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Tours (Municipality, Indre-et-Loire, France)

Last modified: 2006-12-23 by ivan sache
Keywords: indre-et-loire | tours | towers: 3 (white) | fleurs-de-lis: 3 (yellow) |
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[Flag of Tours]         [Flag of Tours]

Flag of Tours, two reported designs
Left, as reported by Pascal Vagnat - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 14 May 2006
Right, as reported by Nicolas Hugot - Image by Nicolas Hugot, 14 May 2006

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Presentation of Tours

The town of Tours (137,046 inhabitants; 300,000 when including the suburbs) is located on the river Loire, 225 km south-west of Paris, in the traditional province of Touraine. The historical importance of Tours is explained by its geographical location: Tours is located on the crossroads of two main roads linking Lyon to Brittany and Paris to Bordeaux, respectively.
Tours got its name from the Gaul tribe of Turons. After the Roman conquest, the town of Caesarodunum (Caesar's hill) stretched over more than 100 ha in the plain of Loire. At the end of the IIIrd century, the barbaric invasions started and the inhabitants of the city withdrew to the center of the town, which was surrounded by a thick wall. In 375, the town, renamed Turones, was the capital of the IIIrd Lyonnaise province, which included Touraine, Maine, Anjou and Brittany.

Tours became at that time a main center of the Christian religion, thanks to Bishop saint Martin (316/7-397), born in Sabaria, Pannonia (today Szombathely, in Hungary), where his father was a military tribune. He spent his youth in Pavia (Italy) and served in the mounted imperial guard. The famous episode of the cloak he cut into two parts to dress a beggar took place in Amiens, in the north of France. Martin later left the army and converted to the Christian religion; he became a disciple of saint Hilaire (c. 315-c. 367), Father of the Latin Church, Bishop of Poitiers and main opponent to Arianism in the Occident. The Arian doctrine, professed by Arius of Alexandria (c. 256-336), denied the divinity of Christ; it was condemned as an heresy by the councils of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381), but eventually disappeared only in the VI-VIIth centuries. However, the Arians were powerful in Gaul and exiled Hilaire in 356. Martin left Gaul for Pannonia, where he converted his pagan mother; he stayed in Illyria and Milan, from where he was expelled by the Arians, and settled in a desert island off the coast of Liguria.
When Hilaire was restored in Poitiers, Martin joined him back and founded in 361 in Ligugé, near Poitiers, the first Christian monastery in Gaul. Martin ressuscitated a catechumen, a miracle which made him very famous in the region. After Hilaire's death, Martin was called to Tours in 371 on the pretext of helping a sick man. Against his will and in spite of the reluctancy of some, who found that monk fairly shabby-looking, Martin was consecrated Bishop of Tours on 4 July 371. However, he decided to preserve his monastic life and found the monastery of Marmoutier (lit., Martin's monastery) across the river Loire. Martin attracted several monks and disciples, which helped him in his fight against paganism. Martin's method was simple and efficient: wherever he went, he called together the villagers, preached and then demolished the pagan temples and cut the sacred trees, which he often deflected with the sign of the cross when they fell down to him. All along his life, Martin remained very humble and refused to mess with the mighty. At the end of his life, he was attacked by several priests and bishops, who would have prefered a more comfortable and less religious life, and nearly withdrew from society.
In 397, Martin went to Candes (later called Candes-Saint-Martin), on the confluency of Loire and Vienne, in order to solve a conflict which had broken out among clarks. He died there on 8 November. As it was the rule at that time, the monks of Ligugé and Marmoutier attempted the impossible to keep the very profitable body of the bishop. The monks of Marmoutier were tricky rowers: they stole the body during the night and brought it back via the river Loire to Tours. The tradition says that wherever Martin's body was transported, trees grew green again, plants blossomed and birds sang. A very mild autumn period is still called in France été de la Saint-Martin (Indian summer; lit., St. Martin's summer). Martin was buried on 11 November, which is since then St. Martin's Day.

Martin's disciple Sulpicius Severe wrote his vita (biography; lit., life), which became a best-seller and made of Martin the most popular of the French saints. There are more than 500 villages called Saint-Martin in France and Martin is still the most common surname in France. Martin was the first saint to have been canonized without having been martyrized. A basilica was built by saint Perpet in 482 in Tours around Martin's grave; it was 53 x 20 m and had 120 columns and 32 windows. The church was burnt down during the big blaze in 997, rebuilt in 1004, sacked by the Huguenots in 1562 and eventually suppressed in 1802. A new basilica was rebuilt in 1886-1924 in neo-Byzantine style and keeps saint Martin's tomb in its crypt. Martin's tomb is still a very popular place of pilgrimage, especially on 11 November.
In 496/498, King of the Franks Clovis (c. 465-511), still a pagan, visited the basilica and promised to convert to the Christian religion if he defeated the Alamans, which he did; Clovis was christened by saint Remi in Reims around 498. In 507, during the war against the Wisigoths, Clovis ordered his soldiers to preserve Tours. After his victory against Alaric II in Vouillé, he came back to Tours, where he was granted the emblems of Consul offered by the Emperor of Orient. All the royal lineages which succeeded Clovis paid a particular attention to Tours and saint Martin's tomb.

