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Saint-Tropez (Municipality, Var, France)

Last modified: 2012-05-17 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Saint-Tropez]

Flag of Saint-Tropez - Image by Ivan Sache, 9 July 2006

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Presentation of Saint-Tropez

The municipality of Saint-Tropez (5,542 inhabitants; 1,118 ha) is located on the French Riviera, on a paeninsula forming the southern part of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez.
Saint-Tropez is believed to be the site of the ancient Athenopolis, a moorage station set up by the Greek colonists from Massalia (now Marseilles). The colony was renamed Heraclea by the Romans after the conquest of Gaul. The legend says that in year 68, Knight Torpes, the chief of Emperor Nero's personal guard, was converted to the Christian religion by his prisoner, St. Paul. Torpes proclaimed his new faith during Diana's festival in Pisa. Nero ordered him to be tortured and beheaded. The body was placed on a boat with a rooster and a dog and launched on the river Arno. The boat was carried away up to the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, where a saint woman called Celerina, warned by God during her sleep, picked up the martyr's body. Neither the rooster nor the dog had touched the body. The village located near the landing place of the boat was named Saint-Tropez after Torpes; the roaster (coq) flew away with a branch of flax (lin) and landed near the village later named Cogolin, whereas the dog walked to the village of Grimaud. Torpes / Tropez became the patron saint of the local seamen, and its veneration spread to Italy (especially in Genoa and Pisa) and Portugal.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Saint-Tropez was abandoned by its inhabitants because of the Sarracens' threat, as it was the case for all fishers' villages located on the Mediterranean coast. In 972, Count Guillaume de Provence expelled the last invaders from Saint-Tropez and built the tower today known as the Suffren Tower. In the XVth century, Provence was ruined by wars, invasions and epidemics. Count René reorganized his state and created in 1441 the Barony of Grimaud, granted to his Chamberlain Jean de Cossa. However, the Gulf of Saint-Tropez remained the weak part of the coast and René commissioned the Genoan noble Raphaël de Garezzio to organize its defense. Garezzio brought 21 Genoese families that rebuilt the city of Saint-Tropez and revamped its defense system. Parts of the fortification system and the old village with its gates, narrow streets and small squares have been preserved until now. The families were exempted of any kinds of taxes. In 1558, they were granted the right to raise a militia commanded by a municipal Captain.
The troubles that followed the murder of King of France Henri III and the military intervention of King of Spain Filip II in the Religious Wars between the French Catholic and Protestants placed Saint-Tropez under the threat of a Spanish or Savoyard naval attack. Accordingly, a new city wall was built, incorporating the former city but also the town (locally known as Bourgade) and the Mills' hill. The first part of the fortification was completed in 1589. Provence was invaded by Savoy in 1592 but Saint-Tropez was not damaged. Governor of Provence de l'Epernon refused to disband his troops in order to perserve his personal power and to reduce the power of the burghers of Saint-Tropez, and built a big citadel between the city and the mills. In 1595, King Henri IV sacked l'Epernon and replaced him by Charles de Lorraine; l'Epernon refused to leave Saint-Tropez and was besieged in the citadel by the inhabitants of Saint-Tropez, faithful to the king. The siege began on 24 January 1596. The troops commanded by Duc de Guise were sent to help the assaulters and the citadel was seized and completely demolished on 4 April. In spite of the Treaty of Vervins signed in 1598, Provence remained under Spanish threat. The new governor, Duc de Guise, decided to set up a line of fortresses on the coast of Provence between Antibes and Martigues. In spite of the reluctancy of the inhabitants of Saint-Tropez, the Mills' hill became the Citadel's hill. The citadel, whose building had started in 1602, was crowned in 1607 by a big hexagonal tower.
In 1637, the Saint-Tropez militia repelled a squad of 21 Spanish galleys. The last privileges of the Saint-Tropez burghers were abolished by Louis XIV in 1672 when he set up a permanent Royal garrison in the citadel. In 1674, the king funded the Hôtel Royal des Invalides (now the Army Museum) in Paris; the Hotel proved rapidly to be too small; in 1690, several veterans' companies were sent to different fortified places of the kingdom, including Saint-Tropez. The veterans watched the citadel until the French Revolution and contributed to the economic development of the town. The citadel was increased and reorganized by Marshal de Belle-Isle during the War of Austrian Succession, in the middle of the XVIIIth century. During the Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the citadel of Saint-Tropez was the center of the local coastal defense system. The English fleet prefered not to attack it in 1793. With the development of economy and communication, the military role of the citadel progressively faded out. It was eventually decommissioned in 1993, purchased by the municipality of Saint-Tropez, transformed into a museum and registered as an historical monument.

