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Bellegarde-sur-Valserine (Municipality, Ain, France)

Last modified: 2003-12-27 by
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[Flag of Bellegarde]by Ivan Sache


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Presentation of Bellegarde

Bellegarde-sur-Valserine is a city of 15,000 inhabitants, located on the confluency of the rivers Valserine and Rhône.

The municipality of Bellegarde was created by an Imperial Decree (Napoléon III) dated 6 December 1858. Before, it was only a village part of the municipality of Musinens. Following the incorporation of Savoy to France in 1860, a Greater Free Zone was set up, and Bellegarde increased in importance as a border-city with this Free Zone.

In the same period, the industrial revolution and the building of the railway station triggered the development of Bellegarde. Factories were established on the banks of the Valserine and the Rhône, which used the hydraulic energy. Driving force was transfered from natural waterfalls to the factories through a system of cables driven by huge pulleys. This system was called télémécanique. In 1883, the Swiss engineer Louis Dumont built a barrage on the Valserine and produced electricity. Bellegarde was one of the first French cities with electric street lighting.

The city of Bellegarde increased in size and economical importance until the end of the Second World War. North of Bellegarde, there was a 60-m deep fault in which the Rhône completely disappeared during the dry season. The place was called perte [loss] du Rhône. There is a similar but smaller geological curious feature called pertes de la Valserine. In 1948, the big barrage of Génissiat was built south of Bellegarde and the perte du Rhône was transformed in a 23-km long reservoir-lake spreading from Génissiat to the Swiss border. As a consequence, most power plants and factories built along the Rhône were submerged and Bellegarde lost its most striking natural site, the perte du Rhône.

However, Bellegarde resumed its development and absorbed the neighbouring municipalities of Coupy (1966) and Arlod (1970), and is now the third largest city in the department of Ain (behind Bourg-en-Bresse, 45,000 inh. and Oyonnax, 25,000 inh.). In the 1980s, the high-speed train (TGV) reached Bellegarde, which is now only 3 hours from Paris and an important station on the Paris-Geneva line. Bellegarde is also located on the highway Lyon-Geneva-Italy (via the Mont-Blanc tunnel).

Recently, industry was restructured and the unemploiement rate was kept below the national average. The center of the city was completely rehabilitated and houses were painted with bright colours.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 31 August 2003


Description of the flag

There seems to be no municipal flag over the city hall of Bellegarde, but there is some kind of municipal banner near the railway station. This banner is vertical, forked, and vertically divided yellow-green. These colours are undoubtly the municipal colours, since they appear on the municipal coat of arms, which is (Brian Timms):

De sinople à une porte maçonnée d'argent, sommée d'une étoile à cinq pointes d'or ; cantonnées en chef, à dextre de la croix de la Convention de Genève, à senestre de trois éclairs de foudre en or, en pointe une roue engrêlée aussi d'or

or (GASO):

De sinople à la porte de ville ogivale de deux tours d'argent, hersée du même, ajourée du champ et maçonnée de sable, surmontée d'une étoile d'or et soutenue d'une roue de moulin du même, au franc-canton d'argent chargée d'une croisette de gueules, au soleil d'or issant du chef à senestre rayonnant de trois éclairs de l'un et l'autre

In English (Brian Timms):

Argent a pile couped in chief vert overall a gateway of the field masoned sable a dexter canton argent a cross couped gules in the sinister canton three lightning bolts issuant from sinister chief in base a cogwheel or

These arms were adopted in 1946 and attempted to incorporate the most characteristic features of the city, that is the links with Geneva, and especially the help provided by Genevans during the Second World War, therefore the Red Cross; the borderline location, as expressed by the gate; the hydraulic energy, as expressed by the wind-mill; and the early electrification of the city, as expressed by the bolts.

Ivan Sache, 31 August 2003

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