Tuesday 17 June 2014

Le girouet

The Valley of the Loire has held UNESCO World Heritage status since November 2000. Stretching from Sully-sur-Loire upstream of Orléans to Chalonnes-sur-Loire just downstream from Angers, it covers 280km of the river.
Le girouet de Savonnières
Each commune which is within the world heritage site sports a sign to designate its status. They look like stylised flags, which isn't too far off the mark. In fact, they're called 'un girouet' [not to be confused with 'une girouette' -- French for weather vane]. The reason the girouet was chosen as the symbol/logo for the Val de Loire is because it is so closely associated with the golden age of travel & trade on the river.
River boats tied up at Savonnières 
Historically the girouet served to identify the boats sailing the river. Each was unique and carved by the boatman from a plank of wood. A great deal of pride and one upmanship was involved and some were, by all accounts, very elaborate and beautiful indeed. To finish off their girouet boatmen added bright coloured pennants, the colours of which were as specific to a particular boatman or flotilla as the carvings on the girouet. As the girouets were so personal they were sometimes referred to as a "beggar's escutcheon", or "beggar's coat of arms". As well as being an identifier, the girouet served a very practical function - it indicated the wind direction; vital for the boatmen when they sailed back upstream.
A load of barrels:  the boats were the workhorses of the river
Each Val de Loire girouet has 3 images: the UNESCO logo, the World Heritage site logo and between them an image specifically linked to the commune. The blue section of the sign represents the pennant. The one we photographed is from the village of Savonnières.
Detail of the girouet

If you are interested you'll find more information on girouets as well as some lovely photos of reproduction girouets  on this French blog post.


the fly in the web said...

That brought back some good memories of being aboard the gabares that were being built to revive the traditions of Loire navigation!

Going downstream was one thing...coming back against the current another...they had need of all the assistance that the Vent de Galerne could give them...and even then there was a lot of haulage to be done...

Thank you for the link...it's a super blog!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@ Fly - thought you'd enjoy it :-).

FYI -There's an 'journée d'hommage' on the 24th to Francois Beaudouin in Tours/Savonnieres.
Think he was the driving force, behind the reconstruction of traditional Loire boats; especially the scute at Savonnieres.
Details on http://www.valdeloire.org/

the fly in the web said...

Super....he was one of the first of the driving forces for the revival of la Loire fluviale, especially the gabare from Chinon....and how it went from there.
I remember being abord at Nantes when the wind was from the east and we went down on the tide with the gabare which started to plane on the tide....with 'un petit grain' in our faces..

Perpetua said...

Fascinating post. I hadn't realised how much of the Loire was included in the World Heritage designation. I love the historical as well as informative significance of the girouet.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@ Perpetua - it is large and includes parts of other rivers which flow into the Loire; Savonnieres is actually on the Cher.

ladybird said...

Hi Antoinette, Let me be the first to wish you a very happy birthday tomorrow and many, many happy returns of the day! Martine x

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Martine - Thanks, I had a lovely day :-)