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Valbonne (Municipality, Alpes-Maritimes, France)

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[Flag of Valbonne]by Ivan Sache

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Presentation of Valbonne

The city of Valbonne (11, 000 inhabitants) is located on the eponymic plateau in the countryside just inland from Antibes and Cannes, on the French Riviera. Valbonne is not a typical Provencal village built on a rocky spur and with narrow, steep and twisting streets. Rather, the old village of Valbonne was built on a flat area and according to a rectangular plan.

There was probably no significant human settlement in Valbonne until the end of the XIIth century, when a monk called Guillaume found there the St. Mary's abbey in a small valley watered by the rivers Brague and Merlet. The place was called Vallis Bona (the good valley), later Valbonne.
The founder of the abbey belonged to the Chalaisian order, once successful and today totally forgotten. In 1101, Bishop of Grenoble Hugues de Châteauneuf founded an hermitage for a few monks near the village of Chalais. The hermitage was located north of the city of Voreppe, on the southern foothills of the Chartreuse massif, at an elevation of 940 m. Hugues' goal was to restore the Benedictine rule in an hermitage structure. The only source of income of the first hermits was forestry and sheep-breeding.
In 1110, the monks decided to abandon Chalais because they were too poor and could not stand the competition with the powerful Carthusians established in the Chartreuse massif. Count of Albon convince them to stay in Chalais and ensured them "peace and safety" by funding and protecting them. The local context became more favourable to Chalais, which became an abbey in 1124 and was officially placed under the protection of Pope Honorius II in 1025. Chalais was rapidly too small and poor to house all the postulants and had to expand by setting up daughter abbeys. The first Chalaisian daughter was Almeval, located somewhere near the mother abbey. The exact location of Almeval is unknown but its existence is confirmed by letters of Popes Alexnader III and Lucius III.
In 1142, the Bishop of Embrun called the Chalaisians to rule a small community set up in Boscodon. The new abbey was merged with the priory of Laverq, located on the other side of the mountain. Aubevaux was founded near Chalais in 1144. The charte de charité de l'ordre de Chalais, the rule of the order, was released in 1148. The order ruled then 10 abbeys and three priories, most of them being located in the valley of the river Durance, which was a main way of communication between the mountain regions of Briançonnais, Queyras, Oisans and Ubaye and the delta of the river Rhône. All the abbeys and priories were establihed along the sheep transhumance trails and near water resources.
The main organizer of the Chalaisian order was Guigues de Revel, who built the abbeys of Boscodon, Lure and Prads. In 1184, Revel was appointed Bishop of Digne, where he built the cathedral; in 1186, he was appointed Abbot-General of Chalais, where he died nearly hundred-year old.
However, the Chalaisian order remained poor and its foundations were very isolated from each other. At the end of the XIIIth century and in the beginning of the XIVth century, all the abbeys and priories but Boscodon were suppressed and the order eventually disappeared.

In the XVIth century, the Bishop of Grasse was also Abbot commandataire (commissioned) of the wealthy abbey of Lérins, located on a small island off Cannes. The bishop appointed don Taxil, worker-monk and prior of Lerins, to create a village near the ancient abbey of Valbonne and attract colons there. Taxil decided to attract investors, who would build the village and rent the houses and land to colons coming from the poor hinterland. Don Taxil drafted himself the plans of the village, which are thoroughly described in the acte d'habitation dated 13 October 1519. The village is organized around a central square, to which arcades were added in the XVIIth century. It has five streets oriented north-south, crossing ten streets oriented west-east. The width of the streets is two canes, c. four meters. A gate opens in the middle of each side of the rectangle. The houses were also built along Taxil's rules. The village progressively increased around the old center but the ancient chequered plan has been kept until now. Three of the original gates (north, south and west) have been preserved, too.

In the 1970s, it was decided to set up a technology park on the plateau of Valbonne. The plateau was one of the few remaining available places to set up such a park in the French Riviera. The park was named Sophia Antipolis, since it was located near the city of Antibes, the ancient Greek colony of Antipolis. The early years of Sophia Antipolis were difficult because of the world oil crisis. The first investors interested in the park were unfortunately oil and mining companies. In the 1980s, the university of Nice decided to move parts of its crowdy campus to Sophia Antipolis, where research, education, development and industry joined their forces together. There are now more than 1,000 companies established in Sophia Antipolis, hiring more than 25,000.
Sophia Antipolis has today an area of 2,500 ha, on the municipalities of Antibes, Biot, Mougins, Vallauris and Valbonne. It should increase in area since the municipalities of la Colle-sur-Loup, Opio, Roquefort-les-Pins and Villeneuve-Loubet have joined the consortium. It must be noted that preservation of the environment was included in the project as soon as it began, which has made of Sophia Antipolis an extremely attractive place of work, and has indirectly preserved the area from real-estate speculation, the cause of irreversible landscape and ecosystem destruction in the French Riviera.
A few peripherical municipalities should also benefit from Sophia Antipolis. The municipalities of le Bar-sur-Loup, Caussols, Châteauneuf, Courmes, Gourdon, le Rouret, Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Tourrettes-sur-Loup have joined the municipalities mentioned above to form the Communauté d'Agglomération de Sophia Antipolis, presided by the Mayor of Antibes.


Ivan Sache, 28 July 2004

Municipal flag of Valbonne

The flag of Valbonne is hoisted in front of the city hall, along with the flags of France, European Union and the Region Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur. It is a banner of the municipal arms of Valbonne, whose blazon is:

Azure, a feather or.

The municipal website gives the following blazon:

D'azur à la plume d'oie d'or posée en pal (Azure a goose feather or per pale),

and says that the charge represents the feather used by the monks to draft the plans of the new village in the XVIth century. Note that they say "per pale" whereas the flag shows the feather per bend sinister.

The website of the Association des Amis de l'Abbaye shows a coat of arms with a yellow "feather" placed per bend sinister, but mentions that, on St. Blaise's Day, the village of Valbonne is decorated with mimosa branches and blue irises to recall the coat of arms. On the coats of arms shown on that website, the feather looks indeed rather like a mimosa branch. Anyway, the mimosa cannot be the original charge of the coat of arms since this tree is of recent introduction in France.

In his Armorial des Communes de Provence, Bresc blazons the coat of arms of Valbonne as:

D'azur à une palme d'or (Azure, a palm or),

and shows the palm per bed sinister.
I believe that calling the charge a palm rather than a feather makes sense, in relation to the abbey of Lérins. The abbey was founded on a small island by St. Honorat. The island was infested by snakes and vermin of that ilk. Upon Honorat's request, God flooded the island and Honorat had to climb on a palm tree to avoid drowning. Another tradition says he used a palm to clean up the infamous remains of the vermin once the water went back. Both tradition are of course a symbolic expression of the victory of christianism over paganism and devil's beasts. The palm appears on the municipal coat of arms of Cannes, once also a possession of the abbey of Lérins.

GASO gives:

D'azur à la palme d'or posée en pal (Azure, a palm or per pale).

Timms gives:

Azure a branch of palm bend sinister or.

It is therefore impossible to describe accurately the historical coat of arms of Valbonne since all sources are contradictory. Therefore, we don't know for sure if the flag of Valbonne is a banner of the municipal arms rather than a banner of erroneous municipal arms.

Ivan Sache, 28 July 2004

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