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Rouen (Municipality, Seine-Maritime, France)

Last modified: 2024-04-27 by olivier touzeau
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Flag of Rouen - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 3 February 2021

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Presentation of Rouen

he municipality of Rouen (111,360 inhabitants in 2018; 2,138 ha; municipal website) is located on river Seine, 140 km north-west of Paris. The second biggest town in Normandy after Le Havre, Rouen is the administrative capital of Region Normandie (seat of the Region Prefecture).

Rouen was founded in the 1st century by the Romans, as Rotomagus, on the right bank of river Seine. The site was protected from floods, while the left bank was marshy and included several unstable islands. Rotomagus was connected by the Seine to Lutetia (Paris) and Juliobona (Lillebonne, then the port established in the estuary of the Seine), and was the junction of several roads. Rotomagus peaked in the 3rd century but was soon transformed into a fortified camp (castrum) threatened by invaders. Rotomagus was an early center of the Christian religion in the declining Roman Empire; St. Victricius (d. 407/425), one of the earliest bishops of Rouen, erected a first church to keep relics of several saints, which increased the fame of the town as a "new Jerusalem".
Rouen was attacked in 842 by the Norsemen. Signed in 911 by King of France Charles III and the archbishop of Rouen, the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte established the state (subsequently, duchy) of Normandy, ruled by Rollo, with Rouen as its political and administrative capital. Rouen soon became a main port of commerce, visited by Greeks, Scandinavians, Irish and Italians. A significant Jewish community settled in the town. Rouen minted its own coins, which were found in Russia and in the Latin Christian states. The decorative motifs of the gate of the St. Jean cathedral, of Islamic inspiration, were brought back by the Norman kings of Sicily.
Rouen was granted a municipal charter (Établissements de Rouen) around 1150, much earlier than French towns. Every free man who had resided for one year in the town was placed under the municipal jurisdiction. The town was governed by the Cent Pairs (Hundred Peers), who were co-opted by the most affluent families. The population was organized in professional guilds placed under the protection of a saint and usually assigned to a borough of the town. Rouen sold salt and fish to Paris and Normandy wine to England.

After the incorporation of Normandy to the Kingdom of France, Philip I Augustus confirmed the town's privileges and commercial monopoly on Lower Seine. For long, Rouen would be the second most important town in the kingdom.
The Hundred Years' War that broke out in 1337 and the black plague that scoured the town in 1349 disorganized Rouen. The fortifications of the town were increased, while a military shipyard (Clos des Galées) was established on the left bank of the Seine, soon France's main arsenal. The Harelle urban uprising (1382) was severely repressed; the bells were put down from the belfry, tax were increased and the inhabitants had to pay huge fines, prompting several of them to leave the town. The privileges granted by Philip I Augustus were suppressed, allowing the merchants from Paris to trade in the Lower Seine area.
Besieged by the English in 1419, Rouen surrendered after 6 months. Joan of Arc was sentenced to death and burned at the stake on Old Market Square on 30 May 1431. After the reconquest of the town in 1449, Charles VII rehabilitated Joan of Arc in 1456. The restoration of peace allowed the town to boom again.

Rouen was embellished during the Renaissance by bishops Georges I d'Amboise (1494-1510) and his nephew, Georges II (1510-1550). Georges I, created Cardinal in 1496 and a main minister of king Louis XII, built in 1508 the Butter Tower, whose odd name recalls that most funds used to build it were collected as "exemption monies" offered by those who used butter rather than lamp oil during Lent. The Gros Horloge (Big Clockwork) replacing the old Gallo-Roman gate was completed in 1526.
Cloth industry developed in the late 15th century, to be relocated in Darnétal to escape the strict rules imposed to guilds in Rouen. The Rouen cloth was sold to Spain, where wool was acquired, but also up to Cochin in India. Alum required by cloth industry was imported from Rome by the Medici', who used Rouen as their French hub. To dye cloth, the Rouen cloth-makers commissioned Verrazzano to establish brazilwood trade. The main European port trading with Brazil, Rouen organized in 1560 a Brazilian festival for king Henry II. Several foreigners settled in the town and changed their names, for instance Rucellia from Florence, to Rousselay, or a family from Seville to Civille. More than ten printhouses were recorded in 1500 near the cathedral's northern gate, soon renamed to Printers' Gate.
The Gilded Age of Rouen ended with the War of Religions (1562-1598), the town being fiercely disputed by the two parties.

