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Louhans (Municipality, Saône-et-Loire, France)

Last modified: 2022-02-27 by ivan sache
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Flag of Louhans - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 1 January 2006

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Presentation of Louhans

The municipality of Louhans (6,520 inhabitants in 2010; 2,258 ha; municipal website) is located on the confluence of rivers Seille and Solnon, 35 km south-west of Chalon-sur-Saône and 70 km of Dijon and Besançon. Louhans merged in 1973 with the neighbouring municipalities of Branges, Châteaurenaud and Sornay; Branges and Sornay separated in 1979.

Louhans is the capital of the small region known as Bresse bourguignonne, a component of the natural region of Bresse.
In spite of its geographical and cultural unity, Bresse has been administratively divided since the Middle Ages into northern Bresse (Bresse bourguignonne), which belonged to Burgundy, and central and southern Bresse (Bresse savoyarde), which was an autonomous feudal state ruled by the lord of Bâgé, sometimes called Count of Bresse. In the 18th century, Sibille de Bâgé married the Count of Savoy, who transferred median Bresse (domains of Cuisery and Sagy) to the Duke of Burgundy, already owner of northern Bresse.
The separation between the two Bresses matches the line formerly separating the countries ruled by customary law (north) and by written law (south), respectively. A third, lesser part of Bresse, called Finage, belonged to the former County of Burgundy, later part of the province of Franche-Comté. The kings of France progressively incorporated the whole Bresse to their domain, with the successive incorporation of the Duchy of Burgundy (1482) and of Bresse Savoyarde (1601).
After the French Revolution, the two Bresses were split into different departments. Bresse bourguignonne was divided into Bresse chalonnaise, incorporated to the arrondissement of Chalon-sur-Saône, and Bresse louhanaise, incorporated into the arrondissement of Louhans. Bresse savoyarde formed the arrondissement of Bourg-en-Bresse, in the department of Ain, except a triangle-shaped piece of land incorporated into the arrondissement of Mâcon (Saône-et-Loire) and later known as Bresse mâconnaise. Finage was incorporated into the department of Jura.

Louhans was founded by the Burgundians as Lowing, "a pleasant place"; the name of the town was subsequently latinized as Lovincum. Charles the Stammerer, the son of King of Francia Occidentalis, Charles the Bald, transferred Louhans around 900 to the St. Philibert abbey in Tournus. The monks used the town as a resupplying place for salt extracted from the Jura saltworks. They built a port, which attracted merchants and craftmen. At the end of the 12th century, the abbey transferred Louhans to the Bishop of Besançon, who appointed a lord to manage the domain in his name.
In 1269, Henri d'Antigny, lord of Louhans and Sainte-Croix, granted a charter to the town, allowing a market and the fairs that would make the wealth of the town in the next centuries. The domain was ceded in 1289 by the Count of Savoy to the Duke of Burgundy.

The wealth of Louhans dramatically increased in the 16th-17th centuries, in spite of wars and epidemics: the income increased twenty-fold within a century, which favored the building of the posh houses and arcades of the downtown. The town is nicknamed "Cité des Arcades", referring to the 157 arches which line the Grand-Rue on more than 400 m The arches and the houses constitute the biggest homogenous urban remains from the 15th century in France. These houses definitively linked the lower and upper cities of Louhans. Hôtel-Dieu is another important historical building in Louhans. From 1682 to 1977, it was ran by the nuns from the St. Martha order. The invalids and the poor were housed in rows of box beds placed in huge halls. An even more famous Hôtel-Dieu was built in Beaune, also in Burgundy, by Chancellor Nicolas Rolin (1376-1462) to bring relieve to the poor and probably to expiate all his crimes. Like in Beaune, Hôtel-Dieu of Louhans has kept its old apothicairerie, with a unique collection of earthenware pharmacy pots from the 15th-16th centuries, maybe the oldest in the world.

