Last modified: 2015-04-07 by ivan sache
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Flag of Agen - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 12 October 2014
The municipality of Agen (34,837 inhabitants in 2014, 1,149 ha; municipal website, tourist office's website) is located 115 km northwest of Toulouse and 140 km southeast of Bordeaux.
Agen was originally established around 400 BC on the Ermitage plateau
by the Nitobriges, as Aginnum. According to Caesar's De Bello
Gallico, the Nitobriges lived on the banks of river Garonne;
Ollovico, King of the Nitobriges, was called friend and ally by the
Roman Senate, while his son Theutomatus joined himself with
Vercingetorix in the Gallic War and brought with him a great number of
cavalry. During the subsequent pax romana, the village, known as
Civitas Ageniensum, was moved down to the plain, near the confluence
of brook Masse with river Garonne. After the Barbarian and Northmen
invasions, the inhabitants withdrew into small fortified settlements,
the most significant being Castrum Sancti Stephani and Castrum Monti
In the Middle Ages, Agen was located on the border between Guyenne and Gascony, that is between the English and French territories. From the late 12th century to 1370, the town changed of ruler eleven times, among which the Count of Toulouse, Richard Lionheart, and the Albigensian crusader Simon de Montfort.
Agen blossomed again during the Renaissance; from 1476 to 1586, the bishops of Agen, from fluent Italian families, embellished the town and introduced there the cultural and artistic canons of the Quattrocento. Three bishops were relatives of Popes Sixtus IV (1471-1484) and Julius II (Giuliano della Rovere, 1503-1513): Galleazo della Rovere (1478-1487), Leonardo Grosso della Rovere (1487-1518), and Marcantonio della Rovere (1518-1536). The private doctor of the latter bishop, Giulio Cesare Scaligero (1484-1558) settled in Agen in 1525 and took the French nationality under the name of Jules César Scaliger; mostly known as a grammarian, he was considered by his friend Nostradamus as "an incomparable character, only on a par with Plutarch". Scaliger is credited the early formalization of the rules of three unities for classical drama. His son, Joseph Juste Scaliger (1540-1609), is considered as one of the most significant French erudites of the 16th century, especially for the invention of chronological science; after his conversion to the reformed religion , he was appointed in 1593 at the University of Leiden, succeeding Justus Lipsius.
During the War of Religions, Agen was under the influence of the
Huguenots gathered in the neighbouring town of Nérac by Marguerite of Angoulême, the sister of King Francis I and wife of Henri d'Albret. The Inquisition set up a court in Agen, condemning several heretics to the stake erected on the bank of the Garonne. The Huguenots seized the town in 1562 and 1569, being eventually expelled by Blaise de Monluc, the King's Lieutenant in Guyenne.
In the 18th century, Agen was a flourishing town; its main sources of income were pre-industrial, manufacturing activities, such as the weaving of sails for the Royal Navy, of frieze, and muslin, and the production of leather and gloves. The Continental System and the industrial revolution suppressed these workshops, making of Agen a mostly rural and commercial town. The river port of Agen was active until the end of the first World War; flat-hulled boats originally sailed on the Garonne, then on its lateral canal. A 23-arched water bridge (539 m in length, therefore the second longest in France) connected to four locks was built from 1839 to 1843 to carry the canal across the river.
he emblem of Agen is the Agen dried prune (pruneau d'Agen). Plum-
trees, imported from China via the Silk Road, were planted all over
the Mediterranean Basin by the Greeks and the Romans. Dried prunes,
dried up in bread ovens or under the sun, can be stored for long
periods. Used as a source of food by seamen and travellers, dried
prunes were recommended by Greek, Roman, and Arab doctors, as reported
by several authors. In the region of Agen, the Romans grew plume-
trees producing small, black fruit (Saint-Antonin or Maurine plums).
In the 12th century, the Benedictine monks from the abbey of Clarac
grafted the local trees with Damascus plum-trees, brought back from
Syria by the Crusaders. The new fruit was called prune d'ente, from
the old French word enter, meaning "to graft". Fruit was shipped
from Agen to Bordeaux from the river port; accordingly, the dried
prunes were soon named pruneaux d'Agen. Production increased from
the 17th to the 19th century: dried prune was once again the base food
of the Royal Navy and of the merchant navy.
