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Verviers (Municipality, Province of Liège, Belgium)

Last modified: 2008-04-26 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Verviers]

Municipal flag of Verviers - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 9 December 2007

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Presentation of Verviers

The municipality of Verviers (54,150 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 3,307 ha) is located 20 km east of Liège and 35 km south-west of Aachen, in the valley of river Vesdre. The municipality of Verviers is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Verviers, Ensival, Heusy, Lambermont, Petit-Rechain and Stembert.

The valley of the Vesdre was already settled by the Neanderthalians, as proved by weapons, flints and bones found in caves of the neighborhood of Verviers. The region was later inhabited by the Eburons and colonized by the Romans; the name of Verviers, coming either from "Virovirius" or "Viroviacus", is probably related to a Roman lord called Virovi(ri)us. The toponyms Stembert, Rechain and Dolhain have a Frankish origin, and are related to the colonisation of the region by the Salian (Salii) and Ripuarian (Riparii) Franks.
In the Xth century, Verviers, a parish founded in the VIIth century by monks from the abbey of Stavelot, and the neighbouring villages belonged to the territory transferred by King of France Charles le Simple to the Bishop of Liège; Verviers was one of the five bans (administrative divisions) of the Marquisate of Franchimont. In 1012, Marquis Réginard went on the Crusade and transferred his goods to Bishop Baldéric II, who formally incorporated the Marquisate in 1014. The transfer was confirmed by Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa and by Pope Adrian IV (1155).
The village of Verviers emerged on the top of the Sommeleville hill, with a church surrounded by the cemetary and a town hall used as a market hall; on the foot of the hill were a canal powering the mill and the brook of the Seneschal, along which a manor known as "Manoir de Vervier" had been built. An hospital for "the travellers and the poor" already mentioned in 1340, was built along the canal and was suppressed in the late XVIth century. In 1468, Verviers was still a small rural village, living mostly from agriculture and breeding.

Clothing industry began in Verviers in the Xth century, probably in relation with the Crusades. Organization of the production started in the XIII-XIVth centuries, but cloting industry did not boomed in Verviers before the XVIth century, when Prince-Bishop of Liège Erard de la Marck granted to the weavers a plot of land located along the Vesdre. The weavers were allowed to have only two weaving looms, a big one and a small one. The set up of fulling mills boosted even more the clothing industry in the XVIIth century, superseding the more ancient iron industry. Cloth from Verviers was exported to Italy, Hungary and Turkey, competing with the English products.
The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) disrupted the cloth trade with Germany. However, the crisis experienced in Verviers ended with industrial concentration and the set up of a pre-capitalist system by the weavers who had survived the crisis. Until then a village made of wooden houses, Verviers morphed into a small, wealthy town with stone houses; accordingly, Verviers was granted the title of bonne ville (Good Town) of the Principality of Liège in 1651 and surrounded with city walls. Very successful in the XVIIIth century, the clothing industry of Verviers was completely stopped by the French Revolution, causing destitution in the town.
The French Empire, increased by the Napoleonic conquests, formed a huge market that allowed the reemergence of the clothing industry in Verviers. Mechanization and use of steam engines, set up by the bigger industrials in 1816-1823 increased the wealth of the town. The industrial John Cockerill imported the most modern English technologies to Verviers, which was the first town in continental Europe where a mechanic spinning mill for wool was set up. The small workshops were replaced by big factories, whose building dramatically changed the look of the town. The clothing industry was even more favoured by the building of the railway in the valley of the Vesdre in 1843 and of the barrage of Gileppe.
In the beginning of the XXth century, the success of clothing industry attracted related industries, for instance tanneries and shoe manufactures. After the First World War, Verviers was considered as one of the two capitals of wool industry, together with Bradford (England). The 1930 crisis hit the shoe industry, but the clothing industry was not really threatened until the 1950s, when competition with the emerging countries started. Several cloth factories and machine workshops were closed. New industries were established in business parks set up in Petit-Rechain, Stembert and Lambermont.
The clothing industry is recalled in Verviers by the Centre Touristique de la Laine et de la Mode, housed in the former Dethier factory, a neo-classic building from the early XIXth century. Verviers is twinned with other European town famous for wool industry, Mönchengladbach (Germany), Bradford (England) and Roubaix (France). Verviers is today the Capitale Wallonne de l'Eau, recalling that the water of the Vesdre gave a specific "touch" to the cloth produced in the town.