In 573, Georges Florent (538?-594), better known as Gregor, was appointed Bishop of Tours by King of Austrasia Sigebert I (561-575) and Queen Brunehaut. As the bishop of a main city, Gregor was constantly involved in the quarrels of the Merovingian princes. His main opponent was King of Neustria Chilpéric I (561-584): in his books, Gregor ridiculed the king's lame attempts to reform theology and poetry and to add new letters to the alphabet. Gregor traveled a lot for attending councils and various meetings and was a very curious man. He wrote several books, which, in spite of being marred by trite remarks, unverified statements and exaggerations, are a very vivid source on the early Christian times in Gaul. His masterwork is the "History of the Franks", in ten volumes, which yielded him the nickname of "Father of the French history". Most of our knowledge on the Franks comes from Gregor's history books.
Saint Gregor found an abbey near St. Martin's basilica, which increased the fame of Tours and attracted even more pilgrims, including the mighty, who often had to be absolved from several crimes.

In 796, Alcuin (730?-804) was appointed Abbot of St. Martin by Charlemagne. Alcuin (Albinus Flaccus) was an Anglo-Saxon clark from York. In 782, Charlemagne invited him to Aachen, where he ruled the palace's school and initiated the so-called Carolingian Renaissance. Alcuin was Charlemagne's prefered private councillor and prepared the restoration of the Empire in 800; his letters are a main source for the Caroligian history. In Tours, Alcuin completely reformed the abbey and the 200 idle monks started working again. Two courses were created, one elementary and one for the teaching of the liberal arts (grammar, rhetorics, logics, arithmetics, geometry, music and astronomy). Calligraphy was renewed in the St. Martin's scriptorium. After Alcuin's death, Tours remained an important center of culture; a council was held there in 813, where it was prescribed to the priests to comment the Bible in Romanic language instead of Latin; in the 840s, the scriptorium released the famous Alcuin's Bible (a revision of the Vulgate, which was spread all over Europe), the Moütier-Grandval Bible and Charles the Bold's Bible.

Tours was sacked by the Norsemen in 853. The churches and the abbey were burnt down, but St. Martin's relics were hopefully transfered to Auvergne, a safer place. After new attacks in 903, the city walls were increased and a new borough, called Châteauneuf or Martinopolis, was built in the west of the ancient town. The abbey fell into cultural and religious decline but became a source of wealth and political power for its new abbots, who were no longer clarks but princes from the Robertian lineage. The abbey had power on more than 200 canons, among which most archbishops, bishops and abbots of Gaul were selected. The abbey kept St. Martin's famous cloak (at least one half of it), called cape or chape (in Latin, cappa). Hugues, Duke of France, a member of the Robertian dynasty, was elected King of France in Senlis in 987; in the XIIth century, he was given the nickname of Capet and has been known since then as Hugues Capet, which is a direct reference to St. Martin's cloak. Martin's cappa is the root of the word chapel (in French, chapelle), a chapel (in Latin, cappella, 679) being originally the reliquary used to keep the cloak and later a sacred room in the royal palace where the relics were kept. Smith [smi76], repeating an old tradition, says that the cloak, placed in a portable oratory, was used on the battlefields by the French kings from Clovis onwards as a kind of war flag. Smith shows a picture of St. Martin's cloak as a blue piece of cloth and it is often said that this is the origin of the blue field on the French royal banners and of the blue stripe of the French Tricolore. Pastoureau [pst98] is more cautious in his interpretations of the ancient texts: the only evidence is that blue was the heraldic colour of the Capetian lineage, but the origin of this choice is obscure.

The town of Tours was destroyed by a huge blaze in 997 and promptly rebuilt. In the XIth century, Tours was among the stakes of the struggle between the houses of Blois and Anjou. The latter eventually won, and Tours was later part of the Plantagenet Empire. A council was hold by Pope Alexander III in the town in 1163. In 1205, King Philippe-Auguste seized Tours and incorporated it to the Kingdom of France. Tours was very wealthy in the XIIIth century. King Saint-Louis adopted the currency minted in Tours, called livre tournois rather than the livre parisis, minted in Paris, as the royal currency. The black plague scoured the town in 1351. During the Hundred Years' War, Tours was never directly threatened by the English but its city walls were increased. Tours became the capital of the Duchy of Touraine, granted to King-to-be Charles VII in 1417 as his apanage. Joan of Arc stayed in Tours in 1429 and purchased there her armour. King Charles VII settled in the town in 1444 and signed there a truth with King of England Henry VI on 28 May 1444.

