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Gap (Municipality, Hautes-Alpes, France)

Last modified: 2015-04-25 by ivan sache
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Flag of Gap - Image by Ivan Sache, 1 June 2014

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Presentation of Gap

The municipality of Gap (40,654 inhabitants in 2011; 11,043 ha; municipal website), located 100 km south of Grenoble and 170 km north-east of Marseilles, is the biggest town in the South Alps. Gap is also the French departmental capital located at the highest elevation (600 m). The former municipalities of Chaudun and Romette were incorporated to Gap on 22 October 1895 and 25 November 1974, respectively.

Gap was established by the Romans as a fortified camp named Vapum / Vapincum. The etymology of this name, probably pre-Roman, is obscure. The small (c. 300 sq. m) camp, built near two sources and protected by ditches, could accommodate some 350 soldiers. Settled by colonists, farmers and merchants, the village significantly increased in the next centuries, which required the building of a much bigger fortification wall.
Gap was evangelized in the 3rd century. During the building of the modern cathedral (1866-1905,) remains of the primitive (3rd-4th century) church, dedicated to St. Demetrius, were excavated. The bishopric of Gap was established in the 5th century, suppressed in 1801 and re-established in 1822; it was merged in 2008 with the bishopric of Embrun to form the bishopric of Gap and Embrun. St. Aredius, bishop of Gap (579-614) is the hero of yet another tradition involving a bear tamed by a saint - an allegory of the evangelization of pagans. Aredius forced the wild bear to pull his cart after the beast had scared one of the oxen; arrived at Gap, the saint released the good bear that promised to go back into the mountains and to never, ever scare anyone. Nothing was heard about the bear until the death of Aredius, when the good bear attended the saint's funeral.

Gap, liberated from the Saracens, was granted on 28 December 986 to the bishop of Gap by William I, Count of Provence. Establishing religious foundations was a convenient means to re-settle and develop the reconquerred areas. Bishop Féraud de Nice (1000-1044) retroceded in 1044 half of the town to William V Bertrand, Count of Provence. The rule of the bishop, sometimes very stringent, was continuously challenged by the inhabitants of the town, often supported by feudal lords. Bishop Jacques Artaud (1366-1399) eventually signed on 7 March 1378 a magna carta (Greater Charter). Among other privileges, the charter allowed the town to arm a militia watching the town's gates.

Gap was totally destroyed, but a few houses, in 1692, by a blaze set by the troops of the Duke of Savoy. The rebuilding of the town started around 1720.
Gap was modernized by Baron Charles-François de Ladoucette (1772-1848), préfet of the department of Hautes-Alpes from 1802 to 1809. Ladoucette offered 25,000 francs of his own to build the road connecting France to Italy via the col de Montgenèvre (the very same road where Aredius had tamed the bear); he founded the first museum in Gap and the Société d'émulation des Hautes-Alpes (today, Société d'études des Hautes-Alpes). The Gap-born sculptor Jean Marcellin (1821-1884) made a statue of Ladoucette, which he offered in 1866 to the town.

Gap is a main stopping place on the "route Napoléon", named for the itinerary followed by the overthrown emperor to come back from Elba to Paris in 1816. After having landed in Golfe-Juan, the emperor decided to travel through the Alps rather than through the more convenient valley of Rhône, which was a Royalist stronghold. Napoléon was indeed warmly welcomed in Gap, where he spent the night of 5-6 March 1816 at the Marchand inn. A local tradition reports that Napoléon attempted to unblock the fireplace of his room with his gun, which resulted in nothing but a lot of noise, smoke, and soot. People believed that the emperor had been murdered until he showed up at the window to explain the event.

Ivan Sache, 1 June 2014

Flag of Gap

The flag of Gap is vertically divided blue-yellow.
The flag, reported in 1985 by Lucien Philippe (Quelques drapeaux de villes des régions alpines, Emblèmes et pavillons, No. 4, pp.19-20), appears to be still in use (photo, photo, Town Hall).

The colours of the flag are taken from the municipal arms, "Azure a castle quadruple towered with conical roofs or pierced of the field masoned and the gateway sable".
The arms were formally adopted in 1965 by the Municipal Council. The medieval arms, "Gules a cross or", were replaced in the 17th century by arms granted by the king, showing "a fortified wall" [Brian Timms].

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 1 June 2014