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Dourdan (Municipality, Essonne, France)

Last modified: 2019-04-06 by ivan sache
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Flag of Dourdan - Image by Ivan Sache, 23 December 2018


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Presentation of Dourdan

The municipality of Dourdan (10,507 inhabitants in 2014; 3,064 ha; municipal website) is located 50 km south-west of Paris.
Dourdan was allegedly founded by a pagan lord, named Rex Dordanus in old accounts. His daughter, St. Mesme, secretly converted to the Christian religion, which she practiced near a fountain; her upset father ordered her brother, St. Mesmin, to behead her, which he did. Soon aware of his fault, Mesmin converted to the Christian religion and withdrew near Mesme's fountain. Jacques de Lescornay, who reported the legend in 1634 (Mémoires de la ville de Dourdan, text), accepts it as "validated by the bishop". He admits, however, that nothing is known on the lord and that Rex Dordanus can be read either as "King Dourdan" or "King of Dourdan".

Dourdan is the cradle of the royal Capetian dynasty. Hugh the Great (898-956), Duke of the Franks and Count of Paris, died in the town. His elder son, Hugh Capet (939-996), probably born in Dourdan, was elected in 987 King of the Franks, succeeding the last Carolingian king, Louis V the Do-Nothing (986-987). Supported by Adalbero, Bishop of Reims (d. 989), Hugh was preferred to the Carolingian heir, Charles, Duke of Lower Lorraine (953-993).
Hugh Capet incorporated Dourdan to the royal domain; the town grew up around a timber fort, replaced in 1222 by a powerful stone castle defended by a cylindrical keep. The castle of Dourdan is one of the best preserved fortresses erected by Philip II Augustus (1165-1223) on the same model; it has kept its 30-m high keep, dry moats, curtain walls, towers and a fortified entrance gate.

In 1226, Louis IX (St. Louis; 1214-1270) inherited the castle, which he offered to his mother, Blanche of Castile (1188-1252), and, subsequently, to his wife, Margaret of Provence (1221-1295).
In the 14th century, the castle was granted to Louis, Count of Évreux (1276-1319), brother of Philip IV the Fair (1268-1314), as his apanage. In 1314, Joan II, Countess of Burgundy (1315-13330) and Queen Consort of France (1316-1322) was jailed in the castle of Dourdan in the aftermath of the Tour de Nesle affair, an adultery case involving her sister, Blanche of Burgundy (1296-1326), and her sister-in-law, Margaret of Burgundy (1290-1315). Supported by her husband, Philip V (1293-1322), Joan was eventually cleared by the Paris Parliament.
Another famous prisoner jailed in the Dourdan keep was Étienne de Vignoles, aka La Hire (1390-1443); a brother-in-arms of Joan of Arc, he was captured by the English when attempting to release Joan in Rouen and jailed in Dourdan for the next two years.

During the Wars of Religion, the castle of Dourdan, hold by the League, was severely damaged when besieged in 1591 by Henry IV (1553-1610); it was restored by its next owners, Nicolas de Harlay de Sancy (1546-1629) and the Duke of Sully (1560-1641).
Dourdan was granted in 1672 to Philip I, Duke of Orléans (1640-1701), brother of Louis XIV (1638-1715), who transformed the castle into a prison. In 1852, Amédée Guenée acquired the castle after the disbanding of the prison. The next owner, the local scholar Joseph Guyot (1836-1924) fully revamped the castle, establishing a cosy residence in the former salt barn, which had been erected in the 18th century in the castle's yard. His daughter sold the castle for a life annuity to the municipality of Dourdan in 1961. After her death in 1969, the notary Jean Chanson established a museum in the salt barn.

Dourdan is the birth place of Blessed Marie Poussepin (1653-1744; beatified in 1994 by Pope John Paul II), founder of the congregation of the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation; of the prominent, narrow-minded journalist and dramatic critic Francisque Sarcey (1827-1899), one of the preferred targets of the humorist Alphonse Allais (1854-1905); and of the professional road racing cyclist Tony Gallopin (b. 1988), winner of the Clásica de San Sebastián (2013), of one stage in Tour de France (2014; also holder of the yellow jersey for one day), and of one stage in Vuelta a España (2018), best known for the glamour couple he forms with Marion Rousse.

