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Blaye (Municipality, Gironde, France)

Last modified: 2024-04-27 by olivier touzeau
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Flag of Blaye - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 6 September 2022

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Presentation of Blaye

Blaye (4,957 inhabitants in 2021; 642 ha) is a commune and subprefecture in the Gironde department.

Caesar, in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, cites a Gallic oppidum belonging to the city of Santons, which he names Blavia Santorum. It seems very likely that this is the current town of Blaye, located on a rocky promontory overlooking the Gironde. From the 1st century AD, the Romans settled on this site and made it a fortified place. Blaye is mentioned Blavia on the table of Peutinger, on a Roman road between Burdigala (Bordeaux) and Mediolanum Santonum (Saintes). The 4th century poet Ausonius calls it Blavia militaris, which means that there was a garrison. The city was evangelized in the 4th century by Saint Romain de Blaye (or
Romain du Mans), a priest who came from North Africa and was born around 335, and who is believed to be buried in Blaye. In 625, a first castle was built by the Merovingians, who intermittently made Blaye a royal residence. The most famous lord of Blaye, in the centuries that followed, was Count Roland le Preux, nephew of Charlemagne, whose eponymous song tells us that he was buried in Blaye, in the Saint-Romain basilica.
In 848, the city was sacked by the Viking chief Hasting who then went up the Garonne.

During the Middle Ages, the lordship of Blaye was entrusted to a family, the Rudels, whose most famous representative was Jaufré Rudel, a troubadour whose love for the Princess of Tripoli inspired famous poems. Edmond Rostand made him the hero of his drama La Princesse lointaine (The Distant Princess). Blaye is then one of the most famous stages on the road to Compostela: there is indeed no bridge over the Garonne, and the only way to reach Bordeaux and enter Gascony is to cross the Gironde by boat. The passage of a large number of pilgrims is at the origin of the development of the hospital which is still today on the road to Saintes.
During the Hundred Years War, Blaye, military key to the defense of Aquitaine, was taken and retaken several times by the belligerents. It ended up being definitively conquered by the French in 1452, after a siege led by the troops raised by the future Louis XI. The capture of Blaye opened the door to Aquitaine to French troops, victorious the following year at Castillon. In May 1472, by his letters patent, Louis XI confirmed the privileges of the city, following the death of the Duke of Guyenne, his brother. A period of peace followed, during which prosperity returned thanks to port activity and the wine trade. This peace was nevertheless interrupted by
violent episodes, such as the revolt of the Pitauds: in 1541, the gabelle (salt tax) was imposed on Saintonge and Angoumois. These provinces did not pay this tax. The revolt broke out near Angoulême, and Blaye was taken by the rebels during the summer. Blaye and its region were again ravaged in the 16th century by the wars of religion.

The 17th century saw the return of peace. The governorship is entrusted to the Duke of Saint-Simon, favorite of Louis XIII. His son, the author of the famous Memoirs, exercised this function after him, but he delegated it to the king's lieutenants, sometimes from his own family, and only stayed twice in Blaye. In 1685, Vauban, Commissaire general des fortifications of Louis XIV ,proposed the construction of a real lock on the Gironde in order to "take control of the river" and to hold Bordeaux in case of a revolt. It is then that the citadel of Blaye was built, constituting the major element of the estuary control system. These works required the destruction of the medieval upper town. In addition, part of the lower town and the Saint-Romain basilica were razed to allow the construction of a defensive glacis between the citadel and the town. Dominating the urban landscape, this imposing building has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, as part of a group of structures engineered by Vauban, in testimony to their global influence on military architecture and planning over the next few centuries, and is visited each year by 500,000 visitors. The triptych made up of the citadel of Blaye, Fort Médoc and Fort Paté, forms the lock of the estuary intended to control navigation on the river. The wars of the First Empire will be the occasion, in the last weeks of Napoleon's reign, of the only siege supported by the citadel of Vauban. The siege will be lifted when the Emperor abdicates. Thus begins for Blaye and the Blayais a new era of prosperity; the city is particularly marked by the works undertaken by the sub-prefect Haussmann, future prefect of Paris under Napoleon III. The rise of the vine is accompanied by the construction of many residences in the region. It was interrupted in the last years of the 19th century by the phylloxera crisis.

Blaye has gradually lost its vocation as the gateway to Aquitaine since the commissioning, in 1822 in Bordeaux, of the first bridge over the upper course of the Garonne, the Pont de Pierre and the massive construction of railway lines. The first train linking Bordeaux to Blaye ran from 1873 and port activity linked to river trade then began to decrease, until it disappeared completely after the Second World War. As maritime trade continued, Blaye then became one of the 7 specialized terminals of the autonomous port of Bordeaux from the end of the 1970s. On August 20, 1997, a grain silo exploded, killing 11 people. This tragedy led the authorities to reinforce safety standards in grain silos. Today, the city, which is still home to industrial activities, has converted to tourism, thanks to its historical heritage classified by UNESCO, but also by its location in the heart of famous vineyards.

The arms of Blaye are blazoned: Azure a gate Gules cullissed Sable, fortified by two towers, all Argent masoned Sable too, surmoounted by a fleur-de-lis Or and set on wavy river Argent issuant from the base. The historic motto of the town is: "Aquitaniæ stella clavisque" (Star and key of Aquitaine).

Olivier Touzeau, 18 April 2022

Flag of Blaye

No flag was spotted for the commune of Blaye before 2020. In 2020, a new logo was adopted by the commune; it was created by the agency Page publique.
"Referring to the Vauban citadel and the city's motto, the new logo of the city of Blaye represents the history and values of the city. The typographic character has also been reworked and in particular makes it possible to
evoke strong values of the city such as heritage, tradition and know-how." [source: website of the agency].
A white flag with the graphoic part only of the logo can be seen since 2020 in front of the town hall (photo, 2021).

Olivier Touzeau, 6 September 2022

Besides, the variant in black of the World Heritage flag can be seen near the citadel (photo, 2018).

Olivier Touzeau, 18 April 2022

Principality of Hélianthis


Flags of the Principality of Hélianthis -Image by Olivier Touzeau, 25 April 2022

The Principality of Hélianthis is a micronation located in the natural region of Blayais whose center of gravity is the Citadel of Blaye. On June 1, 2013, the Principality of Hélianthis was proclaimed, founded by Vincent Merchadou. The Principality also includes three islands in the Gironde estuary : New Island, Paté Island, Patiras Island. The micronation has acivites centered on social action and promotion of the history and heritage of Blaye. Several press artticles have reported the activities of the micronation (example, example, example).

The Princely Treasury of Hélianthis - "Astrephelia", an association created in 2020, aims to promote the activities of the Principality of Hélianthis in Blaye and all its surrounding municipalities, to animate, organize or
participate in all events or demonstrations in artisanal, artistic, charitable, festive, socio-cultural or sporting nature and to contribute to the defense of the interests and the influence of this micronation. The association was represented at the 2021 association forum in Blaye, where the principality's flag was visible (photo).

On the coat of arms, the gate of the citadel on a fieldgules, a wavy fess azure for the estuary and a bunch of grape purpure (on a field Or), giving their colors to the flag. The supporters show Jaufré Rudel, Prince of Blaye and troubadour of the early–mid 12th century, who probably died during the Second Crusade, in or after 1147.

Olivier Touzeau, 18 April 2022

Picture taken in Blaye, at Château Marquis de Vauban, of the flag of the micronation flying in real, together with the flag of the organization of the French-speaking micronations during its summit in august 2022.

Olivier Touzeau, 6 September 2022