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Chambourcy (Municipality, Yvelines, France)

Last modified: 2020-06-13 by ivan sache
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Flag of Chambourcy - Image by Ivan Sache, 26 March 2016

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Presentation of Chambourcy

The municipality of Chambourcy (5,835 inhabitants in 2013; 762 ha) is located 25 km west of Paris, just west of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and south of Poissy.

Chambourcy (municipal website) was once known as Champ Bourcy, a name allegedly coming from Latin campus bruaci, a field (French, champ) filled with scrub (French, broussailles). Irminion's Polyptych (early 9th century), the record of the possessions of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés abbey in Paris, lists the place as Cambourciacum. The record of the possessions of the Saint-Jean-en-Vallée in Chartres (11th century) mentions Cambourciaco. The parish register of Chambourcy mentions a baptism in 1502, which is the oldest recorded baptism in Île-de-France. The Jesuit father François Arnoult, a friend of the philosopher Blaise Pascal, was appointed priest of Chambourcy in 1661.

The Désert de Retz in Chambourcy is among the best preserved folly gardens of the 18th century. Several wealthy, idle nobles "retired" in isolated places, establishing landscaped gardens decorated with follies (French, fabriques); they often lived in the domain, where they welcomed and amazed the elite of the time.
François Racine de Montville (1734-1797) was the grand-son and heir of a farmer general (tax collector). After the death of his wife, he decided to leave his two luxury hotels in Paris and to retire in the "desert". He purchased in 1774 a farm surrounded by a 13 ha plot in Saint-Jacques-de-Retz, a hamlet of Chambourcy.
Monville subsequently increased the domain's area to 38 ha by purchasing another two farms. Instead of a castle, Monville erected two follies, a Chinese House and a Temple dedicated to God Pan. He settled in the Chinese house, which included a lounge, a bedroom, a library and a kitchen, all decorated with genuine Chines vases, statues and painted panels. The temple was much more ascetic, including only an alcove and a bathroom.
Fond of English landscape gardens, Monville planted some 4,000 trees; including several exotic and rare species, all purchased from the Royal Nursery. The planting arrangement conveyed the illusion of a continuum between the park and the surrounding Marly forest. To even more amaze his visitors, Monville scattered several other follies in the park. The most striking follies, all built around 1782, were the Pyramid concealing an icehouse, the tin-made Tartar Tent, and a big arch-shaped rock forming the gate of the domain from the forest. In 1785, the park counted some 20 follies, including an outdoor theater protected by big elms and the genuine ruins of the Gothic church of the village of Saint-Jacques-de-Retz. Monville moved his residence into the Broken Column, made of the base of a Doric column of 25 m in height and 15 m in diameter. The six-storeyed column was filled with several oval or round-shaped rooms connected by an helical staircase.
In summertime, Monville offered big feasts, concerts and theater performances, highly prized by the Royal court that bored in the neighbouring castles of Versailles and Marly. Retz was visited by Queen Marie-Antoinette, Countess du Barry and the Court's portrait painter Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson also paid a visit to Monville. Jailed during the Revolution, Monville was saved from the guillotine by the fall of Robespierre; he died in 1797, totally bankrupted.
The several successive owners of the domain could not maintain it. Half of the park was sold by plots, while several follies disappeared (the Obelisk, the Chinese House, the greenhouses and the winter garden, the Hermitage, the Tomb and the Rock). Saved from complete destruction in 1965 by André Malraux, the first Minister of Culture in France, the domain was eventually purchased in 2007 by the municipality of Chambourcy and fully restored. The original Broken Column, the Temple, the Gothic Church, the Theater and the Pyramid are still standing; a replica of the Tartar Tent was erected in 1989.
[Region Île-de-France; Unofficial website, by Ronald W. Kenyon]

The Roseraie (Rose Garden) house, built at the end of the 17th century, is among the oldest houses in Chambourcy. Once owned by Bigot de Sainte-Croix, Louis XVI's last Minister of Foreign Affairs, the house was acquired on 23 July 1935 by the fauvist painter André Derain, who lived there with his family until his death on 8 September 1954. Co-founder of the Fauvism movement with Henri Matisse, Derain set up his workshop in the house, where he often welcomed his close friends, such as the painters Georges Braque, Balthus and André Dunoyer de Segonzac, the sculptor Alberto Giacometti, the art dealer Ambroise Vollard, the writers Francis Carco, Blaise Cendrars, Pierre Reverdy and Marcel Jouhandeau, the fashion designer Paul Poiret, the musicians Georges Auric and Henri Sauguet, and the movie director Jean Renoir. Restored by its last private owners, Albert Badault and his family, the house was recently acquired by the municipality of Chambourcy.
[Municipal website]

The Île-de-France section of the national association Croqueurs de Pomme (website) maintains in Chambourcy a conservation orchard, where its members grow ancient varieties of stone fruit trees no longer grown in commercial orchards.
In 2010, they set up a plot of the reine-claude de Chambourcy, a local variety of plum. Fruits were forwarded in 1840 by a villager to a plant breeder of Neuilly-sur-Seine, who soon identified the commercial potential of the variety. Quite resistant to diseases, insects, storage and transport, the Chambourcy plum became increasingly popular; it was in the 1950-1960 the second most commonly grown plum in France. The modernisation of the transport means and its low yield made it subsequently obsolete, so that its cultivation completely ceased within the next decades.
[Le Parisien, 3 August 2010]

Chambourcy was mostly associated in the last decades of the 20th century with yogurts and creamy cheese.
The dairy ALB, founded in 1934 by Pierre Aboukaya, Guy Lapeyre and Xavier Baillivet, sold in 1948 its creamy cheese as "petit Chambourcy". The name of the product was coined by Pierre Aboukaya, who owned an estate in Chambourcy, on the model of its main competitor, "petit Gervais". The company took the name of Chambourcy in 1962. Chambourcy was subsequently the 3rd biggest yogurt producer in France, after Danone and Yoplait.
Acquired by Nestlé in 1978, Chambourcy absorbed in 1988 La Roche-aux-Fées, which had been purchased by Nestlé from Unilever. The Chambourcy brand eventually disappeared in 1996.
[La vie des marques]

Ivan Sache, 26 March 2016

Flag of Chambourcy

The flag of Chambourcy (photo, flags used in the German sister town of Elbingerode, 27 August 2006) is white with the municipal coat of arms. Beneath is the writing "VILLE DE CHAMBOURCY" (Town of Chambourcy) in black letters.
The arms of Chambourcy are "Azure a fess checky or and gules in chief two fleurs-de-lis or in base a pear of the same."

Ivan Sache & Pascal Vagnat, 26 March 2016