Last modified: 2019-01-14 by ivan sache
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Flag of Nogent-sur-Marne, two versions in use - Images by Olivier Touzeau, 1 December 2004, after photographies taken by himself
The town of Nogent-sur-Marne (31,947 inhabitants in 2016; 286 ha; municipal website) is located 10
km east of the center of Paris, but the municipal territory of Nogent
borders the municipal territory of Paris via the woods of Vincennes.
The river Marne flows into the Seine in Alfortville, a few kilometers
downstream from Nogent-sur-Marne.
There are several places called Nogent (from Latin Novigentum, new settlement) in France, therefore the need of a longer name to distinguish them: Nogent-en-Othe, Nogent-l'Abbesse, Nogent-l'Artaud, Nogent-le-Bernard, Nogent-le-Phaye, Nogent-le-Roi, Nogent-le-Rotrou, Nogent-le-Sec, Nogent-les-Montbard, Nogent-sur-Aube, Nogent-sur-Eure, Nogent-sur-Loir, Nogent-sur-Marne, Nogent-sur-Oise, Nogent-sur-Seine, Nogent-sur-Vernisson, and ... Nogent.
History of Nogent-sur-Marne
Although Nogent is one of the oldest Gallo-Roman settlements around
Paris, there is no trace of the name of the town before the VIth
century. In his "History of the Franks", St. Grégoire de Tours (c.
538-594) writes that the Merovingian King Chilpéric I (539-584) met the
Roman Eastern Emperor Tiberius in his royal villa in Nogent.
Chilpéric's successors Clotaire II (584-629) and Dagobert I (? - 638)
seems to have also stayed in Nogent. Not all historians believe that
the king's residence was in Nogent, but a Merovingian cemetary found in
the town proves that an early settlement existed there. In the Middle
Ages, Nogent depended on the neighbouring abbey of Saint-Maur, whose
monks cleared the area and planted grapevine on the hills of the river
The Saint-Saturnin's church was built in the XII-XIIIth century, starting with a bell-tower in Romanic style and ending with a nave in Gothic style, and revamped in the XVIIth and XXth centuries. Saint-Saturnin is one of the patron saints of the town of Toulouse, in the south-west of France, and his cult was probably brought back to Nogent by pilgrims. The first village of Nogent probably developed at that time around a main street.
Kings of France Philippe V (c. 1293-1322, King in 1316) and Charles IV
(1295-1328, King in 1322) often stayed in Nogent in the manor of
Plaisance, built by Jehan de Plaisance at the end of the XIIIth
century. The manor later belonged to the royal architect Philibert
Delorme (1514-1570) and the farmer general Paris Duvernet purchased it
in 1726. The manor was demolished in 1820 and its park was divided into
King Charles V (1338-1380, King in 1364) built in 1375 at the other end of Nogent the castle of Beauté, where he died in 1380; Charles VII (1403-1461, King in 1422) offered the castle to Agnès Sorel (c. 1422-1450), who was nicknamed la Dame de Beauté, and was the first official royal mistress in the French history. The castle of Beauté was completely demolished in the early XVIIth century.
At the end of the Ancient Regime, Nogent was a small village inhabited
by farmers and wine-growers.
The development of Nogent started under the Second Empire, with the
opening of the railway lines Paris-Mulhouse (1854) and of the Bastille
(1859). A 800 m long viaduct with 34 archs was built, which marked the
border between Nogent and the neighbouring domain of Le Perreux, which
became an independent municipality in 1887.
During the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, the inhabitants of Nogent moved to Paris, where the municipal council had its seat on boulevard Voltaire. After the war, the town thrived with the building of schools, a college and a colonial garden. Marshal Jean-Baptiste Vaillant (1790-1872), Minister of War (1854-1859) and Commander-in-Chief of Napoléon III's army in Italy (1859) gave his estate to the municipality, which transformed it into a town hall (1877-1879). The vineyards progressively disappeared but the new streets of the town were modelled on the former wine-growers' paths.
During the Second World War, Nogent was a center of the anti-German Resistance. On 24 August 1944 at 11:00, the local Committee of Liberation took the control of the town hall. During the next night, the Germans blew up the archs of the viaduct of Nogent and carried on the fight near the fort of Nogent. Eleven patriots were killed and solemnely buried on 29 August.
