Department of Ain). Awarded three Michelin stars and designated Chief of the Year by Gault et Millau in 1981, Georges Blanc received the mark of 19.5/20 (never attained before) from Gault et Millau.
The flag of École hôtelière Savoie-Léman, hoisted in front of the
building with the flags of France, European Union and Region
Rhônes-Alpes-Auvergne, is white with the school's emblem.
The school's emblem, most probably designed for the celebration of the centenary of the school in 2012, features a faithful representation the main facade of the school, in black, white and golden yellow. Beneath is the writing, on three lines, "ÉCOLE HÔTELIERE" (black) / "SAVOIE - LÉMAN" (golden yellow) / "THONON-LES-BAINS" (black).
Ivan Sache, 10 January 2018
Flag of SNLF - Image by Ivan Sache, 26 August 2007
Located in the port of Rives, the clubhouse of Société Nautique du Léman Français used to fly the SNLF flag, which is the flag of Savoy (white cross on red) with a vertically divided yellow-blue square in the middle and the black letters "SN" and "LF" placed on the horizontal arms of the flag either side of the square.
Ivan Sache, 26 August 2004