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Saverne (Municipality, Bas-Rhin, France)


Last modified: 2010-11-13 by ivan sache
Keywords: bas-rhin | saverne | zabern | unicorn |
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[Flag of Saverne]

Municipal flag of Saverne - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 13 May 2005

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Presentation of Saverne

The city of Saverne (in German and Alsatian, Zabern; 11,534 inhabitants) is located in northern Alsace, just below the Saverne Gap (col de Saverne), the main way of communication between northern Alsace and Lorraine through the Vosges mountains. Saverne, nicknamed la porte de l'Alsace (the Gate of Alsace), is watered by the river Zorn and the canal linking the rivers Marne and Rhine, and surrounded by hills crowned with Romantic ruins of medieval fortresses. The "eye of Alsace", the fortress of Haut-Barr, located 5 km south of Saverne, watched the plain of Alsace; when weather permits it, the spire of the cathedral of Strasbourg can be seen from there. Bishop Manderscheidt once had to take refuge in the fortress, where he founded the Horn Brotherhood; members of the brotherhood enjoyed downing in one go an aurochs horn filled up with Alsatian wine. Near the fortress, engineer Claude Chappe (1763-1805) built a signalling telegraph (sémaphore à bras), which allowed communication between Paris and Strasbourg from 1798 to 1852.

Saverne was a Gallic village and later a Roman city named Tres Tabernae. This name, meaning "Three Taverns", indicates that the city was already an important place of transit for people and goods, located on the Consular way linking Metz and Strasbourg in the Roman times. In 359, Saverne was used as a base by Emperor Julian when he defeated the Alamans near Strasbourg.
The city has kept remains from a Roman city wall, a medieval city wall, a Roman church, a Gothic cloister made with pink sandstone (in the Recollets' church, XIVth century), and ancient Alsatian houses (especially the Katz house, XVIIth century).

Saverne belonged to the Bishops of Metz, then to the Dukes of Swaben and Alsace, and eventually to the Bishops of Strasbourg. They relocated in Saverne the administration of the Bishopric and smartened up the city.
The main monument in Saverne is the neo-calssical castle (re)built by architect Salins of Montfort for the Princes-Bishop de Rohan in 1779 on the site of a medieval fortress (XIIth century). Cardinal Louis de Rohan (1734-1803), Bishop of Strasbourg, lived there in splendor. The palace was built with pink sandstone in Louis XVI style; it is surrounded by a park limited by the canal linking Marne and Rhine. The northern facade of the palace, decorated with fluted pilasters and a peristyle supported by eight Corinthian columns, mirrors into the canal. The palace is of course nicknamed le Versailles alsacien.
In an old tower located near the castle, Guiseppe Balsamo, aka Count Alexandre de Cagliostro (1743-1795), did some of his "scientific" experiments; Cagliostro, an adventurer fond of alchemy and occultism, was involved in the Necklace affair. In 1785-1786, Countess de La Motte and Cagliostro swindled Cardinal de Rohan, who purchased for Queen Marie-Antoinette a necklace he could never refund; the Queen was absolutely innocent but her reputation was tarnished. Cagliostro was arrested and jailed in the Bastille in 1786. Later, he created an "Egyptian" masonic brotherhood in Rome, was arrested in 1789, sentenced to death by the Inquisition court and eventually jailed in the St. Leon's castle, where he died.
Cagliostro influenced several writers, such as Goethe (The Great Cophte, 1791) and Carlyle (Count Cagliostro, 1823), Schiller (The Visionary, 1787-1789), Nerval (Les Illuminés, 1852), and, most of all, Alexandre Dumas (Joseph Balsamo, 1848; Le Collier de la Reine, 1850). Maurice Leblanc organized "meetings" between the gentleman cambrioleur Arsène Lupin and a mysterious crook called Countess de Cagliostro.

The rose garden of Saverne was created in 1898; some 8,500 rose trees, representing more than 550 varieties, are grown there. The International Contest of New Roses and the Rose Festival take place in Saverne in June since 1923. Recently, a confectioner and chocolate maker from Saverne created a lozenge-shaped, rose-flavoured chocolate (Bouton de Rose, Rosebud). The candy is made of rose jelly dressed with marzipan and coated with bitter black chocolate. Jelly comes exclusively from petals of the rose Luberon. For the centenary of the Rose Festival, a butter cookie decorated with rose petals was also created.

Archives of the Worthless World of the Day define the obsolete word "Zabernism" as "The misuse of military power or authority; bullying, aggression", with the following references:

  • 1921 E. Weekley, Etym. Dict. Mod. Eng.
    Zabernism (hist.), military jackbootery. From an incident at Saverne (German, Zabern) in Alsace (1912), when an excited German subaltern cut down a lame cobbler who smiled at him.
  • 1918 H. G. Wells
    "Both countries have been slaves to Kruppism and Zabernism."
  • 1916 G. B. Shaw, Heartbreak House
    ."..the army they rescued is busy in Cologne imprisoning every German who does not salute a British officer; whilst the government at home, asked whether it approves, replies that it does not propose even to discontinue this Zabernism when the Peace is concluded, but in effect looks forward to making Germans salute British officers until the end of the world."

I am not aware of any equivalent of Zabernism in French; however, the Saverne incident, occurring in Alsace then occupied by Germany, increased the anti-German and pro-French feelings of the Alsatian population.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 13 May 2005

Municipal flag of Saverne

The municipal flag of Saverne, as seen by Pascal Vagnat in front of the castle of Rohan along with the Alsatian flag, is yellow with the municipal coat of arms in the middle; the shield has a Polish shape.

The municipal coat of arms of Saverne is (GASO):

D'or à la bande de sable chargée d'une licorne bondissante du champ, accornée et onglée d'argent.

In English (Timms):
Or on a bend sable a unicorn rampant of the field attired and unguled argent.
These arms are also shown in the Armorial of the municipalities of the department of Bas-Rhin (1947).

The unicorn appears on a municipal seal dated from the XIVth century, although the city used also a seal with a triple towered castle. The Armorial Général gives two coats of arms for Saverne:

De gueules à un château composé de trois tours d'argent, couvertes en dôme, celle du milieu ronde et les deux autres carrées (Gules a triple towered castle argent...)

D'argent à la bande de gueule chargée d'une licorne d'or (Argent on a bend gules a unicorn or).

Timms further notes that the unicorn is very rare in French civic heraldry, another famous example being the coat of arms of Saint-Lô, in Normandy. The unicorn is very popular in Saverne, and the local brewery brews the Bière à la Licorne (Unicorn's Beer).

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 13 May 2005