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Colmar (Municipality, Haut-Rhin, France)

Last modified: 2022-07-07 by ivan sache
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Flag of Colmar - Image by Ivan Sache, 6 June 2015

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Presentation of Colmar

The municipality of Colmar (in Alsatian, Kulmer; 67,257 inhabitants in 2012, therefore the 3rd most populous municipality in Alsace; 6,657 inh.; Tourism Office website) is located in Upper Alsace, half distance (65 km) of Strasbourg (Lower Alsace) and Basel (Switzerland) and 40 km west of Freiburg (Germany).

Colmar was first documented in a donation redacted in Frankfurt on 12 June 825 by Emperor Louis the Pious (778-840), Charlemagne's successor; the Emperor transferred to the abbey of Munster a part of the forest located in the fisc (estate) of Columbarium. Accordingly, the name of the town is of Latin origin, meaning "a pigeon house".
In 833, the three sons of Louis the Pious, Louis, Lothair and Pippin, dissatisfied by a share of the imperial domain, deposed their father in a place located near Colmar, known since them as Lûgenfeld (The Field of Lies); they were supported in their disloyal coup by Pope Gregory IV (795-844), who stayed in the fisc of Columbarium. Charles III the Fat (839-888) conveyed in Colmar in January 833 and February 884 an "Assembly of France", gathering all the dignitaries of the Carolingian Empire. Columbarium was shared in 965: the Cluniac monastery of Payerne (Switzerland) was granted the Oberhof (Upper Domain), while Conrad, Bishop of Constance (Germany) was granted the Niederhof (Lower Domain), which he soon transferred to the chapter of the local cathedral.

Colmar, granted the status of Imperial town by Frederick II (1194-1250), was first documented as a cité in a document dated 1226. The Emperor would visit the town in 1235, in a cortege including "several camels", as reported by the chronicler of the Order of St. Dominic. Granted the status of collegiate church in 1234, the St. Martin church was rebuilt from scratch, and eventually achieved in 1365. In spite of its status of Imperial town, Colmar was threatened by the local lords. In 1260, the local nobility overthrew the Provost of the town, Jean Roesselmann, who had opposed to the Bishop of Strasbourg. Exiled, Roesselmann came back to Colmar the next year, hidden in a barrel; with the support of Rudolf of Habsburg (1218-1291), he organized the defence of the town and repelled the bishop's militia. The next year, the provost offered his life to repel yet another attempt of assault, being since then considered as the first hero of the town and the champion of municipal rights.
The town was chartered by a Freiheitsbrief signed on 29 December 1278 in Vienna (Austria) by Rudolf of Habsburg. The Colmar charter, made of 44 articles, served as a template for similar privileges subsequently granted by Austrian sovereigns to towns in Alsace (Delle, Ensisheim, Kaysersberg, Mulhouse, Munster and Turckheim), Switzerland (Aarau, Neufchâtel, Petit-Bâle and Porrentruy), and Germany (Freiburg).
A Town Hall was built in 1295, while the river port of Ladhof was first documented in 1337; used until the 18th century, the port allowed the shipping of goods (mostly, wine, vinegar and brandy) via the Rhine to Strasbourg, Rhineland and Amsterdam. The Colmar merchants sailed to the famous fairs of Frankfurt twice a year.

Colmar established on 28 August 1354 the Confederation of the Alsatian Imperial Towns, better known as Dekapolis (Ancient Greek, Ten Towns), with permission of Emperor Charles IV (1316-1378). Wissembourg, Haguenau, Rosheim, Obernai, Sélestat, Kaysersberg, Colmar, Munster, Turckheim and Mulhouse formed the confederation to collectively defend their privileges and status of Imperial towns against the local lords. Colmar, the biggest town of the Dekapolis, and Haguenau, the historical seat of the Landvogt since the 13th century, appointed representatives representing the Confederation to the Imperial Diet and to the Assembly of the Imperial Towns. The Dekapolis existed until the French Revolution.
Colmar adopted a Constitution in 1360 and was allowed to mint coins in 1376, joining in 1403 the Rappenmünzbund monetary alliance.