Under King Louis XI (1461-1483), Tours was de facto the capital of the Kingdom of France. The king stayed in the castle of Plessis and set up there a brilliant court, whose main artist was the miniaturist from Tours Jean Fouquet (1415/1420-1478-1481), famous for his Grandes Chroniques de France and Antiquités Judaïques. Louis XI restored the fame of the St. Martin's abbey. The last times of Louis XI's reign were difficult. The king became paranoid, believed he suffered from leprosis and was scared by imaginary plots and attempts. Louis XI had an obsession with death and the court was under the influence of astrologers, seers and charlatans of that ilk supposed to predict when the king would die. His personal doctor was asked the same question, and wisely answered "His Majesty will die one day after my own death" in order to save his life. After the death of the king, the court moved to Amboise.
Louis XI attempted to modernize and develop industry in his kingdom. He sponsored silk and brocade production in Lyon, to no avail. Therefore, the workers and the looms were transported to Touraine. In the middle of the XVIIth century, there were 11,000 looms active in the province and two yearly tax-free fairs in Tours. The decline started in 1680 when silk industry eventually throve in Lyon; there were only 1,000 looms still active in Touraine in 1789. Tours progressively lost its political and economical importance, and was locally superseded by Angers and Orléans, with less than 20,000 inhabitants in 1801.

In September 1870, the Government of National Defense set up by Gambetta after the fall of the Second Empire settled for a while in Tours, but quickly withdrew to Bordeaux because of the Prussian threat. The same situation occurred in June 1940, and the town was bombed and burned from 19 to 21 June. In 1944, Tours was bombed again; 136 were killed on 20 May. At the end of the war, 1,543 buildings were completely dstroyed and another 7,960 severely damaged, mostly in the historical downtown and near the Loire.
The historical center of Tours, known as old Tours (vieux Tours), was completely revamped in the 1970s. At that time, Tours had a fairly original Mayor named Jean Royer. Royer had some very old-fashioned ideas. For instance, he forbid the opening of supermarkets in the municipality of Tours, in order to protect small shop owners and for the great benefit of the neighbouring towns; he was able to negotiate a very long section of toll-free highway serving the town and its suburbs. He was also famous for his moral intransigence and became a great target for the feminists. He was candidate at the presidential election in 1974, and his meetings were often interrupted by young women showing him her breasts and throwing her bra to his face, which was something extremely unconventional and shocking at that time.

Tours is also a main place in the history of the workers' movements in France. In 1920, the Congress of Tours was the birth place of the French Communist Party. The XVIIIth congress of the United Socialist Party was opened in Tours on 25 December 1920. The main question to be discussed was the adherence to the IIIrd Socialist International, founded by the Russian revolutionaries in 1920. There were three trends in the congress: the promoters of adherence, including the Committee for the IIIrd International; the right wing of the party, led by Thomas, Sembat and Blum; and the center, led by Faure, Longuet, Frossard and Cachin and divided among promoters and opponents to the adherence. The adherence promoters gained 70% of the votes, the right wing, 10% and the center 20%. Following an ultimatum sent by the executive of the IIIrd International, the opponents to the adherence were excluded from the party, soon renamed French Communist Party. The excluded Socialists met in an other room and founded SFIO (Section française de l'Internationale ouvrière), in order to "guard the old house" (garder la vieille maison), said Léon Blum. SFIO became the Socialist Party in 1971, absorbing a few other lesser parties and political clubs. The Congress of Tours was a tragic scission in the French workers' movement, which is still marked by that event.


  • Guide Vert Michelin Châteaux de la Loire
  • Encyclopaedia Universalis

Ivan Sache, 14 May 2006

Flag of Tours

Different versions of the municipal flag of Tours have been reported, all of them being based on the municipal coat of arms (GASO):
De sable aux trois tours crénelées d'argent, essorées et girouettées de gueules, ouvertes et maçonnées du champ, au chef cousu d'azur chargé de trois fleurs de lis d'or.
These arms were adopted in the XIVth century by the Municipal Council; the chief of France was granted later, showing that Tours was one of the 36 "good towns" (bonnes villes) of France, whose Mayor was invited to the coronation of the King of France.
The Latin motto of the city can be "read" on the coat of arms, Sustentant lilia turres (The towers support the lilies). Less literally, the motto alludes of course to the allegiance of Tours to the King of France.
The towers (in French, tours) are pseudo-canting since the town was named after the Gaul tribe of Turones and is etymologically not related to towers.

Timms gives a simpler blazon:
De sable, à trois tours couvertes d'argent, au chef d'azur, chargé de trois fleurs de lis d'argent (Sable three towers argent a chief azure three fleurs de lis or). He gives also a more complete blazon:
De sable à trois tours d'argent 2,1, ouvertes et maçonnées de sable, pavillonnées et girouettées de gueules, au chef d'azur chargé de trois fleurs de lis d'or. Timms adds that the chief of France was added in the XVIth century, with the fleurs de lis replaced by mullets during the Empire. The arms have been depicted with varying tinctures. The coat of arms, as shown for instance on the street plaques, is sometimes with a red field and sometimes with a black field; the towers are shown sometimes without roof and weather vanes, sometimes with them.

There are at least two flag variants with a red field:
- the most common flag is a banner of the municipal arms, but with a red field and the towers without roof and weather vane
- a flag similar but with the two horizontal stripes of equal width and the three towers, without roof and weather vane, horizontally lined up, was seen in November 2005.
Nicolas Hugot reported on 22 July 2002 a flag with a black field and three white towers, without roof and weather vane, placed 2 + 1, but he did not give the source of the flag.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 14 May 2006