Last modified: 2004-07-31 by ivan sache
Keywords: vaucluse | isle-sur-la-sorgue (l') |
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by Pascal Vagnat
L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (15,000 inhabitants) is located 25 km east of Avignon in the former Comtat Venaissin. The city is surrounded and crossed by several arms and diversion canals of the river Sorgue, and therefore nicknamed "Venice of the Comtat".
In the Middle Ages, the city was a fishers' village established on an
island (Latin, insula, which gave in the XIIth century isle, later
île, the dropped "s" being shown by a circonflex accent placed on the
i) of the river Sorgue. The Sorgue (more exactly Sorgue de Vaucluse, 36
km) emerges from the cave of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and flows into the
river Ouvèze, tributary of the Rhône. The Fontaine-de-Vaucluse was
magnified by the Italian poet Petrarch (1304-1374) and its exact origin
in still unknown in spite of numerous investigations, for instance by
commandant Cousteau. The plain between the plateau of Vaucluse and the
Rhône, mostly a triangle limited by the cities of Avignon, Carpentras
and Cavaillon, is watered by a dense networks of rivers locally called
sorgues. It was in the past a marshy area, as shown by the toponym
Althen-des-Paluds, palud being the old French word for a marsh.
The marshes around l'Isle were progressively drained. The five main canals crossing the city flow into a main canal located slightly out of the city, under the Five Waters' bridge (pont des Cinq-Eaux). Fishing was a main activity in l'Isle, whose inhabitants were granted the exclusive privilege of fishing on the whole river Sorgue. Their speciality was crawfish, and it is said that they fished up to 15,000 crawfishs per day.
L'Isle (then called l'Isle-en-Venaissin) became very wealthy in the XVIIIth century when silk and wool weavers settled in the city, using the very clear water of the Sorgue and the energy provided by several water mills. The blankets from l'Isle were extremely prized. The water mills were also used for irrigation of the wheat and vegetables crops located close to the city. In the XIXth century, paper mills were established in l'Isle, which took its current name in 1890. At that time, they were 62 mills in the city, hiring more than 300 workers. L'Isle-sur-Sorgue is nowadays famous for its antique shops, with two international fairs on Easter and Assumption's Day.
The fortune of l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is symbolized by the hotel Donadei de Campredon, built in 1746 for Charles-Joseph de Campredon, a rich merchant from a family established in l'Isle in the XIVth century. The architect of the hotel was Esprit Joseph Brun, also known as Brun Cadet (Younger), who built several buildings in Aix-en-Provence and Marseilles, for instance the Chateau Borély in the latter city. The hotel was sold in 1865 to the St. Charles' nuns and eventually purchased by the municipality in 1976. It was then used as an exhibition hall for modern paintings, with temporary exhibitions dedicated to Poliakoff, Matisse, Dufy, Delvaux, Maillol, Bourdelle, Giacometti, Vieira da Silva, Dix, etc.. It is now the Maison René Char, dedicated to the great poet born in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
René Char (1907-1988) published his first poems (Arsenal) in 1929 and
his last ones a few weeks before he died (Eloge d'une soupconnée). He
was member of the Surrealist group until 1935, in which he wrote
Ralentir travaux with André Breton and Paul Eluard in 1930 and his
masterpiece Le Marteau sans maître in 1934. During the Second World
War, Char was commander of an anti-German Resistance maquis and refused
to publish anything before the Liberation. The poems he wrote during the
war were published in 1945 (Seuls demeurent) and 1946 (Feuillets
d'hypnos). Char considered "the poem [as] the realized love of desire which
remained desire" and attempted to conciliate the knowledge of the
person, light and love in his poems, once qualified of full of a "tense
serenity". Char's poems were illustrated by great artists such as
Brauner, Ernst and Miro, but mostly magnified by the musician Pierre
Le Soleil des Eaux is a theater piece written for the radio by Char in 1948. Boulez picked up two poems for which he wrote incidental music, Complainte du lézard amoureux and La Sorgue - Chanson pour Yvonne. The definitive version of the music was published in 1965:
Rivière trop tôt partie, d'une traite, sans compagnon,
Donne aux enfants de mon pays le visage de ta passion
(River, hasty starter, at a bound, with no companion,
Give the children of my country the features of your passion)
Rivière au coeur jamais détruit dans ce monde fou de prison,
Garde-nous violent et ami des abeilles de l'horizon.
(River with heart never destroyed in this world crazy for prison, Keep us violent and a friend to the bees of the horizon)
English translation by Stewart Spencer (Princeton University Press).
Ivan Sache, 17 March 2004
The flag of l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, as reported by Pascal Vagnat, is blue with the municipal logotype surmonting the name of the city in white L'ISLE / SUR LA / SORGUE.
The municipal logotype is undoubtly derived from the municipal coat of arms, which is blazoned by Brian Timms as follows:
D'or au feu de gueules à la riviere d'azur.
Or a flames gules a champagne wavy azure.
These arms date back to 1764. The first arms of l'Isle bore three trouts, which were replaced by the water of Velourgues and the fire of Saint-Antoine when these two villages were incorporated into l'Isle. On the logotype, the fire seems to be white and the "shield" is supported by two birds which look like grey herons.
I am a bit puzzled by the "fire of Saint-Antoine". In the Middle Ages, a
disease called St. Anton's fire (feu Saint-Antoine) or ragings' disease
(mal des ardents) was caused by the ingestion of rye contaminated by
the ergot fungus (Claviceps purpurea). The fungus forms fruit-like
bodies on the rye grains called ergots (lit., spurs). The parasitic
fungus affects only marginally the grain yield but produces several
chemical compounds related to the LSD. As a consequence, eating
contaminated flour causes abortions, gangrene of feet and hands and
severe neurological troubles. During a big ergotism epidemics in the
valley of Rhine in the IXth century, monks of the St. Anthony's order
were able to preserve some from the epidemics, probably because they
grew rye with a great care and suppressed the ergots before milling.
This miracle gave the name of the disease.
Ergot is controlled today with fungicides but levels of tolerance are kept wery low to avoid any risk. In 1951, an epidemic of ergotism broke up in the city of Pont-Saint-Esprit, not far from l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, after the milling of a stock of grains heavily contaminated by the fungus.
Ivan Sache, 17 March 2004