In the early 16th century, Colmar became of Lutheran stronghold, the printer Amandus Farckall publishing in 1523-1524 several pamphlets promoting the reformed religion. Not damaged during the Great Peasants' Revolt (1524-1525), Colmar welcomed in 1528 the alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1541), who had been expelled from Basel. Georg Wickram (c. 1505-c. 1562), considered as a precursor of popular fiction works written in German, established in 1548 in Colmar a renowned Meistersinger school. In his Cosmography (1552), Sebastian Münster describes Colmar as "a pleasant town". mentioning its "really good wine, which is the most excellent to be found in Alsace".
Introduced in the town in 1575, the Protestant religion was forbidden in 1627 during the Thirty Years' War, to be re-established in 1632 during the Swedish occupation.
The Treaty of Rueil, signed in 1635, placed Colmar under the protection of the King of France while maintaining its status of Imperial town and the attached privileges. The treaty stated that the town had to be revamped "as it was before the onset of the Germany and Bohemia troubles in year 1618". The Treaty of Munster, signed in 1648, incorporated a part of Alsace to France, but Colmar and the towns of the Dekapolis remained in the Empire. During the Dutch War, Louis XIV visited the town on 30 August 1673, with a cortege of 200 state coaches, and ordered the suppression of the fortifications; the Treaty of Nijmegen, signed in 1679, eventually made of Colmar a French Royal town.

During the Franco-Prussian War, Colmar was seized by the troops of the Grand Duchy of Baden on 14 September 1870. After the incorporation of the town to the German Empire, some 15% of the inhabitants preferred to remain French citizens and had to leave Alsace. In 1877, the Mayor Hercule de Peyerimhoff was replaced by a German commissioner, which upset the population. The town, which counted nearly 50,000 inhabitants, was officially visited by Wilhelm II in 1908. At the end of the First World War, a short-lived "soviet" was established by soldiers and workers, soon suppressed after the French troops had entered the town on 18 November.
At the end of the Second World War, the suppression of the Colmar pocket was the last battle fought on the French territory, three months after the liberation of Strasbourg. On 22 January 1945, General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny (1889-1952) launched an attack aimed at encircling Colmar and reaching the Rhine in Brisach. During the night of 1 to 2 February, General Guy Schlesser liberated the town. The fighting ended on 9 February, allowing General de Gaulle to visit the town the next day. The suppression of the Colmar pocket claimed a very high toll of lives: 8,000 Americans, 16,000 French and more than 20,000 Germans were killed within three weeks. The town was awarded in 1946 the Cross of War with palms.

The Unterlinden Museum of Colmar (website) is the 2nd most visited French museum of arts not located in Paris (200,000 visitors per year). Housed in the ancient convent of the Order of St. Dominic, the museum is managed by the Société de Martin Schongauer, anon-profit association established in 1847 by the archivist and librarian Louis Hugot to preserve the artistic and historical heritage of Colmar. The museum was inaugurated on 3 April 1853.
The association is named for the Colmar-borne painter and engraver Martin Schongauer (c. 1450-1491). His masterpiece are a portrait of the Virgin at the Rosebush (1473), shown in the Church of St. Dominic, and the Orlier and St. Dominic altarpieces, shown in the Unterlinden Museum.
The masterpiece of the Unterlinden Museum, however, is the Issenheim altarpiece, designed between 1512 and 1516 by the painter Mathis Gothart Nithart, better known as Grünewald, and the sculptor Nicolas de Haguenau, for the Commandery of the Order of St. Anthony of Issenheim, a village located 20 km of Colmar. The Order was established at the end of the 11th century in Dauphiné (France) to heal people sick of St. Anthony's fire, a disease caused by a poisonous fungus (ergot) infecting rye. The disease caused hallucinations and gangrene, which are vividly represented on the part of the altarpiece featuring St. Anthony's temptation. The monks supplied the population with bread made of healthy flour and designed a "holy wine" by macerating different plants in wine, those plants being also depicted on the altarpiece. They also produced a balm aimed at relieve skin burning caused by the disease.