In the 17th and 18th century, Rouen had some 75,000 inhabitants but economic activity in the town stagnated. Merchants from Rouen established Saint-Louis du Sénégal in 1639 to foster Atlantic triangular slave trade. Rouen-born Abraham Dupuis helped the Chinese to expel the Dutch from Taiwan, while the young goldsmith Lepage made in 1884 a golden crown for an Indian raja. Several clerks and colonists embarked in Rouen to Nouvelle-France, including Rouen-born Cavelier de La Salle (1643-1687), who discovered river Mississippi and named Louisiana. As an important administrative center, Rouen was the seat of a Parliament.
In the 18th century, Rouen mostly lived from triangular trade and cotton milling, which was mostly performed by homeworkers living in the neighboring villages. The population of the town, accordingly, did not increase, and there was no need to transform the town, which preserved the historic downtown from revamping or destruction. Industrialization in the 19th century and early 20th century was localized in the suburbs and the left bank of the town. Cloth industry winded up in the aftermath of the 1929 crisis.

Rouen was liberated on 30 August 1944 by the Canadian troops after the Red Week (30 May - 5 June 1944), during which the town was targeted by 400 bombs of 1 ton each; the air raids claimed 3,000 lives and caused another 40,000 people to become homeless. As opposed to Le Havre, where a brand new town was built, Rouen was re-built as it was before. The emblematic Mayor Jean Lecanuet (1968-1993) restructured the town, preserving the historic downtown. France's first pedestrianized street was inaugurated in Rouen in 1970. The modern St. Joan of Arc church, built on Old Market Square, was consecrated in 1979.

Rouen is the birth town of the dramatist Pïerre Corneille (1606-1684), who left the town in 1629 to settle in Paris, where he published, from 1629 to 1675, 32 plays. After the publication in 1636 of the comedy L'Illusion comique, and the next year, of the tragicomedy Le Cid, which caused a big quarrel because of the author's innovations, Corneille wrote only tragedies based on historic events. In one decade, he published his "Roman" masterpieces: Horace (1640), Cinna (1641), Polyeucte (1642), La Mort de Pompée (1643), Rodogune (1644), Héraclius (1647), and Nicomède (1651).
In most of his tragedies, Corneille features a main character facing two opposed points of view (for instance, love and honor, or desire and duty). Such a choice is known as Cornelian dilemma. Verses from Corneille's most popular work, Le Cid, are quite commonly used in common language, sometimes ironically:
Ô rage, ô désespoir, v vieillesse ennemie [Oh anger! Oh despair! Oh age my enemy!]
Rodrigue, as-tu du cœur ? [Rodrigue, are you man enough?]
À vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloire [To win without risk is a triumph without glory]
Aux âmes bien nées, la valeur n'attend point le nombre des années [For souls nobly born, valor doesn't await the passing of years]
Et le combat cessa faute de combattants [And the combat ceased, for want of combatants]
Also derived from Le Cid, avoir les yeux de Chimène [To look with Chimène's eyes] originally meant "to accept everything because of love" (Chimène pardoned Rodrigue after he had killed her father to avenge his own father], and more generally, "to eagerly want something or someone".

Rouen is the birth town of another main French writer, Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), who settled in 1844 in Croisset, a few km downstream of Rouen. The master of psychological and realist novel, Flaubert was sued for "outrage to public and religious morality and to good behaviors" after the publication in 1856 of Madame Bovary. Supported by several politicians, artists and writers, the great Victor Hugo included, Flaubert and his printer were eventually acquitted. Emma Bovary's permanent state of dissatisfaction, which she eventually solves by committing suicide, was analyzed by the philosopher Jules de Gaultier (1858-1942) in the essay Le Bovarysme, la psychologie dans l’œuvre de Flaubert, published in 1892. Afterwards, the words bovarysme / bovarisme entered the French vocabulary.
Flaubert subsequently published Salammbô (1862 / 1874), L'Éducation sentimentale (1876); and Trois contes (1877).