Dried prune production amounts in France to 42,000 tons per year, covering 12,800 ha, 30% of the tonnage being exported. Six departments in the south-west of France represent 94% of the production: Lot-et- Garonne (71%), Dordogne (8%), Gironde (6%), Tarn-et-Garonne (5%), Gers (3%), and Lot (2%). The remaining 6% are produced in Languedoc, Provence, and Corsica. The protected geographical indication "Pruneau d'Agen" was recognized in 2002 by the European Union, covering 118 cantons in the six aforementioned departments. The 1,350 producers, grouped in 8 producer's organizations, and the 50 transformers, have established the National Inter-professional Prune Bureau (BIP; website).
Ivan Sache, 12 October 2014
The flag of Agen (photo, photo) is divided red-yellow by the ascending diagonal, with the municipal coat of arms in the middle.
The arms of Agen (tourist office website) are "Per pale, 1. Gules an eagle argent holding a speech scroll of the same inscribed with 'AGEN' in letters sable, 2. Gules a tower surmounted by three turrets ensigned with three banners all or".
The arms are derived from the town's seal and counter-seal already used in the 12th century. The seal (photo) represents a fortified wall surrounding religious and military buildings: three spires and two crenelated towers. The central building was identified by Yves Metman (Le sceau de la république d'Agen, Bulletin du club français de la médaille, 29, 62-67, 1970) as follows "The roundish chevet of the St. Caprais church, with semicircular openings set in it, flanked by two thin turrets (clearly, the stairs heading to the upper storeys), leads the viewer to the architectural masterpiece, the high lantern tower lit by immense Romanesque arches". The counter-seal (photo) features an eagle with spread wings holding a speech scroll in its claws.
The coat of arms of Agen registered in the Armorial Général (image) shows side by side the elements of the counter-seal and of the seal, placed on a red background, with some modifications. The speech scroll is charged with the word "AGEN" while the fortification is simplified to a tower surmounted with three smaller turrets, each of them topped with a yellow forked flag.
The arms, as drawn by the heraldist Robert Louis, are shown on a postage stamp (0.12 FRF) sold from 18 May 1964 to 20 March 1970 (273 millions copies).
Ivan Sache, 12 October 2014
Flag of s.U. Agen - Image by Ivan Sache, 12 October 2014
The second emblem of Agen, after the dried prune, is the S.U. Agen Lot- et-Garonne rugby club (website), playing today in the 2nd Professional League (ProD2) and once among the better French clubs.
The club was established in 1908 as the merger of S.C. Agenais and U.S. Agen. The club won the national championship in 1930, 1945, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1976, 1982, and 1988. Among the most famous players are Abdelatif Benazzi (b. 1968), who played for Agen from 1989 to 2001 and 78 times with the French team and captained the team that won the Grand Slam in 1997), Pierre Berbizier (b. 1958), who played for Agen from 1985 to 1991 and 56 times for the French team from 1981 to 1991, and coached the French team from 1991 to 1995 and the Italian team from 2005 to 2007; Daniel Dubroca (b. in 1954, aka "Monsieur Propre"), who played all along his career for Agen, from 1969 to 1990, and 33 times with the French team, from 1979 to 1988, and coached the national team in 1990 and 1991; and Philippe Sella (b. 1962, aka "L'Incomparable"), who played for Agen from 1980 to 1996 and 111 times for the French team, from 1982 to 1995, scoring 128 points, and was inducted in 2008 in the IRB Hall of Fame.
The club was presided from 1965 to 1985 by "Tonton" Albert Ferrasse (1917-2011), who also ruled the Rugby French Federation from 1968 to 1991 and the IRB from 1979 to 1987. Ferrasse's long reign was quite controversial and, from time to time, fiercely challenged, to no avail: the "good president" was often accused to favour Agen by exerting "friendly pressure" on the referees and to defend a very conservative view of rugby. He indeed attempted to delay as long as he could the adoption of professional rugby in France, to preserve the "rugby of towns and villages" tradition. Ferrasse was bitterly criticized for his "blindness" regarding apartheid and the organization of official matches of the French team in South Africa in spite of international ban. Ferrasse was one of the earliest promoters of the organization of a rugby World Cup.
The flag of S.U. Agen (photo, photo) is vertically divided white-blue with the club's emblem in the middle.
Ivan Sache, 12 October 2014