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Saint-Raphaël (Municipality, Var, France)

Last modified: 2018-06-26 by ivan sache
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Flag of Saint-Raphaël, current and former versions - Images by Ivan Sache, 12 April 2018


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Presentation of Saint-Raphaël

The municipality of Saint-Raphaël (35,296 inhabitants in 2015, 8,959 ha; municipal website, tourism website) is located half-distance (25 km) of Saint-Tropez (west) and Cannes (east), being the easternmost municipality in the department of Var. The municipality is made of the town of Saint-Raphaël, of the borough of Valescure, and of the sea resorts of Boulouris, Le Dramont, Agay, Anthéor and Le Trayas, which are connected by the Corniche d'Or, a scenic road built in 1901-1903.

Saint-Raphaël was already settled at the Gallo-Roman period, as evidenced by the remains of a villa found in Le Veillat; a small mausoleum with white-washed walls (4th century), adjacent to a necropolis (2nd-3rd century) was excavated under the medieval church. The Sea Lion islet was surmounted by a Roman lighthouse; a great number of wrecks were found near the Gold Islands, the Dramont and off Cape Roux. Saint-Raphaël is the French municipality with the biggest marine archeological heritage.
Ruined after the fall of the Roman Empire, Saint-Raphaël re-emerged in the middle of the 9th century, as a parish dedicated to Archangel Raphaël, as evidenced by a bas-relief exhibited in the local archeological museum. In the 13th century, the church was the center of an episcopal domain composed of a fortified village and a castrum. Progressively increased, the village counted 57 houses in 1540. In the 18th century, a fishers' borough developed around the port.
Renamed in 1794 to Barraston as a tribute to Paul Barras (1755-1829), the main executive leader of the Directory regime (1795-1799), Saint-Raphaël was on the morning of the 9 October 1799 the place of landing of Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821) returning from the French campaign in Egypt and Syria; back to Paris on 16 October, Bonaparte pushed the coup of the 18 Brumaire and was proclaimed First Consul. Fifteen years later, on 27 September 1814, on the same beach, the dethroned emperor boarded the ship Undaunted, which transported him to Elba.

The fisher's guild (prud'homie), established in 1811, counted up to 200 members, decreased to some 30 today. At the end of the 19th century, the port of commerce thrived, exporting bauxite from Brignoles, cobblestones from Le Dramont, pine trunks used as mine posts, and cork caps.
Mayor Félix Martin (1878-1895), a graduate from École polytechnique hired as an engineer by the Paris-Lyon-Marseilles railway company, made of Saint-Raphaël a famous sea resort. The Saint-Raphaël-Valescure railway station was inaugurated in 1864; designed in 1887 by Pierre Aublé in neo-Byzantine style, the Notre-Dame de la Victoire de Lépante church was erected a basilica in 2004. A casino, hotels and estates were designed in neo-Palladian or neo-Moorish style by wealthy residents.
The most famous residents of Saint-Raphaël were the novelist and journalist Alphonse Karr, owner of the Maison Close estate; the musician Charles Gounod (1818-1893), owner of L'Oustalet doú Capelan; Léon Carvalho (1825-1897), director of Opéra-Comique in Paris, who kept in the gardens of Villa Magali remains of the Tuileries Palace demolished in 1871 during the Commune insurrection.

Valescure, known today for its two golf courses, was allegedly named for Vallis Curans, the Healing Valley. In 1895, Lord Aschcomb let build a golf course, the five oldest in France.
Boulouris, once known as Boulerie, is renown for its nine beaches.
Le Dramont is overlooked by a semaphore erected in 1860 on the ruins of a watch tower dated 1562.

Gold Island, a rocky islet located off Cape Dramont, was acquired in 1897 for 280 francs by an architect called Sergent. A few years later, it was transferred to Dr. Auguste Lutaud in obscure circumstances. Self-proclaimed King August I, Lutaud lee build a square tower in pseudo-Saracen style, and organized wealthy parties on the island. It is generally believed that Gold Island was the model of Hergé's Black Island.
On 15 August 1944, during the allied invasion of Provence, the Naval Western Task Force, commanded by Admiral Henry Hewitt (1887-1972) and Rear Admiral André Lemonnier (1896-1963) and composed of 500 vessels supported by the Mediterranean Air Force, released 250,000 soldiers in Le Dramont. The Texas 36th Infantry Division, commanded by General John Dahlquist (1896-1975) landed first, supported by the Combat Command of the 1st Armored Division of the Free French Forces, commanded by General Jean Touzet du Vigier (1888-1980). The landing site, originally the beach of Saint-Raphaël, was transferred to Le Dramont upon request of Captain André Nomy (1899-1971), who wanted the preserve the town from destruction.

Agay, conveniently located between Cape Dramont and Pointe de la Baumette (as evidenced by its Greek name, Agathos, "peaceful"), attracted several celebrities.
The writer Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) described his arrival in the cove of Agay on his sailboat Bel-Ami in Sur l'eau de Saint-Tropez à Monte-Carlo; at the time, Agay was not served by any road, except a path leading to Saint-Raphaël that "no car could use", but already had a railway station, "where two trains stop every day but nobody ever show up".
The composer Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931) let build around 1920 in Agay with his second wife, the pianist Caroline Janson, the vacation house L'Étrave; he composed there his last works, inspired by the light, the sea and the beaches, Poème des rivages (1921) and Diptyque méditerranéen (1926).
The religious marriage of the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944) with the Salvadorian artist Consuelo Suncín Sandoval (1901-1979) was celebrated on 12 April 1931 in Agay.
The novelist Albert Cohen (1896-1981) stayed at Hôtel des Roches Rouges in Agay with his second wife, Marianne Goss. The beginning of Chapter V of his masterpiece, Belle du seigneur (1968) recalls this period: Solal and Ariane d'Auble, the "doubles" of Albert and Marianne, staying in an hotel in Agay, are progressively excluded from the good society because of their adultery and the scandal it triggered.

Ivan Sache, 12 April 2018


Flag of Saint-Raphaël

The flag of Saint-Raphaël, hoisted on the Town Hall, is white with the municipal emblem, which features St. Raphael guiding child Tobias.
The former flag of Saint-Raphaël (photo) was white with the former municipal emblem, which shows the same figures on a yellow and blue background, a more explicit reference to the arms of the town.

The arms of Saint-Raphaël, adopted in 1690 and inscribed on the Armorial Général (image), are "Azure an archangel Raphael guiding child Tobias all or".
The scene portrayed on the arms and emblem is depicted in the Book of Tobit, Chapters 5-6. Tobit's son, Tobias, is sent by his father to collect money that the elder has deposited in distant Media. Raphael presents himself as Tobit's kinsman, Azariah, and offers to aid and protect Tobias. Under Raphael's guidance, Tobias journeys to Media with his dog.

Ivan Sache, 12 April 2018