The aforementioned Jean Lecanuet played also a significant political role at the national level. Elected Senator in 1959, he presided successive centrist, christian-democrat parties; MRP (Mouvement républicain populaire, nicknamed "Mon révérend père" by its opponents), CD (Centre démocrate, founded in 1966), CDS (Centre des démocrates sociaux, 1976); in 1982, he was appointed President of the UDF (Union pour la démocratie française), the party founded in 1978 to support President of the Republic Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (1974-1981).
Lecanuet competed in the 1965 presidential election, defending an atlantist program opposed to De Gaulle's wish of national independence. Supported by American funds, Lecanuet imported communication methods used in the American elections, being nicknamed "the French Kennedy" by his supporters and "Mr White Teeth" by his opponents. He obtained 15.6% of the votes, which forced De Gaulle to compete in an unexpected second round against François Mitterrand.
On 1974, Lecanuet supported Giscard d'Estaing rather than entering himself the competition and was rewarded with the positions of Minister of Justice (1974-1976) and Minister of Planning (1976-1977). In 1986, Prime Minister Jacques Chirac proposed him as Minister of Foreign Affairs to President Mitterrand, who turned him down.

The cathedral of Rouen, whose spire culminates at 151 m, is France's tallest church. The Norseman Olaf Haraldsson (995-1030) is said to have been christened in the cathedral of Rouen in 1014 by Bishop Robert the Dane, brother of Duke of Normandy Richard II. Subsequently king of Norway as Olaf II, he was the champion of the Christian religion in Scandinavia and struggled against pagan cults by all means.
The cathedral of Rouen owes its international fame to the series of 30 paintings made by Claude Monet (1840-1926) in 1892, 1893 and 1894. Only one of them has remained in Rouen, exhibited in the Fine Arts Museum. The other are scattered over 15 museums and several private collections worldwide. In 1994, 16 "cathedrals" were presented together in the Fine Arts Museum of Rouen.

Ivan Sache, 6 February 2021

Flag of Rouen

The flag of Rouen (photo, photo) is blue with a vertical red stripe along the hoist, "Rouen" written in white letters and a yellow silhouette near the fly. The silhouette represent the Paschal lamb, from the coat of arms of Rouen.
The red, blue and golden logo of Rouen was unveiled by mayor Pierre Albertini on 9 September 2003.
[Rouen Magazine, No. 190, 1 January 2004]

Esteban Rivera, & Pascal Vagnat, 29 August 2015

Former flag of Rouen


Former flag of Rouen - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 3 February 2021

The former flag of Rouen (photo) was white with the former municipal logo/.

Pascal Vagnat, 12 November 2010

Banner of arms of Rouen


Banner of arms of Rouen - Image by Pascal Vagnat, 12 November 2010

The banner of arms of Rouen is vertically divided blue-red with the municipal coat of arms in the center.

There is no original grant of seal or arms to the town of Rouen, and there was probably none ever. Adolphe Chéruel (Histoire de Rouen pendant l'époque communale, 1843) states that the mayor of Rouen used a seal in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. The seal originally featured a leopard, borrowed from the arms of Normandy, "Gules two leaopards or langued and armed azure". Lóopold Delisle (Cartulaire normand, 1852) shows such seals dated 1204, 1213, 2117, 12142, 1259, 1262 and 1273. This seal was used for the last time in 1309, according to Chéruel.
Delisle believes that the seal featuring a lamb holding a banner is not older than 1266. Alfred Canel (Armorial des villes et corporations de la Normandie) shows two copies dated 1355 and 1364. The new design appears to habe been borrowed by the municipality from seals already used by corporations. Charles de Beaurepaire, chief archivist of the department of Seine-Inférieure (now, Seine-Maritime), reports the use of such a seal by the abbey of Jumièges (February 1238), the Jacobine convent in Rouen (1246), and the Chapter of Rouen (1293).
The two designs were in concomitant use for a while, and even merged into a single seal. Canel describes the seal used by Mayor Simon Broc to seal a charter in 1362 as "A lamb with the right forepaw raised, the head turned backwards and nimbed by a cruciferous halo, a banner in pale charged with a leopard". The design is featured in the ogive of a window of the Court of Justice of Rouen.

