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Lons-le-Saunier (Municipality, Jura, France)

Last modified: 2022-02-26 by ivan sache
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Flag of Lons-le-Saunier, current and former versions - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 31 May 2021

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Presentation of Lons-le-Saunier

The municipality of Lons-le-Saunier (18,122 inhabitants in 2008; 768 ha; municipal website) is located 90 km south-west of Besançon.

Lons-le-Saunier developed in the Gallo-Roman times, some say as Ledo salinarius, around a salted source. In the Middle Ages, salt extraction caused the wealth of the town, which was granted a charter in 1295. In the 18th century, Jean de Lallemant built new saltworks in Montmorot. Salt extraction ceased in 1966 but the salted waters are still used in the Ledonia spa, inaugurated in 1892 in the middle of a 7-ha park. Lons has kept several fountains scattered all over the town, the oldest of them being the Dolphins' Fountain, dated 1727.
Lons became in the 11th a local religious center with the building of the Romanesque church dedicated to the bishop and patron saint of Lons, St. Desideratus (French, Désiré; locally, Dé). The saint died in 414 and was buried in a stone sarcophagus subsequently kept in the church's crypt. His relics were deeply venerated in the region; in 1794, citizen Lejeune dropped them into a burning fire, but a few relics were miraculously preserved.
Lons was seized and burned down several times in the 16th-18th centuries. In 1637, a big blaze that destroyed the former castle of Lons inaugurated "eight years of great distress" (1637-1645). The conquest of Franche-Comté was achieved by Louis XIV in 1674, the incorporation of the province to the Kingdom of France, including Lons, being confirmed in 1678 by the Treaty of Nijmegen.

Lons is the birth town of Philibert de Chalon, Prince of Orange (1502-1530). Following the early death of his father, Philibert became one of the most powerful lords of the time, perceiving tax on the salt extracted in Salins and Lons and owning several domains in Burgundy, Bresse, Bugey, Champagne, Flanders, and even Brittany. A brilliant knight, Philibert took the Spanish party against King of France Francis I. The reason of his choice has remained obscure, maybe a retaliation for the "seizure" of the title of Prince of Orange by the king. Aged 21, Philibert de Chalon was appointed General in the Spanish infantry and Knight of the Golden Fleece. He commanded the Spanish troops that seized Rome in 1527, so that Charles V made him Generalissimo. After having expelled the French from Naples, Philibert was named Vice-Roy of Naples. The "Brilliant Captain" was killed by an harquebusier in Gavinana, during the siege of Florence. He was buried on 23 October 1530 in the crypt of the Cordeliers church of Lons. Without a male heir, he was succeeded by his nephew René de Nassau.

Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760-1836), the composer of the Marseillaise, the French national anthem, was born in Lons. Written in Strasbourg in April 1792 as a war song for the Rhine Army, the Chant de guerre pour l'armée du Rhin was sung publicly for the first time in Paris in August 1792 by volunteers from Marseilles, therefore its updated name. After a short and obscure military career, Rouget de Lisle went back to Lons in 1796, where he experienced hard times until his death. His songs, translations and memoirs did not sell good and King Louis XVIII rejected his Royalist anthem Vive le Roi!.
Rouget de Lisle is remembered in Lons by a statue made by Bartholdi in 1882, a museum, housed in his birth place, and the theater's chime, which plays the beginning of the Marseillaise every hour.
The novelist Bernard Clavel (1923-1996), the humorist Jean Amadou (1929-2011) and the historian René Rémond (1918-2007, elected at the French Academy in 1998), all born in Lons, were, globally, much more successful than Rouget de Lisle.

The most famous inhabitant of Lons-le-Saunier, however, is "la Vache qui rit", the emblem of a soft cheese of little taste but of international fame. After the First World War, the cheese merchant Léon Bel, established in Lons in 1897, decided to adopt the method set up in Switzerland to produce soft cheese without a maturing period. On 16 April 1921, Bel registered the trademark La Vache qui rit. This was inspired by a satiric drawing made to Benjamin Rabier, representing a laughing cow captioned La Wachkyrie, with a pun on Valkyrie / Vache qui rit. Rabier himself was commissioned in 1924 to improve the design, coloring the cow in red and offering her ear-rings, upon request of Bel's wife. The drawing is fractal, since the ear-rings are made of cheese boxes with the label showing the cow with the ear- rings, which are made of cheese boxes etc.
Due to the success of the product, Bel built a brand new factory in 1926, still producing 50 tons of cheese per year. Bel insisted on advertizing, sometimes modifying details of the label - for instance, adding in 1945 the "V" of victory and in 1955 the silhouette of General de Gaulle. In the 1950s the laughing cow became "the children's friend" and a wide range of derivatives showed up; the cow eventually laughed actually, very loud, in wonderful TV spots shot by Paul Grimault. The Maison de la Vache qui rit (website) was founded in Lons in 2009 by Catherine Sauvin, a great fan of the cow.
Beside La Vache qui rit, the Bel group produces several other kinds of soft cheese, such as Kiri, Bonbel, Babybel, Boursin, Leerdammer, Port-Salut and Samos.

Ivan Sache, 12 November 2011

Flag of Lons-le-Saunier

The flag of Lons-le-Saunier (photo, photo, photo) is vertically divided red-yellow. In earlier reports, dated 2004, the colors of the flags were swapped.
The colors are derived from the municipal arms, "Per fess, 1a. Or a bend gules (Chalon), 1b. Or a post horn azure (Orange), 2. Argent". The shield is supported by the lions of Franche-Comté, with the War Cross 1939-1945 appended. The quarter argent is said to have been added in the 16th century to highlight the purity of the local salt.

Olivier Touzeau, & Ivan Sache, 31 May 2021