Nogent houses the Pavillon Baltard, which is the only remain of the Halles centrales (central market) of Paris, built by the architect Victor Baltard (1805-1874) for Napoléon III in 1851. The market was relocated in 1969 to Rungis, in the southern outskirts of Paris; all iron-built pavilions (nicknamed parapluies de fer, iron umbrellas) were deemed obsolete and destroyed, except the poultry pavilion, which was rebuilt in Nogent on the site of the former castle of Beauté and is still used as a cultural center. The trou des Halles (market hole) remained vacant until 1979, when the crowdy and ugly underground mall called Forum des Halles was set up.
Ivan Sache, 1 December 2004
The guinguettes in Nogent-sur-Marne
The banks of the Marne in Nogent are a very picturesque site, which has
always been highly estimated by the inhabitants from Paris. In her
chronicles of the royal court of France, the Venitian writer (and early
feminist) Christine de Pisan (1365-1430) already celebrated the fresh
air and the festivals given in the island of Beauté.
In the XVII-XVIIIth century, rich people from Paris built their "house in the country" in Nogent. Coignard, Louis XIV's printer, owned there an hotel with a big garden, ornemental lakes and sources. The painter Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), who probably depicted the landscape of Nogent in L'Embarquement pour Cythère (1717, Louvre Museum), died in the house of Philippe Le Febvre, the Queen's treasurer.
In the middle of the XIXth century, another flush of "houses in the country" was built on the banks of the Marne by the rich Parisians in a castel-like style characterized by turrets.
The railway lines opened in the XIXth century allowed the people from Paris to reach Nogent very quickly, and a specific form of leisure resort called guinguette developed in Nogent. The guinguettes were not specific of Nogent and were found on several river banks near Paris, but Nogent has remained associated in the collective memory as the birth place of periurban mass leisure. Parisians from all social classes met in Nogent on Sunday, for fishing, bathing, canoeing, dancing etc., especially during the period called the Belle Epoque (first years of the XXth century).
The first guinguettes appeared at the end of the XVIIth century in the villages of Bellevile, Montmartre and Ménilmontant. At that time, these villages were not part of Paris and were located outside the tollgates: the wine sold in the guinguettes was not taxed and therefore much cheaper than in Paris; Ile-de-France was then the main wine producing area in France. The local wine was called ginguet or guinguet. Antoine Furetière, in his Dictionnaire Universel, published in 1790, defines guinguet as a young, tasteless wine produced locally in Ivry, Vitry etc., and worth only "to make the goats dance". The name guinguette is found in the Dictionnaire de la Langue Française edited in 1750, and is confirmed in 1882 by Emile Littré in his Dictionnaire de la Langue Française. Related words are bastringue, defined as a bal [dance] de guinguette in the Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française, 1835, and guinche, the name given to the tollgates' dances by the Paris louts according to the Dictionnaire de la langue verte, 1867. Guincher is still used, but old-fashioned, for "to dance".
In 1860, Baron Hausmann 1809-1891) completely revamped Paris, and the
neighbouring villages were incorporated into the town. The
guinguettes moved away on the banks of the rivers Seine and Marne, in
Robinson, Sannois, Nogent etc..
The development of public transportation promoted the development of the guinguettes. The guinguettes in Robinson were served by the line to Sceaux, whereas the guiguettes on the Marne were served by the line of the Bastille. Special, double-deck trains called trains du plaisir were operated on those lines on Sunday. In 1867, a boat line called bateaux omnibus was opened for the Universal Exhibition between Charenton (south-east of Paris) and Suresnes (north-west), with 47 stops, and remained in use until 1934, when it was superseded by cars and bikes. From the stops, local tramways or ferries transported people to the guinguettes.
