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Evian-les-Bains (Municipality, Haute-Savoie, France)

Last modified: 2005-06-17 by ivan sache
Keywords: haute-savoie | evian-les-bains | fish (white) | cross (white) | letters: cae (red) |
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[Flag of Evian]by Arnaud Leroy

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Presentation of Evian

Evian-les-Bains (7,000 inhabitants) is a city located on the southern shore of lake Léman, 10 km east of Thonon-les-Bains, the main French city on the Lake Leman, and 17 km west of the village of Saint-Gingolph which constitutes the Franco-Swiss border. The wide delta of the river Dranse was in the past a kind of natural border that isolated Evian from the rest of Savoy and made traffic extremely difficult, especially in summer. The building of a new bridge and new roads solved the problem.

Early history

There were early Celtic and Roman settlements in Evian, but the city was developed much later by the Dukes of Savoy, who fortified it. Until 1865, Evian was a small fortified city with its walls bathed in the lake. The church of Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption, built in the XIIIth century (early Savoyard Gothic style) was also fortified and projected into the lake.

Most French thermal spas were built on ancient Gallo-Roman thermae. Evian is one of the exceptions, since the thermal baths were opened only in the XVIIIth century. Since the XVIIth century, the Dukes of Savoy took the iron-bearing waters in Amphion, a village located between Evian and Thonon, now part of the municipality of Publier, but Evian remained ignored.
However, the name of Evian is related with water. It comes most probably from a Celtic or pre-Celtic root meaning water, and was written Aviano in 1150, Yvians in 1268. Local pencil pushers invented the Latin form Aquianum in the Middle Ages.

In 1789, Marquis of Lessert, a country squire from Auvergne, suffering from his kidneys and liver, took the waters in Amphion, to no avail. During a trip in Evian, he drank water from the St. Catherine's source, which gushed forth in Mr. Cachat's garden. The marquis felt better and promoted the 'miraculous' source, which was rapidly recommended by doctors. Mr. Cachat wisely enclosed his garden and started selling the water.

The golden age

The first private bathing resort in Evian was opened in 1826 by the Swiss banker François Fauconnet. Since he was a foreigner, he needed a permit, which was granted to him by King Charles Félix (lettres patentes from 20 January 1826, Turin). The first resort was built in 1827 in the rue Nationale, now the main street in Evian, on the site of the former St. Catherine's church. The resort was made of two buildings linked by a pump room and a large terrace. In 1835, Fauconnet got bankrupted and the resort was sold.
The Société des Eaux Minérales de Cachat bought the resort and built the Hôtel des Bains in 1839, and transformed it into the Grand Hôtel des Bains in 1859-60.

In 1860, Savoy was incorporated to France and took benefit of the industrial development of the Second Empire. The railway was extended from Annemasse to Evian via Thonon, and Evian was officially renamed Evian-les-Bains in 1864.

The Society of the Evian Waters (Société des Eaux d'Evian) was incorporated in 1869, drilled several holes and bought sources. The Society funded the building of big hotels, a theater and a pump room. In 1878, the French Academy of Medicine approved the use of the mineral water of Evian. The appearance of the city was dramatically altered. Baron Louis-Eynnemond de Blonay bequeathed to the city his castle and all the neighbouring land. The castle was transformed into a gambling house. The lake front was moved forward on the lake, so that the church and the center of the city are now located 100 m away form the shore. In 1897-1898, the architect Brunnarius completely transformed the Grand Hôtel des Bains into the ; it was the biggest palace on the French shore of Lake Léman. The Royal Hôtel (still active) was built in 1909. Evian attracted the European high society. In 1873, the Swiss Compagnie Générale de Navigation (CGN) organized the first cruises on the lake.

Scientific evidence of the effect of the water on kidneys was given in 1902. The baths were revamped in 1902 by Brunnarius, who died before the completion of the project. It costed 1.5 billions francs (c. 5 billions euros). The main hall was 68-m long, 25-m wide and 31-m high. The modern casino of Evian was built in 1912 by the architect Hébrard, on the model of the St. Sophie's basilica in Istanbul.

Evian started to decline in 1929. Water-cure activity resumed after the Second World War. A new pump room was built in 1956 by the architect Maurice Novarina. The new water-cure establishment was also designed by Novarina in 1983. The building was partially buried to preserve the homogeneity of the park. The casino is probably the most important source of money for Evian. Gambling is forbidden in Switzerland, and the CGN has a special service between Lausanne and Evian at least a day per week - the boat lands in Evian and waits for the closure of the casino.

Evian housed the last summitt of the G8, in spring 2003.

The water production

In 1960, the production of the water was industrialized. The famous bottle with the pink label was sold in supermarkets. Evian is now the first exporter of mineral water in the world, with 4,000,000 of bottles produced per day in the bottling factory located in Amphion. Evian belongs to the group Danone but is still known locally as la Cachat, from the name of the source (see above).

Whatever advertisment claims, the natural mineral water of Evian does not come from the Mont-Blanc massif. Rain and snow-melting waters are collected on the plateau de Gavot, just above Evian, on a layer of glacial sands sandwiched into two layers of clayey moraines. The three-layer system acts as a natural filter responsible of the specific mineralization of the water. The travel of the water from the collecting area to the source has a speed of 100-300 m per year and can last up to 15 years. The source water has a constant temperature of 11.6 C.

The Evian agreement (accords d'Evian)

The accords d'Evian (Evian agreement) were signed on 18 March 1962. The agreement acknowledged the independence of Algeria and appointed the FLN as single speaker for further negociations.