Ivan Sache, 23 December 2018


Flag of Dourdan

The flag of Dourdan (photo, photo, photo, photo) is blue with tree white pots and a red horizontal stripe charged with three yellow fleurs-de-lis on top. This is a banner of the municipal arms, "Azure three two-handled pots argent a chief gules three fleurs de lis or".

The armorial redacted in 1669 by Father Pierre de la Planche, priest and librarian at the Oratory, Paris, shows the arms of Dourdan, then part of the Bailiwick of Mantes-Montfort-l'Amaury as "Azure three two-handled flower pots or".
[Herald Dick Magazine, 30 November 2015]

Jacques de Lescornay (Mémoires de la ville de Dourdan, 1624; text) writes:

The arms of Dourdan are three pots and there is no reason for this choice but the great quantity of pottery produced there, as evidenced by the old accounts of the domain, which include a copy of the royal right on each kiln used to fire pots, joint with the local abundance of clay suitable to their manufacture

The aforementioned Joseph Guyot reports in Chronique d'une ancienne ville royale, Dourdan, capitale du Hurepoix (1869) that a Gallo-Roman pottery was observed and partially excavated in 1868 during the building of the Gendarmerie barracks, stating that "the kiln, with its circular mound and lateral corridor was not destroyed but filled with earth and sand". In 1992, the barracks were suppressed to build new houses, which required an emergency excavation of the pottery.
The pottery was located east of the present-day's downtown, on the bank of river Orge, which are rich in clay. The excavated pottery probably belonged to a bigger workshop; one kiln and a few pits, probably originating from sand extraction and subsequently filled with garbage, were studied. The kiln, established in a 2 m x 6 m excavation, is similar in shape to those discovered in the region (Saint-Evroult and Chartres). The kiln appears to have been revamped several times, probably to improve its efficiency. Its production was reconstituted from the analysis of the fragments thrown in the pits and by comparison with the well-studied pottery of La Boissière-École. Jugs with trumpet-shaped mouths and pots represent nearly 60% of the estimated production. Plates, tripodal bowls and tumblers constitutes the pottery's additional production. By stylistic comparison, the pottery was dated to the 3rd century.
[L. Bourgeau, C. Claude, C. Munoz. 1993. Un atelier de potiers gallo-romains à Dourdan (Essonne) : le site de l'ancienne gendarmerie. S.F.E.C.A.G, Actes du Congrès de Versailles, 87-94]

Dourdan was in the Middle Ages a renowned center of pottery, as "evidenced" by the early descriptions of a dozen of potteries compiled by Joseph Guyot. These reports, however, lack details required for a thorough demonstration of their medieval origin.
Inventories and excavations performed in the region (Pithivers, Chartres, Orléans, Chevreuse) in the 1970s-1980s have revealed the emergence and spread in the 14th century of a specific style of earthenware, labelled "à pâte rouge". The pieces are characterized by the colour (red), the texture of the paste (fine, homogeneous, slightly flakey and with a fine temper), the appearance of the surface (rough to the touch) and the slimness of the walls (two to three millimetres thick). This style appeared to have been invented in Dourdan.
A pottery producing earthenware "à pâte rouge" was excavated in Le Mâdre (Dourdan) in the 1980s. Here the kiln is of longitudinal shape, with two sperated ares, the one for heating and the other one for firing. The pieces are extremely homogeneous, mostly single-handled jars and cups. Additional production includes bottles; oil lamps, plates... Archaeomagnetic datation of the pottery was not possible due to its bad state of conservation; coins founded in the pits indicate that the pottery was active in the second half of the 14th century.
[L. Bourgeau. 1987. La production de céramique médiévale dans la région de Dourdan (Essonne).. Actes des congrès de la Société d'archéologie médiévale, 1, 77-66].

Ivan Sache, 23 December 2018