Saint-Topez was a garrison town but lived also from traditional activities such as fishing, ship building, trade and agriculture. Some of its seamen became corsairs. The most famous of them is Pierre-André de Suffren (1729-1788), officer of the Marine Royale, appointed Baillif of the Order of Malta, Vice-Amiral de France and Commander of the Fleet by Louis XVI. Suffren fought during the War of Succession of Austria, the Seven Years' War and the American Independence War. In 1775, he was appointed Lieutenant du Roy for the town of Saint-Tropez and Governor of the citadel. He later went back to Paris, where the exact cause of his death, maybe a duel, is not known. The statue honouring him was made with bronze from cannons taken from the enemy and offerred by Emperor Napoléon III in 1866.
General Allard (1785-1839), born and deceased in Saint-Tropez, was a loyal soldier of Emperor Napoléon I and the aide de camp of Marshal Brune; he married a Sikh princess who survived him for 40 years in Saint-Tropez. The port of Saint-Tropez welcomed several famous guests, such as Marie de Médicis, who was offerred in 1600 a branch of coral by a fisher and the brother of a Japanese Shogun who called at in the port during a seastorm in October 1615.

During the French Revolution, the town was renamed Héraclée, after its ancient Roman name. The wealth of the port and the city increased in the XIXth century due to maritime trade. The three-master La Reine des Anges, once the flagship of the French merchant navy, was built in Saint-Tropez in 1860. The beautiful houses built by the shipowners in the Gambetta Street recall that period.
In 1892, the painter Paul Signac (1863-1935), one of the leaders of the Pointillist school, sailing on his yacht Olympia, discovered the small fishers' village of Saint-Tropez. He bought there a house that he named La Hune (lit., the top [of a ship]) and transformed into his studio, where he invited his friends, such as Cross, Matisse, Derain and Marquet. Saint-Tropez became a main center of painting avant-garde of the early XXth century. The Museum of Annonciade, housed since 1955 in a former chapel located on the port of Saint-Tropez and abandoned during the French Revolution, shows 56 paintings, dating from 1890-1950, bequeathed by the local collector Georges Grammont. The collection is fairly small but includes only masterpieces by painters from the Pointillist, Fauvist and Nabi schools. Among the painters exhibited there are André Derain (Pont sur la Tamise, 1906; Effets de soleil sur l'eau, 1906; Westminster, 1906), Henri Matisse (Paysage corse, 1898; La gitane, 1905-1906; La femme â la fenêtre, Nice, 1920; Intérieur à Nice, 1920), Pierre Bonnard (Nu devant la cheminée, 1919), Georges Rouault (Paysage biblique, 1935), Georges Braque (Paysage de l'Estaque, 1906), Georges Seurat (Chenal de Gravelines, étude, 1890), Henri-Edmond Cross (La plage de Saint-Clair, 1906-1907), Paul Signac (Saint-Tropez au soleil couchant, 1896; Les pins parasols aux Canoubiers, 1897; Saint-Tropez, le quai, 1899), Raoul Dufy (Jetée de Honfleur, 1930), Félix Vallotton (Misa à son bateau, 1897), Roger de la Fresnaye (Le rameur, 1914), Kees van Dongen (En la plaza, Femmes à la balustrade, 1910; La gitane, 1910-1911), Aristide Maillol (La baigneuse drapée, 1921; Nymphe, 1930), Edouard Vuillard (Deux femmes sous la lampe, 1892; Intérieur aux deux chaises, 1901; La soupe d'Annette, 1900-1901), Albert Marquet (Saint-Tropez, le port, 1905; Port de Marseille, 1918; Sète, la Canal de Beaucaire, 1924; Paris, quai d'Orléans, 1930) and Maurice de Vlaminck (Le Pont de Chatou, 1906).