The leopard was subsequently substituted either by a cross or the writing "Agnus Dei". The banner was often represented plain. The staff was transformed into a cross per bend. The left instead of the right forepaw was represented raised.
Canel believes that the addition of the chief with three fleurs-de-lis did not occur before the first half of the 16th century. The oldest record he founded is on the frontispiece of the 1534 release of the Grant Coustumier de Normandie. Frère, curator of the Rouen public library, reports an older sighting of the design, featured in the personal mark of printer Jehan Lebourgeois, active in Rouen from 1488 to 1499.
The written report of the festival organized in Rouen on 14 April 1485 to welcome King Charles VIII, published in 1853 by Beaurepaire (Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de Normandie 20, 279) states that the stand erected in front of the Notre-Dame church was decorated with "two white angels clad in gilded tunicas holding the coat of arms of the town, which features a white Agnue Dei on a field gules, a chief azure three fleurs-de-lis or". Verses written on shields placed around the stand read:
"Agnus Dei sitting on a field gules
A chief of France, the arms of Rouen
For the town are those:
This is a shield that never varies."

The design of the arms was submitted to some variation. In the Grand Coustumier, the lamb is represented couchant instead of passant, as everywhere else. Delamare de Chesnavarin (Des Éloges de la ville de Rouen, 1668) describes the arms as "Gules a lamb argent holding a cross or attached a banner argent charged with a cross gules in chief the arms of France". Charles Le Boullenger (Blasons et armoiries des officiers de la ville de Rouen pour être ajoutés à l'Armorial de France au désir de l'édit de novembre 1696) gives "Gules an Agnus Dei argent haloed or holding a cross or attached a panel argent inscribed 'Agnus Dei' a chief azure three fleurs-de-lis or". This design wa indeed shown in the Armorial Général (image).
Canel however, claims that the cross gules should have been prefered to the writing, as it was reported in most local descriptions, especially in 1668. Coins featuring the effigy of kings Henry III, Henry IV, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI all feature the cross, probably easier to represent than the writing. The binding of books printed during the reign of Louis XIII all show the arms with the cross. On maps of Rouen engraved from the 16th to the 18th century, the banner is left plain.

Suppressed during the French Revolution, the municipal arms were re-established during the First Empire. A Decree issued on 17 May 1809 stated that all municipal and corporative arms shall be approved by the Emperor. Accordingly, the Municipal Council appointed on 18 July 1809 a Commission to prepare the application and establish the accurate design of the arms of the town. Nothing useful was found either in the Municipal Archives or the Municipal Library. Different coins and engravings showed the arms as "Gules a sheep argent holding a cross or attached a banner argent a chief azure three fleurs-de-lis or". The Commission, logically, suggested to replace the fleurs-de-lis by other charges, or, "without hurting the rules of heraldry", to suppress the chief. The shield, however, would be less graceful and would differ much more from the historic arms.
Bees were proposed as susbtitutes to the fleurs-de-lis. After the mayor, Knight des Madières, had pointed out that neither bees nor eagles could be featured in particular arms, the Commission proposed to use three stars or instead. Canel says that the mayor's objection was not sounded. The aforementioned Imperial Decree states that the first-rank towns or good towns shall use a chief gules charged with three bees or in fess.
The arms of Rouen were prescribed by Imperial Letters signed on 8 November 1810, as "Gules a sheep passant the head contourned argent holding a cross in bend sinister attached a banderole of the same a chief of the good towns of the Empire, gules three bees or". As for all the good towns of the Empire, the shield is surmounted by "A seven-crenelated mural crown or surmounted by an eagle issuant, surrounded by two festoons dexter oak and sinister olive all or tied by strips gules to a caduceus or placed in fess above the chief of the shield".
The granted arms differ from the application by the chief's tincture (gules instead of azure) and the addition of external ornaments.

After the Bourbon Restoration, a Royal Order issued on 26 September 1814 prescribed the re-establishment of the arms granted to towns by the kings of France. The Municipal Council applied for "Gules a sheep argent holding a cross or attached a banner argent a chief azure charged with three fleurs-de-lis".
Royal Letters signed on 14 December 1816 prescribed the arms of Rouen as "Gules a paschal lamb argent the head contourned a diadem or a long banderole of the same the floating banderole argent charged with the two words 'Agnus Dei' a chief azure charged with three fleurs-de-lis or as they were granted by the kings, our illustrious predecessors."
The main charge was again described as the paschal lamb, while the halo ("diadem"), and "Agnus Dei" was added to the banner. The tincture of the chief was reverted to azure. The odd mention of two banderoles has remained hitherto unexplained.
The fall of the monarchy in July 1830 caused the suppression of the fleurs-de-lis from public monuments, as prescribed by an Order issued on 16 February 1831. Mayor Henry Barbet informed on 18 February 1831 the Préfet of Seine-Inférieure of the removal of the fleurs-de-lis from the municipal arms.