The first guinguettes were small wooden huts surrounded by a garden. However, dance required a lot of space and the early huts were progressively replaced by well-designed houses, and a specific architectural style developed. Extravagant houses were built in neo-Gothic style. The most famous guinguette, called Les Bibelots du Diable (The Devil's Trinkets), located in Joinville-le-Pont, was recently restored. Several Swiss-like houses (chalets) were also built such as the Chalet de la Pie (The Magpie's Chalet) in Saint-Maur and the Chalet du Vrai Robinson (The Genuine Robinson's Chalet) in Robinson, with the pun on the name of Defoe's hero and the name of the city intended. In the 1920s, the basin of Joinville-Nogent was crowded with even more extravagant guinguettes built in the so-called style nouille, a debased version of Art Nouveau. The famous architect Nachbaur built the Casino Tanton, whereas Convert prefered the Moresque style. The Elysée-Palace was decorated with statues, whereas the Pompei-Palace was built in pseudo-Roman style.
Guinguettes were also built on the rivers Loire and Rhône. The
period 1880-1938, except the First World War, was the golden age of the
guinguettes, especially since the establishement of Sunday as a day of
rest in 1906, and also after the social advances promoted by the Front
Populaire government in 1936.
The guinguettes were reopened in 1945, but their success was limited. Most of them disappeared in the 1960s, when leisure was dramatically altered by the increasing urbanization, the development of roads, and the rise of the consumer society. The only guinguette still existing in Nogent is the former Vieux Pêcheur à la Jambe de Bois ("Old Fisher with a Wooden Leg"), now a restaurant called Le Verger (The Orchard).
In spite of their social importance in the early XXth century, the
guinguettes were shown only rarely in movies. The three most famous
related movies are La Belle Equipe (1946), directed by Julien
Duvivier, starring Viviane Romance and Jean Gabin (with the most famous
dance scene in which Gabin waltzes and sings Quand on s'promène au
bord de l'eau); Casque d'Or (1952), directed by Jacques Becker,
starring Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani and Michel Simon; and the
documentary Nogent, Eldorado du Dimanche (1929), directed by Marcel
Carné. There are also guinguette scenes in L'Atalante (1932),
directed by Jean Vigo, Boudu sauvé des eaux (1932), directed by Jean
Renoir, starring Michel Simon, and Une partie de campagne (1946),
directed by Jean Renoir. Jean Delannoy also directed a movie called
Guinguette in 1959.
Painters discovered Nogent before the movie directors. After Watteau, Impressionist painters such as Corot, Pissaro and Guillaumin painted landscapes of the banks of the Marne. They were followed by Cézanne, Marquet and Dunoyer de Segonzac. The less-known Ferdinand Gueldry (1858-1945) painted several scenes of rowing and canoeing, whereas Raoul Dufy illustrated Nogent two times, in Canotiers, bords de Marne and Nogent, Pont Rose et Chemin de Fer. The guinguettes are also shown on several postcards from the early XXth century. Most of the original places on the banks of Marne have been preserved (which is not the case for the Seine) and a painter's association called L'Ecole des Bords de Marne was created in 1990.
Ivan Sache, 1 December 2004
The flag of Nogent-sur-Marne shows the municipal coat of arms
surmounted by the name of the municipality. Two different flags, located
some 100 m away from each other, have been reported:
- a white flag with the municipal coat of arms surmounted by the name of the municipality in black letters; this flag can be seen near the railway station of Nogent-Le Perreux (and even from the trains).
- a light blue flag with the municipal coat of arms surmounted by the name of the municipality in white letters; this flag can be seen in front of the town hall, where it recently replaced the flag described above.
The municipal coat of arms of Nogent-sur-Marne is "Per fess, 1. Azure two ears of wheat in saltire cantonned by three fleurs-de-lys and a bunch of grapes slipped and leaved in base all or, 2. Gules two towers argent in fess port and windows and masoned sable a base wavy argent".
Timms says that the chief of the modern coat of arms is based on the
coat of arms of the municipality shown on a seal dated 1790.
The symbolism of the coat of arms is quite straightforward: the wheat ears and the grape stands for the local agricultural products; the three fleurs de lys recall Île-de-France and the royal power; the wave in the point represents the river Marne, as well as the reeds flanking the shield, and the two towers symbolize the two former royal castles of Beauté and Plaisance. The town of Nogent has retained the names of these castles on its motto Beauté - Plaisance, written on a white scroll placed below the shield. The motto can be read "Beauty - Leisure".
Olivier Touzeau/I>, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 1 December 2004