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Gigondas (Municipality, Vaucluse, France)

Last modified: 2014-05-04 by ivan sache
Keywords: vaucluse | gigondas |
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Flag of Gigondas - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 September 2013

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Presentation of Gigondas

The municipality of Gigondas (556 inhabitants in 2010; 2,714 ha) is located 40 km northeast of Avignon and 25 km east of Orange.

Gigondas is said to have been founded in the 1st century BC by colonists coming from Orange, then Colonia Julia Arausio, a Roman colony established by veterans from the 2nd Legion. The place was known as Joconditas, allegedly meaning "joy" in Latin. In the 10th century, Orange and Gigondas were part of the Marquisate of Provence. The "castle of Gigondas" was a big tower erected on the southern rocky spur of the village and subsequently destroyed upon Louis XIV's order. Gigondas was incorporated to the Principality of Orange in the 12th century and remained part of it until the incorporation of the principality to France (1731).

Gigondas is word-famous for its vineyards (website), which cover nearly half of the municipal territory (1,233 ha in 2009). Managed by more than 200 winegrowers (nearly half of the population of the village), the vineyard yields an average 30,000 to 40,000 hl of (mostly red) wine per year. For the sake of quality, grape yield is maintained below 36 hl/ha (one of the lowest yields in France). The most common grape varieties (cépages) in Gigondas are Grenache noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Some 80% of Gigondas wine is produced and sold by individual growers. Nearly 40% of the production is exported, the main customers being in the USA (25%) and Belgium (21%).
Grapevines appear to have already been grown in Gigondas by the Roman colonists: remains of Gallo-Roman wine tanks have been found in the hamlet of Saint-Cosme. However, the development of modern wine production in Gigondas is credited to Eugène Raspail, a lawyer born in Gigondas. Elected at the Constituent Assembly in 1848-1849, Raspail was subsequently jailed and exiled to Italy because of his republican ideas. Back to Gigondas, he increased his father's vineyard and improved cropping and winemaking techniques; he started in 1864 to ship his production to merchants in Valence, Saint-Étienne, and Paris, increasing the fame of the Gigondas wine beyond the region.
In 1870, the French vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera; Raspail promoted the use of American grapevines resistant to the insect. In Gigondas, most vineyards were replaced by olive trees, which were themselves suppressed by winter frost in 1929, and, mostly, in 1956. Grapevines were replanted and the efforts of the winegrowers were crowned in success on 4 January 1971, when the "Gigondas, cru des Côtes du Rhône" certification (AOC, appellation d'origine contrôlée) was granted to their production. The "Gigondas" certification may be granted only to wines produced in Gigondas from grapes grown on the Gigondas municipal territory.

Vineyards (map) are located on the slope of the rocky massif known as Dentelles (lit., "lace", also "small teeth") de Montmirail (elevation map), which emerged 200 million years ago from the Nîmes fault (geological map). The massif is named for its jagged silhouette and for the small village of Montmirail.
The Dentelles de Montmirail were the "natural laboratory" of Eugène Raspail, who was a noted, self-taught geologist, paleontologist and archeologist. His masterwork is Observations sur un nouveau genre de saurien fossile, le Neustosaurus gigondarum, N., avec quelques notes géologiques sur la commune de Gigondas. Published in 1842, the booklet (PDF) is signed "Eugène Raspail (Neveu)" and starts with a dedication to his uncle François Raspail, "still in jail". François Raspail (1794-1878), remembered as "the Doctor of the Poor" was a precursor of microbiology and parasitology; his findings were harshly rejected by the Faculty of Medicine, mostly because of his political empowerment. In his booklet, Eugène Raspail describes the fossil bones of a "huge lizard", which he names Neustosaurus [swimming lizard] gigondarum [from Gigondas]. The taxonomic status and validity of N. gigondarum is not clear (nomen dubium, updated as Geosaurus gigondarum) - up to now, no other specimen of this "species" has been found anywhere (Paleobiology database).

Ivan Sache, 21 September 2013

Flag of Gigondas

The flag of Gigondas, hoisted over the Town Hall and the Visitor's Center, is white with the municipal coat of arms in the middle.
The coat of arms of Gigondas is "Azure a hunting horn or stringed gules". The shield is surmounted by a five-towered mural crown or. Beneath the shield are placed two branches of olive leaved and fructed proper, and a blue scroll with the (darker) blue lettering "GIGONDAS / DENTELLES DE MONTMIRAIL".

In 1981, the Heraldry Commission of the Department of Vaucluse "adopted" arms of a more complex design, which are not used in Gigondas: "Azure a Cross of Toulouse argent a chief or a hunting horn azure string and mouthpiece argent".
The horn of Orange recalls that Gigondas belonged to the Principality of Orange. In the "increased" version of the arms, the Cross of Toulouse argent on a field azure comes from the arms of the old lords of Gigondas.
The horn appeared on the arms of the lords of Orange at the end of the 12th century. Indeed a bugle (French, cornet, small horn), the horn recalls Guillaume d'Orange, the hero of a famous chansons de geste considered by the Princes of Orange as their legendary root. During a fighting for the defence of Rome, Guillaume had his nose partially cut by a Saracen champion; accordingly, he was nicknamed "Guillaume au Court Nez " (short-nosed). The nickname was subsequently transformed into "Guillaume au Cornet" (with the hornet), keeping the sound but dropping the original meaning of the nickname.

Ivan Sache, 21 September 2013

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