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Brignoles (Municipality, Var, France)

Last modified: 2018-06-26 by ivan sache
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Flag of Brignoles - Image by Ivan Sache, 29 April 2018

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Presentation of Brignoles

The municipality of Brignoles (17,093 inhabitants in 2015, 7,053 ha; municipal website) is located 60 km east of Aix-en-Provence and 50 km north of Toulon.

Brignoles emerged in the 10th century as "castrum brinoniae". In 1222, Ramon Berenguer IV (1198-1245), the last Count of Provence from the house of Barcelona (1209-1245) took the control of the Consulate of the town. Brignoles became a fluent medieval town surrounded by walls and a center of power, since the counts of Provence established their summer residence in the palace built in the 11th century. The Countesses of Provence used to give birth in Brignoles, soon nicknamed "the wet nurse and residence of the crown's children".
Brignoles was in the beginning of the 16th century the seat of the Parliament of Provence, after black plague had scoured Aix-en-Provence, the capital of the county, and, subsequently, the seat of the States of Provence.
The set up of the counts' residence attracted nobles and traders to Brignoles. After the incorporation of Provence to the Kingdom of France, Brignoles remained a town of significance, officially visited by kings Francis I, Charles IX and Louis XIV.

PSt. Louis of Toulouse (1274-1297; canonized on 7 April 1317 by Pope John XXII) was born in Brignoles as the son of Charles II of Anjou (1254-1309), King of Naples and Count of Provence (1285-1309), and Mary of Hungary (127-1323). Jailed in Catalonia as an hostage from 1288 to 1285, Louis was consecrated Bishop of Toulouse in 1296 by Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303). During his travel to Rome to attend the canonization of his grand-uncle Louis IX (St. Louis), he died in Brignoles, probably from tuberculosis he had contracted in jail. Louis was so popular and renowned for his sanctity that he was canonized only 20 years after his death.
Louis' relics, kept in a convent in Marseilles, were stolen as a war trophy in 1423, during the sack of the town by the fleet of King Alfonso V of Aragón (1416-1458), and kept in Valencia. In 1956, the bishop of Valencia agreed to return two of the saint's vertebrae to Marseilles, where they were stolen in 1993 from the St. Ferréol church, leaving an empty reliquary.
[Saints de Provence]

From the 1870s to the 1990s, the main source of employment in Brignoles was bauxite extraction. Discovered in 1821 by the mineralogist Pierre Berthier (1782-1861) near Les Baux-de-Provence, bauxite was named in 1861 by the chemist Henri Sainte-Claire Deville (1818-1881), who invented the industrial process of extraction of aluminum from bauxite ore, via the production of aluminum oxide. Bauxite extraction in Brignoles started in 1873 in Cabasse, where the geologist Gabriel Daubrée (1814-1896) identified big deposits. Extraction, mostly from surface mining, made of France the world's first producer of bauxite until 1939.
Industrialization of extraction was initiated in 1895 by the Union des Bauxites mining company, an outfit of British Aluminium Co. that exerted a monopoly on extraction for the next 10 years. More than half of the production was exported to Britain, Germany, Russia and Austria from the port of Saint-Raphaël, and, subsequently from the port of commerce of Toulon, exclusively dedicated to the shipping of bauxite until the 1960s. The remaining production was processed in factories built in Gardanne (1894) and Marseilles (1908 and 1909). In 1914, ore production amounted to 300,000 t ore, extracted by 750 workers, mostly of Italian origin (Piedmont).
During the interbellum, bauxite extraction was controlled by five rival companies, Union des Bauxites, which progressively lost its monopoly; Bauxites de France, the outfit of a German-Swiss company, owner of the main extraction site in Recoux; Alais Forges et Camargue, an outfit of Péchiney; and Les Bauxites du Midi, an outfit of Alcoa. Production increased to 545,000 t in 1939.
After the Second World War, bauxite extraction still increased, to one million ton on the early 1950s and two million tons in 1965. This was favored by complete mechanization, keeping only 1,000 workers. However, the discovery of huge deposits in Africa, Australia and America caused the decline of mining industry in Brignoles. The Gardanne factory started to import cheaper bauxite from Australia (1967) and Guinea (1972). Production dramatically decreased to less than one million t in 1985, while manpower was reduced from 990 in 1975 to 225 in 1989. The last active mine (Cabasse) was closed in November 1990.
The bauxite miners were known as gueules rouges (red faces) due to the color of bauxite ore, a nickname derived from the gueules noires (black faces) coal miners.
[INA - Repères méditerranéens]
The saga of Provence's red gold is recalled in the Gueules Rouges Museum, established in Tourves, a small town that mostly lived from bauxite extraction.
[Société Hyéroise d'Histoire et d'Archéologie]

Brignoles is the capital of pistole, a dry plum already estimated by King Francis I in the 16th century. The tradition says that the inhabitants in the town once revolted against their lord and cut all his trees but the one enclosed in the presbytery's garden they could not find. This "explains" why production was relocated to other places, such as Digne and Castellane.
Dry plums are produced from the local variety Perdrigon violet, once widespread all over Provence and the Alps. Collected in August by gently shuttling the trees, the plums were sun-dried in home-made dryers called soleilhadours (from soleil, "the sun"), located on the top of the houses. The plums eventually packed in boxes decorated with the arms of the town. Originally sold as brignolles, the dried plums were renamed at the end of the 18th century to pistoles because of their coin shape.
[Municipal website]
A detailed description of plum cultivation and preparation of pistoles is found in Mémoire sur la culture du prunier et sur la préparation de ses fruits, by Bernard Gouffé de Lacour (Director of the Marseilles Botanical Garden) and Simon-Célestin Croze-Magnan (Mémoires publiés par l'Académie de Marseille, 12, 231-256, 1814). The pistoles were once so famous that they deserved an entry in Littré's dictionary (1869).

Ivan Sache, 29 April 2018

Flag of Brignoles

The flag of Brignoles (photo) is white with the emblem of the municipality in the center. The emblem is made of a stylized representation of the municipal arms (reddish lines, probably recalling bauxite; white filling) and the name of the municipality beneath, written in gray letters, the "B" and the "S" bigger.

The arms of Brignoles are "Quarterly, 1. Azure a fleur-de-lis or in chief a label gules (Provence), 2. and 3. Azure a "B" or (Berenguer and Barcelona), 4. Or four pallets gules (Catalonia)".
The shield was originally surmounted by a Count's coronet, subsequently replaced by a mural crown.
[Municipal website]

The arms of Brignoles, granted by the Counts of Provence, are reported by several authors: Chévillard (Carte héraldique de la Provence, 1688), Robert de Brianson (L'État et le nobiliaire de la Provence, 1693), Achard (Géographie de Provence..., 18th century), and Traversier & Vaïsse (Armorial national, 1846).
The Armorial Général ascribed to Brignoles totally different arms, "Or a chief gules three crescents argent" (image), which were never used by the town.
[Louis de Bresc. Armorial des communes de Provence [bjs94]]

Ivan Sache, 29 April 2018