In 1852, during the Second Empire, Mayor Fleury asked on 2 February 1852 to the Préfet permission to give back to the arms of the town "by the re-establishment of the fleurs-de-lis, the complete design assigned by its ancient tiles". The Préfet answered that no instruction had been given considering the town's armored seals. The municipal arms sculpted in October 1852 on the door of the Honor Room of the Town Hall were as prescribed in the 1810 Order, with three bees instead of the fleurs-de-lis. The same design was featured on medals awarded during exhibitions and to citizens. It was also sculpted on the new building erected for the departmental archives in October 1856.
The issue of the design of the arms resurfaced in 1869 during the building of the funerary monument honoring former mayor Vedrel, which had to be decorated with the municipal arms. The issue was discussed on 5 November 1869 by the Municipal Council. Some members argued that the fleurs-de-lis should be re-established for the sake of the historic tradition; they further claimed that the genuine town's arms were those used before 1789 and that the arms with bees had not been legally prescribed in any way. They were replied that the design with the bees had already been used on several public and municipal monuments, and that the tomb of a mayor of the Empire could not be decorated with other arms than those used under the Empire. Thubeuf presented a detailed report of the substitution of the fleurs-de-lis by the bees on the municipal medals and monuments; accordingly, the bees were maintained.

After the fall of the Empire in 1870, the Municipal Council appointed a new Commission to fix the design of the municipal arms. The Commission unanimously proposed to re-establish the fleurs-de-lis in the chief of the municipal arms, and suggested to use the ancient representation of the fleurs-de-lis, more elongated than the modern one, which was deemed "heavier".
The Municipal Council adopted on 29 April 1871 the design proposed by the Commission, as "Gules a sheep argent the head crowned and nimbed by a cruciferous halo or holding sinister a cross or per bend sinister attached a banner argent charged with a cross gules a chief azure charged with three fleurs-de-lis or."
[Adolphe Decorde. 1871-1872. Les armoiries de Rouen. Précis des Travaux de l'Académie des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts de Rouen]

Ivan Sache & Pascal Vagnat, 6 February 2021

Rouen Port Authority


Flag of the Rouen Port Authority - Image by Randy Young, 31 August 2015

The Grand Port Maritime de Rouen is managed by the Port of Rouen, a public government organization under the surveillance of the Direction générale des infrastructures, des transports et de la mer (DGITM) (General Directorate of Infrastructure, Transportation andSea), which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministère de l'Écologie, du Développement durable et de l'Énergie (MEDDE) (Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy).

The flag of the Port Authority (photo) is white with the authority's logo.

Esteban Rivera, 31 August 2015

Maritime, Fluvial and Harbour Museum of Rouen


Flag of the Maritime Museum of Rouen - Image by Randy Young, 31 August 2015

The Maritime, Fluvial and Harbour Museum of Rouen (Musée Maritime Fluvial et Portuaire de Rouen; website) is a museum dedicated to the history of the port of Rouen. The museum opened in 1999, during the Rouen Armada (website), a festival of tall ships first held in 1989, which takes place every five years.
The flag of the museum is light blue with the museum's emblem in the middle.

Esteban Rivera, 31 August 2015

Nouvelles Fêtes Jeanne d'Arc


Flag flown during Nouvelles Fêtes Jeanne d'Arc- Image by Ivan Sache, 31 May 2022

The Nouvelles Fêtes Jeanne d'Arc commemorate the execution of Joan of Arc on 30 May 1431 on the Old Market Square in Rouen.
During the festival, the town flies flags vertically divided celestial blue-white, the colors traditionally assigned to Joan of Arc.
The flags are not hoisted on the Joan of Arc Bridge but on the Boieldieu Bridge, for the sake of historical accuracy. A plaque set up at the entrance of the bridge recalls that Joan of Arc's ashes were thrown down into river Seine from the neighboring Mathilde Bridge (photo, Paris-Normandie, 24 May 2022).

Ivan Sache, 31 May 2022