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Asnières-sur-Seine (Municipality, Hauts-de-Seine, France)

Last modified: 2012-04-22 by ivan sache
Keywords: hauts-de-seine | asnières-sur-seine | ship (white) | thistles (green) | lions: 2 (yellow) |
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[Flag of Asnieres]

Flag of Asnières-sur-Seine - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 4 December 2011

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Presentation of Asnières-sur-Seine

The municipality of Asnières-sur-Seine (81,666 inhabitants in 2008; 490 ha) is located a few km north-west of Paris, on the left bank of river Seine.

Asnières was originally known as Asinaria, named probably for an estate rearing donkeys. The animal was called in Latin, asinus, which gave the French word ââne; here, the circumflex accent recalls the lost s from asinus, which has been kept but is not pronounced in the modern name of the town. There are 13 French municipalities called Asnières, emphasizing the past significance of these animals for transporting goods, especially grain, flour and stones. Accordingly, the name of Asnières-sur-Seine was adopted on 1 December 1918 by the Municipal Council, which was confirmed by the Municipal Council on 17 June 1966 and eventually validated on 9 February 1968 by a Decree of the Executive.

Asnières was mentioned for the first time through its church and cemetery, listed in a Bull signed by Pope Adrian IV in 1158. In 1460, at the end of the Hundred Years' War, there were only five huts and 25 inhabitants remaining in Asnières. At the end of the 17th century, Abbot Antoine Lemoyne, lord of Asnières, attempted to attract new dwellers by renaming the place Asnières-Belle-Île, to no avail. In 1801, the population of the village had increased only to 326 inhabitants, being limited by the low fertility of the soil and the then isolated situation of the village.
The building of the Clichy bridge (1826) over the Seine and the set up of the Paris-Saint-Lazare-Le Pecq railway line (1837) made of Asnières and its river port a popular place of leisure for the inhabitants of Paris. The former castle of Asnières was transformed into a restaurant, whose park hosted famous parties. Subsequent urbanization has removed most remains of that time, which was, fortunately, immortalized in paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Émile Bernard, Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. Projects of revamping the banks of the Seine "as they were" are currently pending. In 1892, the town counted 19,575 inhabitants, 31,336 in 1901 and 42,583 in 1911, Asnières being a significant example of late demographic boom.

In 1859, the luggagemaker Louis Vuitton (1821-1892) moved his workshop from Paris to Asnières to profit from river transportation. This was the beginning of an international success story, Vuitton opening stores in London in 1885 and Philadelphia in 1895. Louis Vuitton is today a fashion house part of the LVMH holding company, founded in 1987.
Asnières was also the site of the factory founded in 1907 by the brothers Jules, Gaston and Paul Chausson. Originally producing radiators, Chausson started in 1942 the production of coaches ("Autocars Chausson"), obtaining in 1960 a contract with the RATP, the agency in charge of public transportation in Paris and its suburbs. In 1990-2000, Chausson winded up and its seven factories were closed, leaving more than 2,500 unemployed workers.

