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Pontarlier (Municipality, Doubs, France)

Last modified: 2003-05-31 by ivan sache
Keywords: doubs | pontarlier | bridge (white) | tower (white) |
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[Flag of Pontarlier]by Pascal Vagnat

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Presentation of the city

Pontarlier is a city of 20,000 inhabitants (Pontissaliens), sous-préfecture of the department of Doubs.

Pontarlier (pont means in French "bridge") is located on the river Doubs (in Latin Dubius, "dubious", because of its complicated course) close to the border with Switzerland. It is located at an elevation of 837 m a.s.l. and is the second highest French city after Briançon (in the Alps).

In the XIIth century, Pontarlier was already an important city on the ancient road linking Northern Italy to Champagne and Flanders. In the middle of the XIIIth century, Pontarlier and eighteen neighbouring villages constituted the Baroichage, an administrative and ecclesiastic community ruled by the bourgeois of Pontarlier. Due to its strategic location and its four yearly fairs, Pontarlier increased in size and wealth until the XVIIth century. During the Ten Years' War, Pontarlier, then a Spanish possession, was seized on 26 January 1639 after a four-day siege by the Swedish mercenaries of Bernard of Saxe-Weimar. The city was looted and burned down.
Pontarlier was definitively incorporated to France in 1678 by the Treaty of Nijmegen. The Porte Saint-Pierre (St. Peter's Arch) was built at the entrance of the city to celebrate this incorporation. Its design is similar to the Porte Saint-Martin built in Paris the same year to celebrate the incorporation of Franche-Comté. During the XVIIIth century, the city, mostly build with wood, was often damaged by fire. On 31 August 1736, half of the city was destroyed. The city was rebuilt according to the plans of engineer Querret. In January 1871, the army commanded by General Bourbaki was defeated by the Prussian army and ran away to Switzerland to avoid capitulation. This was made possible by the heroic defense of the defile of Pontarlier, upstream from the city, by General Billot's corps.

In 1797, Henri-Louis Pernod founded in Franche-Comté the first absinth manufacture. Two centuries later, Pontarlier was the world capital city of absinth. The golden age of the "green fairy" ended in 1915 when absinth production was forbidden because of the neurological toxicity of this alcohol. Pernod went over into production of less dangerous aniseed beverages, including the famous Pernod 45.

The fort of Joux was built in the XIth century to watch the defile of Pontarlier. The defenses of the fort were improved by Vauban in 1678 and by Joffre between 1879 and 1881. The fort was mostly used as a state prison and had a few famous guests such as Mirabeau in 1776; Toussaint-Louverture, the hero of the Haitian independence, who died in the fort in 1803; and the German romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist believed to be a spy and briefly jailed in 1806.

Ivan Sache, 26 August 2002

Description of the flag

The flag of Pontarlier is horizontally divided red-white with the municipal coat of arms placed in the middle of the flag.
The municipal arms, showing a bridge protected by a tower, reflect the strategic importance of the city,

Ivan Sache, 26 August 2002