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Thionville (Municipality, Moselle, France)


Last modified: 2019-02-10 by ivan sache
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Flag of Thionville - Image by Ivan Sache, 18 February 2007

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Presentation of Thionville

The municipality of Thionville (in Luxembourgian, Diddenuewen; in German, Diedenhofen; 42,205 inhabitants; 4,986 ha, including the former municipalities of Veymerange sine 1967, Volkrange-Beuvange-Metzange since 1969 and Garche, Koeking and Oeutrange since 1970; municipal website) is located in northern Lorraine on the river Mosel, 35 km north of Metz and 35 km south of the town of Luxembourg, and 20 km south-west of the "three-country point" made by the confluency of the borders of France, Germany and Luxembourg.

Thionville was mentioned for the first time as Theodonis Villa in a chronicle relating a visit by Pépin le Bref. During the Carolingian rule, Thionville was the seat of a palatium, a manor rather than a palace, where the kings had political and religious meetings. Charlemagne stayed six times in the town. In the 10th century, Thionville was incorporated into the German Empire and was transfered to the Counts of Luxembourg. They replaced at the end of the 11th century the palatium by a fortress, whose donjon has been preserved until now as the Tour aux Puces (Fleas' Tower), which is a 14-sided polygone. There are several legends "explaining" this odd name, for instance alluding to the sad end of a princess jailed in the tower and devoured by fleas. Indeed, the French name of the tower is most probably an erroneous translation of its Luxembourgian name peetzsturm. The tower was used as their residence by the Provosts representing the Counts of Luxembourg as soon as the end of the 13th century. On 15 August 1239, Count Henry le Blondel granted a chart to the town. The rights of the burghers are symbolized by the belfry erected in the 14th century, and housing four bells from 1656, 1746, 1689 and 1619, the biggest of them weighing two tons and being known as la grosse Suzanne.

Thionville was incorporated into Burgundy in 1461, seized by François de Guise in 1558 and given back by France to Spain in 1559. Another siege failed in 1639 but the Grand Condé eventually seized the town in 1643. The incorporation to France was made official by the Treaty of Pyrénées in 1659. Louis XIV increased the administrative and judicial roles of the town, together with its main military role. In 1746-1752, the military engineer Louis de Cormontaigne (1695-1752) increased the fortifications of Thionville designed by Vauban in the previous century and built two locks-bridges. To prevent the winter floods by the Moselle, Cormontaigne ordered the digging of a diversion canal around the town. The two locks-bridges, located in the north and south entrances of the town, respectively, were built to link the two banks of the derivation canal. They also had a military role since they were part of the city walls and prevented any intrusion through the canal. The only other locks-bridges still visible in France are located in Verdun.

The fortified city of Thionville was besieged by the anti-French coalition in 1792 and by the Prussian armies in 1814 and 1815, to no avail. In 1792, the fortress, commanded by General Baron Félix de Wimpffen, was besieged for two months by 20,000 Austrians helped by 16,000 French nobles, one of them being Alphonse-René de Châteaubriand, then aged 23 and back from America, who was injured during the siege. The defenders placed on the rampart a wooden horse with a bundle of hay and said they would surrender only after the horse eats the hay. After the siege raising, Thionville was awarded a "civic crown" by the neighbouring towns of Metz and Pont-à-Mousson and the motto "A bien mérité de la patrie" (Has well-deserved the homeland) by the Convention. The event became the subject of a patriotic opera in two acts, Le siège de Thionville, drame lyrique du citoyen Jadin (Louis-Emmanuel Jadin, 1768-1853), played on 14 June 1793 in the Académie de Musique in Paris.
Thionville is the last place in France where an autel de la patrie (homeland altar) can still be seen. This kind of monument was built in all towns during the French Revolution. The altar was used for the celebration of civil and religious revolutionary ceremonies, such as the worship of Goddess Reason. The Thionville monument is a neo-classic obelisk, decorated with a big radiating eye, symbolizing knowledge and the influence of the Enlightenment. It bears the wirting "Erected in the memory of the Revolution and the conquests of the French people, the 1 Vendemiaire of the Year V", that is on 22 September 1796, the anniversary of the foundation of the Republic.