Between the two World Wars, Saint-Tropez remained a small fishers' port and was mostly known by Americans such as Anais Nin, who stayed there several times. After the Second Word War, the Existentialist group settled every summer in Saint-Tropez, but the fame of the town remained quite limited until 1956.
In 1956, Saint-Tropez was rediscovered thanks to the movie Et Dieu créa la femme (And God Created Woman) by Roger Vadim, starring the then little known actress Brigitte Bardot (born in 1934 in Paris), whose parents owned a house in Saint-Tropez. As it is often said, "And God created woman... but the Devil invented Brigitte Bardot". This was not the first movie with Bardot, who had already appeared in Guitry's Si Versailles m'était compté (1954) and René Clair's Les Grandes Manœuvres (1955), but Et Dieu créa la femme was the first movie in which Bardot was used as a sex symbol. The movie seems now fairly old fashioned and it is hard to believe that it was condemned by the Catholic Church's Legion of Decency, as was the same year the much better Elia Kazan's Baby Doll, and caused a big scandal in the USA. Brigitte Bardot, quickly nicknamed B.B., purchased the Madrague estate and became the symbol of Saint-Tropez and of sexual liberation. In 1965, the sculptor Aslan portrayed her as Marianne, one of the symbols of the French Republic. With years, B.B. made less and less films and her record is pretty weak. His best films are probably Henri-Georges Clouzot's La Vérité (1960), Jean-Luc Godard's Le Mépris (1960) and Louis Malle's Viva Maria ! (1965). She did her last movie in 1973 and then campaigned for animal welfare, founding in 1986 the Brigitte Bardot Fondation; the next year, she collected 3 million francs by selling her jewels, clothes and most of her personal stuff. In parallel, she adopted more and more extreme political views, so that the former symbol of sexual liberation makes from time to time pathetic statements full of harshness, racism and religious hate.

Vadim's film launched the craze for Saint-Tropez. Several artists and members of the international jet-set purchased houses there and contribute to the summer extravagant life in "Saint-Trop'". In the late 1960s, the German playboy Gunther Sachs (b. 1933) released more than 10,000 rose petals over the Madrague from an helicopter in order to declare his love to Brigitte Bardot. They married but split after only two months of common life.
The prince of the Saint-Trop' nights was of course, "the man in white", that is Eddie Barclay (Edouard Rouault, 1921-2005). Barclay started as a self-taught jazz pianist and set up an orchestra that played, among others, with Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. He founded in the 1950s the Barclay record label, with Quincy Jones as its artistic director and his own bathroom as its first storing place. Later, Barclay discovered, encouraged and produced several famous singers of the 1950-1970s, including Léo Ferré, Jean Ferrat, Dalida, Charles Aznavour, Mireille Matthieu, Eddy Mitchell, Juliette Gréco, Jacques Brel, Diane Dufresne and Robert Charlebois. However, he refused to hire Johnny Halliday and Bob Marley and advised Michel Sardou to stop singing. In the early 1980s, Barclay sold most of his assets and retired at Saint-Tropez, where he healed his cancer by organizing his famous feasts where all guests had to be dressed in white. "Monsieur Eddie" will also remain famous for his eight marriages. Barclay's death was considered as the end of the French "show-biz" model and all guests attending his burial were of course dressed in white. Roger Vadim and Eddy Barclay are buried in the maritime cemetary of Saint-Tropez, beside other famous inhabitants of the village such as the painter Dunoyer de Segonzac and Blandine Liszt, Franz List's daughter and wife of the politician from Marseilles Emile Olliver.