Asnières is the place of the Dogs' Cemetery, indeed a pets' cemetery, inaugurated in 1899 on what was then an island located in a secondary arm of the Seine, eventually filled up in 1976. The creation of the cemetery, allowed by the Law of 21 June 1898 on the burial of animals, is credited to the lawyer Georges Harmois and the feminist Marguerite Durand. The necropolis was divided into four sections for dogs, cats, birds and other pets, respectively. In 1978, the board of the cemetery announced its definitive closure, which caused a great stir: the site was registered on 29 June 1987 as a site of "picturesque, artistic, historical and legendary interest" and purchased in May 1989 by the Municipality of Asnières.
The Asnières Dogs' Cemetery indeed deserves a visit for the diversity of the monuments erected to the memory of their preferred pet(s) by disconsolate masters. A great variety of pets are buried there, including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, hamster, fishes, horses, turtles, mice, makis and even the Kiki monkey. The first big monument was erected in 1900 for Barry, a St. Bernard dog from the Great St. Bernard Hospice. Barry's epitaph, "He saved the life of 40 people and was killed by the 41st", peddles a urban legend about the dog's dead, who was indeed not killed by a Swiss soldier who had mistaken him for a wolf, but retired in Bern. In 1912, a monument was erected as a tribute to the police dogs killed on duty. Famous animals are also buried in Asnières, such as the first Rin Tin Tin dog, who died in 1932 in the arms of Jean Harlow (yet another nice urban legend), and Prince of Wales, whose epitaph recalls that "he performed 406 times on the stage of the Gymnase Theater". Celebrities' pets are often buried in Asnières, such as the cat Kroumir, who died of sorrow in 1913, four days later than his master, the journalist and politician Henri Rochefort. The musician Camille Saint-Saëns, the writer Georges Courteline and the playwright Sacha Guitry also had their pets buried in the Asnières cemetery. On 15 May 1958, a stray dog found dead close to the entrance of the cemetery was solemnly buried, being the 40,000th pet honored in the necropolis. On 11 March 2006, the stele honoring Moustache, the pet dog of Napoléon's Grande Armée (1799-1811), was the last official monument inaugurated in the cemetery. Mémère (1914-1929), the pet dog of the foot infantry during the First World War, is also buried in Asnières.

Source: Découvrir Asnières-sur-Seine - Guide du patrimoine touristique (2009)

Asnières' fame is mostly due to the the stand-up comic star Fernand Raynaud (1926-1973), author of the skit Le 22 à Asnières, which he wrote during his stay in Gennevilliers just one street away from Asnières. In his skits, Fernand Raynaud portrayed an average Frenchman (not particularly smart but with some good sense, irritable and irritating) puzzled by modernization that dramatically revamped France in 1950-1970. In Le 22 à Asnières, poor Fernand struggles at the post-office with the phone lady who prefers serving customers calling to San Francisco ("San Francisco, Pennsylvania"), Liège and Berlin, and eventually calls New York to obtain his call to neighboring Asnières.

Ivan Sache, 4 December 2011

Flag of Asnières-sur-Seine

The flag of Asnières (photo) is light blue with the municipal arms in the middle.

The arms of Asnières are "Gules a lymphad on a champagne wavy argent a chief or three thistles proper slipped vert a canton azure two lions passant gardant or (de Voyer d'Argenson). The shield surmounted with a mural crown of three towers or. The War Cross 1939-1945, with star, is appended to the shield."
The lymphad symbolizes the Seine and river shipping.
The thistles, pleased by donkeys, recall the origin of the name of the municipality.
The canton (indeed the arms of the Voyer family) recalls Marc-René de Paulmy de Voyer d'Argenson (1722-1782), Marquis of Voyer, appointed Director General of the French Stud Farms by King Louis XV, who built the castle of Asnières in 1750-1752 (and sold it in 1769 to pay debts). A perfect copy of the castle was built in 1901, as "The Elms", in Newport (Rhode Islands, USA) for the coal tycoon Edward Julius Berwind.
The War Cross with a bronze star was granted to Asnières on 27 May 1952.

At the end of the 20th century, Asnières used a coat of arms based on a seal dated 1259, showing a standing man holding a fleur-de-lis and flanked by two reared up donkeys and inscribed Sigillum communie de Asnieres (Seal of the municipality of Asnières). These arms were placed on the top of the facade of the town hall, built in 1897-1899, flanked by the arms of Saint-Denis and of Paris.
Further research in the National Archives, however, revealed that the seal actually belonged to Asnières-sur-Oise. Brand new arms, designed by Henri Lacouture (1841-1918), a noted painter who restored the paintings of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and of the castle of Azay-le- Rideau and decorated the Council Room of the Town Hall of Asnières, were adopted on 9 February 1900 by the Municipal Council. On 20 June 1942, a Decree signed by the Préfet of Seine, based on a recommendation made by the commission in charge of the revision of the municipal arms in the department, removed the quarter charged with thistles. On 14 November 1957, the Municipal Council overruled the Decree and reestablished the original arms, adding the War Cross to the shield.

Source: Découvrir Asnières-sur-Seine - Guide du patrimoine touristique (2009)

Ivan Sache, 4 December 2011

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