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Saint-Chamas (Municipality, Bouches-du-Rhône, France)

Last modified: 2019-04-14 by ivan sache
Keywords: saint-chamas |
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Flag of Saint-Chamas - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 25 January 2019

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Presentation of Saint-Chamas

The municipality of Saint-Chamas (8,418 inhabitants in 2016; 2,671 ha; municipal website) is located at the end of a gulf forming the northern shore of the Étang de Berre, 50 km north-west of Marseilles and 15 km south of Salon-de-Provence.
Saint-Chamas is divided into two boroughs separated by the Baou hill, Le Pertus, ashore, and Au-Delà (lit., Beyond), inland. The hill has been hosting troglodyte dwellings for ages, most of them being still inhabited. For long the main fishing port on the Étang de Berre, Saint-Chamas still maintains two fishing ports (Pertuis and Sagnas) and two marinas (Notre Dame and Beau Rivage).
The inland borough thrived around a chapel erected in the 7th century, dedicated to St. Amantus (d. 487), 1st Bishop of Rodez, whose named was progressively transformed to Chamas.

In 1683, Colbert ordered the building of a royal black power manufacture on a 120-ha area reclaimed from the Étang de Berre. In 1810, the manufacture was composed of eight workshops each equipped with ten trip hammers powered by river Touloubre, which would be purchased by the state in 1823. In 1918, the factory, equipped with four tailing dams, employed 8,000 workers.
An explosion in building No. 104 killed on 16 November 1936 53 workers, while another 100 were injured. A second explosion claimed 21 lives on 4 April 1940.
The factory was closed in 1974 and the site remained abandoned until acquired in 2001 by the Conservatoire of Littoral. Open to the public since 2004, the park (website) is jointly managed by the municipalities of Saint-Chamas and Miramas. Remains of the industrial site are still standing, such as the entrance buildings, a workshop, huge retaining walls, a tower, and fragments of railways; a Roman chapel (12th century) partially restored is also standing nearby.
The abandon of the site for three decades allowed the development of a rich biodiversity, which associates natural environments (Mediterranean dry hills, a rare wet forest, marshes and a red bed) with two wild gardens once grown by the directors of the factory and planted with exotic trees. The park is also a hotspot of animal biodiversity, with 135 species of birds recorded.

In 1863, part of the hill caved down down to the Goule, the narrow tunnel that was at the time the only connection between the two boroughs of the town, killing a farmer. The resulting gap was filled by an aqueduct (62 m in length, 23 m in height), erected in 1869-1869; in March 1902, a small tower surmounted by a clock was built in the center of the aqueduct, known since then as the Clock's Bridge (presentation).
The two other landmarks of Saint-Chamas are the St. Léger Viaduct, a railway bridge built in 1643-1847 to cross river Touloubre (49 arches, 25 m in height, 385 m in length; inscribed on 28 December 1984 as an Historical Monument (presentation), and the towers of the controversial hydro-electric power plant erected in 1966 at the end of the Durance Canal (presentation)


Ivan Sache, 26 January 2019

Flag of Saint-Chamas

The flag of Saint-Chamas (photo) is white with the municipal coat of arms, "Gules an arched gate of the Flavian bridge or a base azure two fish affronty argent. The shield surmounted by a mural crown or", and the writing "Ville de St-Chamas" below.

The Flavian bridge was erected at the end of the 1st century BC, allowing the Massalia-Arelate (Marseilles-Arles) road to cross river Touloubre.The external sides of the arched gates feature a cartouche with the Latin engraving:
Lucius Donnius, son of Caius Flavius, flaminus of Rome and August,
Ordered in his last will to erect this bridge,
Under the lead of Donnius Vena and Attius Rufus.

The bridge is therefore named for his donator, Lucius Donnius Flavius, who was priest (flaminus) in the cults of Emperor August and Rome. Donnius Vena and Attius Rufus were his executors.
Quite isolated from the main roads, the bridge remained ignored, and untouched, until measured and described by the Marquis de Caumont in 1740 (Description d'un monument antique, élevé sur un pont près du village de Saint-Chamas en Provence, Histoire de l'Académie Royale des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, 12, 253-257).
[Collège René Seyssaud, Saint-Chamas]

The arms of Saint-Chamas were adopted in 1906; Marius Sarnègue, Mayor of Saint-Chamas from 1885 to 1915, who was mason and anti-clerical, pushed the suppression of the historical arms of the town that featured the town's namesake.
The old arms of Saint-Chamas are registered on the Armorial Général (I, 470; bl. I, 1089; image) as "Azure a Saint Chamas proper clad or with a miter and crozier of the same. The shield surrounded by a small cross patty sable and surrounded by the writing 'SAINT CHAMAS' in letters sable."
Louis de Bresc (Armorial des communes de Provence, 1866 [bjs66]) says that the town already used these arms long before their official registration.

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 26 January 2019

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