Jean-Jacques Waltz (1873-1951) was curator of the Unterlinden Museum, as had been his father. However, he is most famous under his nom de plume of Hansi, adopted in 1907. His coloured books published before the First World War, for instance, "The history of Alsace told to small children by Uncle Hansi" (1912), convey strong anti-German feelings and aspiration of return to France. After the reincorporation of Alsace to France, Hansi still published books showing the anachronistic and folkloric image of a rural Alsace so happy of the return to France (Colmar en France, 1923). Once the cantor of the local identity, Hansi was bitterly criticized by the autonomists who asked more respect of the Alsatian cultural specificity by the French authorities.

Colmar is the birth place of the sculptor Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904). His first significant piece (1856) was the statue of another hero of Colmar, General Rapp (1771-1821). Aide-de-camp of the Emperor, Rapp was appointed Governor of Danzig and Baron of the Empire. He subsequently rallied Louis XVIII, who appointed him Peer of France and Chamberlain, but never denied the Emperor. Rapp has remained famous for his courage on battlefields and his blunders, having once recommended Napoléon to mistrust Corsicans. When the death of the Emperor was announced, he mourned so loudly that Louis XVIII told him "Do not mind me, Rapp, hopefully you will mourn for me as well".
Bartholdi visited Egypt, which remained a source of inspiration for his subsequent monumental works, such as the statues of General Arrighi (Corte, Corsica, 1868), of Vauban (Avallon, 1873) and Vercingetorix (Clermont-Ferrand, 1870), and, most of all, the Lion of Belfort (1880).
Bartholdi fought during the defence of Colmar in 1870, promising he would never return in his birth town under German occupation, which, he, however, did in a few instances. He subsequently sculpted "official" portraits of national heroes, such as Champollion (Paris, 1875), Rouget de l'Isle (Lons-le-Saunier, 1882), Diderot (Langres, 1884) and Gambetta (Ville d'Avray, 1891).
Bartholdi is the main author of "Liberty Enlightening the World", best known as the Statue of Liberty, inaugurated in 1886 on Liberty Island in New York Harbour. This was indeed the recycling of an aborted project of "Egypt Enlightening the East" to be erected at the entrance of the Suez Canal.
Bartholdi offered several works to his birth town, such as statues of Martin Schongauer (1860) and the fountains dedicated to Roesselmann (1888): here, the model of the medieval defender of the local liberty was indeed Hercule de Peyerimhoff, the Mayor deposed by the Germans. The sculptor's birth house was offered by his widow to the town of Colmar, which transformed it into the Bartholdi Museum (website).

Colmar has been since the Middle Ages the capital of Alsatian wine- growing (official website). The Alsatian vineyards producing registered wines covers 15,500 ha scattered over 119 municipality. Only seven grape varieties are allowed, Sylvaner, Pinot blanc, Riesling, Muscat d'Alsace, Pinot gris, Gewurtztraminer and Pinot noir. The average production is 1.15 million hl, that is more than 150 million of specific bottles known as flutes and protected by the law.

Ivan Sache, 6 June 2015

Flag of Colmar

The flag of Colmar (photo, photo) is vertically divided red-green with a yellow mace placed diagonally, pointing to the upper fly.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, "Per pale gules and vert all over a mace or per bend sinister".