It would be unfair not to mention the folkloric fame Saint-Tropez owes to the French actor Louis de Funès and to the movie director Max Pécas. Ironically, they probably contributed more to the fame of the town than the Museum of Annonciade.
On 9 September 1964, the movie director Jean Girault (1924-1982) launched the film Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez, starring Louis de Funès (1914-1983) as maréchal des logis-chef Cruchot. The synopsis of the film is quite thin and entirely tailored to De Funès' terrible rages, grimaces and gesticulations. The main task of Cruchot / De Funès is to hunt nudists who invade the beaches of Saint-Tropez. The film is in the wake of the popular (if not populist films) made by Emile Cousinet, in which the traditional and conservative (if not reactionary) values were defended by stereotypic characters such as priests and soldiers facing the modern evolution of the society. From 1965 to 1982, De Funès and Girault made together five sequels of the Gendarme de Saint-Tropez but none of them reached the level of the pilot of the series. The film Le Facteur de Saint-Tropez (1985) made by Girault's former assistant Richard Balducci attempted to resurrect the Gendarmes' spirit but was a big failure.
Tim Burton said that the movie director Max Pécas (1925-2003) should be considered as the Ed Wood of comic movies. Pécas was one of the pioneers of the French pornographic movies with his friend José Bénazéraf and his movie Je suis une nymphomane (Forbidden Passions) caused a great fuss in 1970 (it is now considered as a very shy, artistic and glamour porn film!). Later, he specialized in very cheap, comic beach films (known as séries Z), including the famous trilogy of Saint-Tropez: Les Branchés à Saint-Tropez (1983), Deux enfoirés à Saint-Tropez (1986) and On se calme et on boit frais à Saint-Tropez (1987). The latter movie (lit., "Let's calm down and have a fresh drink in Saint-Tropez"), which was Pécas' last opus, has been often quoted as the worst film ever made, and Pécas himself admitted that making that film should have been avoided. Compared to Pécas', Girault's Gendarmes movies are monuments of actor direction, French intelligence and wit, althoug both kinds of films spread the very same conservative message. The main positive element in Pécas' films is the casting, which includes the nicest collection of breasts ever seen in a French movie. Moreover, he discovered actors who became later famous, such as the late Ticky Holgado and Victoria Abril.


Ivan Sache, 9 July 2006

Flag of Saint-Tropez

The flag of Saint-Tropez is vertically divided red-white-red. Red and white are the traditional colours of the corsairs of Saint-Tropez. The flag is widely used and is flown in different places in the town, for instance on the port and over the citadel. The main traditional festival in Saint-Tropez is the Bravade, during which the landing of the body of Saint-Tropez as well as the acts of the former Saint-Tropez militia are celebrated by "military" parades. Several variations of the flag of Saint-Tropez are used during the Bravade, especially a vertically divided red-white-red flag with a picture of Saint-Tropez dressed as a Roman centurion in the white stripe.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 9 July 2006

Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez

[Flag of SNST]         [Burgee of SNST]

Flag and burgee of SNST - Images by José Carlos Alegria, 9 July 2006

SNST is the local organizer of the famous Giraglia Rolex Cup, organized by Yacht Club Italiano every year since 1953. The race starts from Saint-Tropez and reaches Genoa via the Giraglia islet, located off Cap Corse, the northernmost point of Corsica. A famous winner of the Giraglia is the yacht Helisara, owned by Herbert von Karajan.
The flag (for use on land) of the SNST is similar to the municipal flag but with a blue anchor in the middle. The SNST burgee is a triangular version of the flag.

Source: SNST website

Ivan Sache & Dominique Cureau, 9 July 2006