Agricultural production flourished in Bresse in the 18th century, so that three kinds of markets were set up in Louhans:
- the ordinary markets, on Monday, dedicated to the resupplying of farmers with usual goods and to the resupplying of urbanites with butter and eggs;
- the smaller fairs, on the first and third Mondays of the month, dedicated to the resupplying of the wholesalers of Louhans with farm products they would store locally for reselling outside the region. The involved products were mostly poultry and grain at certain dates;
- the four yearly fairs, during which products were traded with foreign merchants buying local products and resupplying the local wholesalers with foreign products. These fairs were so important for Louhans that the inhabitants funded the maintenance of roads and the building of the three bridges of the town, including the big stone bridge on the Seille, destroyed by the Germans during the Second World War. The Town Hall was built at the same period, while Hôtel-Dieu and the church were revamped.
In the 19th century, Louhans was one of the main markets in France, attracting several foreigners, mostly from Switzerland. Louhans was the place where all kinds of products se donnent à Louhans comme un rendez-vous (arrange in Louhans something like an appointment). Fresh products (meat, grain, poultry, butter, eggs and vegetables) resupplied the towns of Lyon, Dijon, Tournus, Chalons, Lons-le-Saunier and Geneva.
Agriculture was improved after the foundation of the local Society of Agriculture in 1838, aimed at disseminating good practices, organizing contests and awarding the best farmers. The golden age of the market of Louhans lasted until the Second World War. Beside the poultry markets, there were famous pig, calf, ox and horse markets. The market of Louhans was resurrected in the 1950-1960s. In the 1970s, the atmosphere changed and the balls and cinema shows associated with the social role of the poultry market disappeared. People had less time to waste in Louhans and the market was progressively colonized by non-agricultural products. However, the market, presented as "a culture and tourism monument of Bresse", has preserved some of its ancient features, and still sells several live animals (poultry but also ducks, rabbits, geese, goats, sheep, small dogs, cows, pigs and sometimes horses).

The flag product on the market of Louhans is the famous Bresse poultry, a breed called Bresse-Gauloise, probably one of the oldest poultry breeds in France, already mentioned in the archives of Bourg-en-Bresse dated 1591. It is a specific local production, favoured by the local availability of maize and dairy by-products used to feed poultry. At the end of the 19th century, unfortunate crosses were attempted with the Brahma and Cochin breeds so that the Bresse-Gauloise was about to disappear. Poultry breeding was then (and remained so until the 1950s) a secondary but very beneficial production carefully managed on farm by women, as well as egg and butter (the so-called farmer's wife's part). Around 1900, thousands of chickens were sold on the local markets as Bresse poultry. On 22 December 1936, the civil court of Bourg-en-Bresse limited the area of production of the Bresse poultry to specified areas in the departments of Ain, Jura and Saône-et-Loire. The Law of 1 August 1957, promoted by the breeders, defined an appellation d'origine contrôlée protecting the name of volaille de Bresse, still the only of that kind in the world for poultry. The Law prohibits the use of the word Bresse and its derived forms (bressan...) for any poultry not coming from the defined area. An animal leaving this area losts its name. It was therefore needed to find another name for a poultry exported out of Bresse. The Bresse-Club proposed to use the name of Caussade, a similar breed, but the Caussade breeders got the protection of the name (the breed is today gone). The Bresse-Gauloise name was adopted since the genuine Gauloise breed is very rare nowadays. The Bresse-Gauloise is one of the most commonly bred poultry, in France and abroad. The genuine Bresse poultry is divided into three main varieties according to the colour of the feathers: the Bresse grise (grey, bred near Bourg-en-Bresse), the Bresse blanche (white, bred near Beny-Marloz) and the Bresse noire (black, bred in Louhans). The Bresse bleue (blue) appeared more recently.
[G. Jeanton & A. Durafour. L'habitation paysanne en Bresse; Inventaire des animaux domestiques de France (Nathan, 1993)]

Louhans is also known for Louhans-Cuiseaux Football Club, formed in 1970 by the merging with the club from the neighbouring town of Cuiseaux. The club played 17 seasons in the Second League and won the National Championship (Third League) in 1999.

Ivan Sache, 1 January 2006

Flag of Louhans

The flag of Louhans (TV news France 2, 15 December 2005), was used during the contest of Bresse capons hold in Louhans. The contest hall was decorated with vertical banners made of two vertical yellow and red stripes surmounted by a white square charged with the municipal coat of arms, "Gules two keys in saltire the wards upwards and outwards argent in chief a fleur-de-lis or".
Brian Timms says that the arms were adopted under Napoléon without reference to any feudal family. It is claimed that former arms of the town were "Argent three bars vert".

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 1 January 2006