The arms of Colmar are probably connected to the homophony between Kolben (German, "a mace") and Columbarium, the Latin name of the town (Neues Rotbuch, 1471; Municipal Archives). The oldest known seal of the town, dated 1214 (Departmental Archives), features three handles each topped by a ball, placed in pale above the leopard representing the Hohenstaufen lineage. The mace has been featured on the seal of the court since 1425 (Municipal Archives), when the town acquired the office of Provost (Schultheiss) who presided the court. A coloured glass-window of the seat of the Dekapolis (Unterlinden Museum), from the late 15th century, shows the field argent variegated, the mace sable, placed per bend, with points gules. The handle is represented either straight, equipped with a hilt, or curved, enlarging at the bottom, the mace looking like a comet. Sometimes, the handle is represented like a cut shaft with the base voided.
During the elaboration of the Armorial General, the old arms were combined with the colours of the town, red and green, used in the livery of the municipal servants. In compliance with a popular belief, the charge is described as a spur mullet (Grant, 2 November 1697). The description was corrected to a mace in the official confirmation of the arms, released on 10 May 1820.
[Armorial des communes du Haut-Rhin]

The mace on the arms of Colmar is, as expected, a matter of local legends. We all know that Hercule was advized by Pythia to serve his cousin Eurystheus, who ordered him to perform 12 labours. In his 10th labour, Hercules captured the cattle from Geryon after having killed the two-headed watchdog Orthrus. The Alsatian version of the story says that Eurystheus accepted to transfer the cattle to Hercules, provided the hero would come back with the cattle following a specified itinerary made of 20 miles daily steps. In his Alsatian step, Hercules crossed the Vosges mountain and reached Argentovar (Horbourg) in the evening, where he decided to take some rest before completing the step of the day. After having drunken a few cups of the best local wine, Hercules felt asleep; when he woke up, he speeded up to catch up the lost time, to no avail, since he could not reach Basel. Moreover, he forgot his club (in French, massue, cognate with masse d'armes, "a mace"). The club was kept as a trophy recalling the presence of Hercules in Alsace, and subsequently added to the arms of the town of Colmar.
[Municipal website]

Ivan Sache, 6 June 2015

Other reported flags of Colmar


Other flag of Colmar - Image by Ivan Sache, 6 June 2015

The Town Hall of Colmar sometimes once flew a flag horizontally divided green-red (photo).

Ivan Sache, 6 June 2015


Former flag of Colmar - Image by Pascal Vagnat, 6 June 2015

From 1995 to 2002, the municipality used a banner of the medieval arms, that is the same flag as used in the Middle Ages.

Pascal Vagnat, 26 September 1999

Collège épiscopal Saint-André


Flag of Collège épiscopal Saint-André - Image by Ivan Sache, 23 June 2016

Collège épiscopal Saint-André (website) is currently made of a "collège" (Junior High; 6th-4th grades; average age of the students, 11-15) and of a "lycée d'enseignement général et technologique" (High School, 2nd, 1st and term grade; average age of the students average age of the students, 15-18).
The institute, State-associated, is managed, as its name implies it, by the Diocese of Strasbourg; it has been since 1966 the single Catholic High School in Colmar. It counts slightly more than 1,500 students, 100 teachers and 45 staff members. In 2014, the national weekly L'Express ranked the institute first in the department of Haut-Rhin and 2nd in the Académie of Strasbourg (which covers the whole of Alsace, that is, the Departments of Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin).

The institute was originally established in 1852 as the Collège libre de Colmar (libre, lit. "free", meaning here "not State-owned") by His Grace André Raess (1794-1887), Bishop of Strasbourg (1841-1887), and Canon Martin, its first director. After the Franco-Prussian War and the incorporation of Alsace and Moselle to Germany, the institute was transferred to Lachapelle-sous-Rougement, a town located in the Belfort Territory, therefore, in France. Relocated in Colmar in 1918, the institute was dedicated in 1919 to St. Andrew, as a tribute to the founding bishop; its management was transferred by His Grace Charles Ruch (1873-1945; Bishop, 1913-1945) to the Marianists (Society of Mary), a congregation founded in 1817 in Bordeaux by Blessed Guillaume-Joseph Chaminade (1761-1850). The Marianists already managed the boy's primary schools in Colmar from 1824 to 1873 and in several towns of Alsace. The Marianists withdrew from the institute in 2009.

The flag of the institute is white with its logo. It is hoisted over the main gate of the institute, which is established in a former Capuchin convent.

Ivan Sache, 23 June 2016