Thionville is the birth town of Merlin Antoine Christophe, aka Merlin de Thionville (1762-1833). Merlin studied in the seminary of Metz and moved to Paris, lacking a religious vocation. After some ramblings, he came back to Thionville were he studied law and was appointed lawyer at the court of Metz. In 1790, Merlin was elected Representative of the department of Moselle at the Legislative Assembly, where he stayed the next eight years. He was a fiercy revolutionary and soldier, nicknamed by his enemies Feuerteufel (in German, fire devil). He fought against the Royalist insurgents in Vendée and was accused of personal enrichment but exculpated. Appointed Director of the Posts in 1798, he set up in 1814 a volunteer corps in order to fight the allied armies, in spite of his opposition to Napoléon.

During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the town was severely damaged and the fortress surrendered on 24 November 1870 after a three-month siege. Thionville was incorporated to Germany by the Treaty of Francfort; the town walls were suppressed and the center of the town was reorganized by the German administration.
Thionville was liberated on 22 November 1918 and reincorporated to France together with Alsace-Moselle; the town was granted the Légion d'Honneur by President Raymond Poincaré in 1920. The town was occupied again by the Germans during the Second World War; the Fleas' Tower, housing a local museum since the beginning of the 20th century and the discovery of several medieval tombstones in the ruins of a nearby convent, was transformed into an anti-aircraft defense center and severely damaged; the museum could be reopened in 1966 only and was completely revamped in 1998-2001.

Thionville was once one of the capitals of steel industry in France, nicknamed by President Alexandre Millerand La Métropole du Fer (The metropolis of iron); this industry disappeared following the economical crisis of the 1970s and the closure of most of the factories owned by the Usinor-Sollac group (today part of Arcelor) in 1977. Several inhabitants of Thionville and the neighborhood work in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg; it is estimated that 60% of the 60,000 Lorrains working in Luxembourg live in the region of Thionville.

Ivan Sache, 18 February 2007

Flag of Thionville

The flag of Thionville is vertically divided blue-yellow. The colours of the flag are taken from the municipal arms.

Thionville was probably granted arms together with the charter in 1239. The current arms are "Azure a castle triple towered the centre higher than those on the flanks or masoned sable".
The shield is surmounted by a mural crown or with five towers and surrounded by two branches of laurel and oak. The scroll bears the writing "A bien mérité de la Patrie" (Has well-deserved from the homeland), awarded by the Convention on 4 December 1792 following the siege of Thionville. The decorations are the Légion d'Honneur (1920) and the War Cross with palm and mention in dispatches of the Army (1948).

The arms, inscribed in 1697 on the Armorial Général, had been seen on seals dating from the end of the 13th century. At one time the arms consisted of three towers, but the present design of the castle is based on a seal of 1430, now in the archives of the Luxembourg government.
In 1813, Napoléon authorised "D'azur à deux drapeaux d'argent bâtonnés d'or, sommés d'une aigle de même, celui de dextre à la croix d'azur chargé d'un M d'or, celui de senestre chargé d'un P aussi d'or, accompagné de trois tours, une en chef et deux en pointe, d'argent, crénelées de trois pièces, ouvertes, ajourées et maçonnées de sable, soutenues de sinople et surmontées au deuxième point au chef d'une couronne de chêne de sinople; franc quartier des villes de deuxième ordre, à la filière d'or."
These arms had a short life, since they were suppressed at the Restoration. They symbolised the defense of the town in 1792. The "M" alludes to the civic crown sent by the town of Metz, and the "P" to the flag sent by Pont-à-Mousson.

Dominique Cureau & Ivan Sache, 18 February 2007