Discussions had started on 5 March between the French government and the Provisory Government of the Algerian Republic, founded on 19 September 1958. The cease-of-fire was signed on 19 March. The agreement was approved in France by a referendum on 8 April and in Algeria by a plebiscite on 1 July.

Radical supporters of French Algeria (OAS) tried to stop the discussions by committing a bomb attempt, in which Mayor of Evian Camille Blanc, who was not at all involved in the discussions, was killed.

Evian in literature

During its golden age, several writers came to Evian in summertime. Two names are specifically associated with this period, Anna de Noailles and Marcel Proust.

Anna, Countess Mathieu de Noailles (1876-1933) was born Princess Brancovan, from the Princely House of Wallachia (Rumania). She spent most of her summers in a house bought by her father in Amphion. Her work was deeply inspired by Lake Léman. She wrote three novels, an autobiography and several lyric, neo-romantical poems. These poems seem now fairly conformist and old-fashioned, and it is difficult to imagine how popular Anna de Noailles was. She was one of the first aristocrats to join the Dreyfusard party and was the first woman to be appointed Commander of the Order of Légion d'Honneur. She was buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetary in Paris, but her heart remained in the cemetary of Publier, with the following epitaph "Here sleeps my heart, vast witness of the world".

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was an ardent admirer of Anna de Noailles. He wrote her she was even better than the Blessed Virgin (we must recall that Proust was much more careful with vocabulary in his novels than in his letters!). Proust spent a few summers in Evian with her mother in the beginning of the XXth century. Although A la recherche du temps perdu is not an autobiography, Proust used several events of his own life to compose the novel, the same way he incoporated several elements of his own personality in the characters of the novel. An important place in the novel is the sea resort of Balbec, where the narrator met important characters such as Albertine, Robert de Saint-Loup and the painter Elstir. The narrator lived in the Grand Hôtel, whose main model is the Grand Hôtel in Cabourg (Normandy). However, some elements of the landscape might not be of Normand origin, especially the green mountain the narrator saw from his room. It is therefore possible that the Hôtel Splendid in Evian was among the models of the Grand Hotel in Balbec.

An important event of the novel was directly transposed from Proust's real life. In September 1905, Proust went to Evian with his mother. Two hours after arriving in Evian, Mrs. Proust was struck down by an uremia crisis. She was brought back to Paris and died from nephritis on 26 September, aged 57. Proust never recovered from his sorrow, and transposed that sad event as the death of the narrator's grand-mother, which is the most horrible event of the novel, with a long, clinical description of the agony.

Ivan Sache, 5 September 2004

Municipal flag of Evian

The municipal flag of Evian, as it could be seen on the city hall in December 2002, is vertically divided blue-red with the municipal coat of arms placed in the middle and surmonted with a mural crown.

The coat of arms is:

D'azur au poisson d'argent posé en fasce, avalant un petit poisson du même, au chef de gueules à la croix d'argent

In English:

Azure in fess a fish silver, swallowing a small fish of the same, chief gules a cross silver.

The fishes on the arms most probably refer to fishing, which is now nearly extincted in Evian but still active in neighbouring smaller ports such as Petite-Rive, Grande-Rive and Meillerie. The chief is made of the arms of Savoy, the chief of Savoy being often used in municipal heraldry.

The municipal coat of arms of Evian dates back (at least) from XVth century. The motto of the city was Deo et ducis fidelis perpetuo (To God and the Duke, a perpetual loyalty), which was slightly changed to when the Duke of Savoy was replaced by the King of Sardinia.
A watercolor by Victor Ferrero, from the end of the XIXth century, shows the coat of arms of Evian with a white cross on a blue field in chief instead of the traditional chief of Savoy (white cross on red) and the fish au naturel on a white field, instead of white fishes on a blue field. Moreover, there is a thin yellow fimbriation between the field and the chief of the shield.

Source: Evian à travers les siècles, exhibition catalogue, Editions du Nant d'Enfer, 2001.

The flag of Evian has some similarity with the banner of arms of the Swiss city of Nyon, in the canton of Vaud.

Ivan Sache, 5 September 2004

Club de l'Aviron d'Evian

[CA Evian]by Ivan Sache

Some members of the rowing club Club de l'Aviron d'Evian have won international fame:

  • Emile Clerc, aka Milou, born in 1934, was a professional fisher in Yvoire; he started rowing in the Club de l'Aviron de Thonon and won the Henley regatta with the eight from the Bataillon de Joinville (sport unit of the French army). Milou competed in the Olympic Games in Melbourne (1956), Rome (4th in eight) and Tokyo (10th in coxless four ); he is today responsible of the rowing club Excenevex Skiff with Jacques Vignon, former coach of the rowing club of Geneva.
  • Patrick Raymond won five national titles and took part to the Olympic Games in Montreal (1976); he is today a coach of the national French team in rowing.
  • Serge Fornara started rowing in 1969 and won ten national titles, including five of them with Patrick Raymond and another two with Barathay Sr. and Jr, the second title ten years later; he took part to three Olympic Games.
  • Samuel (Samy) Barathay was born in 1968 and is one of the best French rowers ever. He was champion of the world in double scull with Y. Lamarque in Rudnice (1993), bronze medalist in Indianapolis (1994) and in the Olympic Games in Atlanta (1992) with F. Kowal. He also won several national titles. Samy is today a regional coach for the national team in Chambéry.

The burgee of the CAE is blue with a red border and a black triangle bordered red and charged with the red letters CAE placed near the hoist. Blue and red are the municipal colours of Evian.

Source: CAE website

Ivan Sache, 18 December 2004