Verviers is the birth town of Grégoire-Joseph Chapuis (1761-1794), a surgeon who realized in Verviers the first Caesarean delivery in Belgium. Chapuis took the French party against the Prince-Bishop of Liège. Serving as a magistrate, he celebrated a civil marriage on 22 February 1793 and set up the Chambre des Zélés, a kind of school for the workers. After the return of the Prince-Bishop in 1792, Chapuis was arrested and jailed in Liège for nine months. Prince-Bishop de Méan sentenced him to death in a rigged trial, "as an example to the others". Chapuis came back to Verviers chained in a cart and sitting on his coffin. He was beheaded on 2 January 1794 under the protection of Dutch and Austrian soldiers against the wrath of the mob. In 1880, the square where the execution had taken place was renamed "Place du Martyr" and Chapuis became a symbol of philanthropy and freethinking.

Verviers organizes every four years the Prix Henri Vieuxtemps, as a tribute to one of the most famous Belgian violonists and composers. Born in Verviers as the son of a stringed-instrument maker, Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) could already read music at the age of 4 years and gave his first concert in the Grand Théâtre of Verviers at the age of 7. Impressed by his skills, the famous composer Charles de Bériot brought young Vieuxtemps in Paris, where he started a career of violin virtuoso in 1833 (ages 13!), playing Beethoven's concert in Vienna in 1834 and preenting his first compositions in 1836. After having played in Ghent in 1843 for Queen Victoria, King Léopold I and Queen Marie-Louise, Vieuxtemps started an international career. Cheered in Russia and in the USA, Vieuxtemps came back to Belgium and was appointed Professor at the Conservatoire of Brussels. Vieuxtemps was once considered as a virtuose rather than a "true" composer, but his disciple Eugè:ne Ysayë popularized his works, especially the violin concertos and the Ballade et Polonaise.
Walking in a street of Liège, Vieuxtemps heard his fourth concerto played in a private home, knocked at the door, and was told by Nicolas Ysayë that his son Eugène had been expelled from the Conservatoire of the town! For the centenary of his master's birth, Ysayë organized in Verviers a series of concerts patroned by Queen Elisabeth, including a violin contest. This was the source of the Concours Henri Vieuxtemps, officialized by Royal Decree on 2 October 1922.

Verviers is the birth town of the historian Henri Pirenne (1862-1935). Pirenne wrote a huge Histoire de Belgique, in seven volumes published from 1899 to 1932. Detailed biographical and bibliographical accounts on Henri Pirenne, as well as digitalized copies of his works are available on the website of the Free University of Brussels (Digithèque Henri-Pirenne).

The legend of the Flying Cat, quite famous in Verviers (a Walloon proverb says I fait voler l'tchet, "He wants the cat to fly", when someone attempts something hazardous), is based on a real, odd event. In 1641, the apothecary Sarol&ecute;a, interested in physics, made a weird experiment; he left from the top of the tower of the St. Remacle church a cat, expected to fly thanks to four pig bladders filled with gas and attached to her feet. The cat could not fly and fell down but the tradition says she was not hurt (cats always fall down on their feet!). The experiment was reenacted several times with stuffed cats; it is said that one of the cats was retrieved near the Lorelei rock, in Germany.


Ivan Sache, 9 December 2007

Municipal flag of Verviers

The municipal flag of Verviers is vertically divided green-white, as can be seen on a photography of the town hall taken by Jean-Guy Rompon in March 2004. A more recent sighting, in the TV magazine Télétourisme, May 2007, confirms the flag, which is, therefore, virtually identical to the flag of the adjacent municipality of Theux.

Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, however, describes the flag of Verviers as Deux laizes transversales verte et blanche, l'écu de la ville posé au centre de la laize verte (Horizontally divided green-white with the municipal arms placed in the middle of the green stripe). The flag without the arms is not mentioned, while it seems to be the usual flag.

The colours of the flag (with or without the arms) are taken from the municipal arms, Coupé: en chef d'argent à trois lions de sinople armés et lampassés de gueules, couronnés d'or, qui est du marquisat de Franchimont; en pointe, cousu d'argent à la branche de chêne au naturel englanté d'or ("Per fess in chief argent three lions vert armed and langued gules crowned or [Franchimont], in base argent a branch of oak proper fructed of acorn or" - an acorn is in French a gland, therefore englanté in the French blason).
According to Servais, the arms of Verviers, granted by Royal Decree on 6 January 1898, are based on the arms adopted by the municipality in 1695 and continuouly used since then, superseding the former arms, which showed only the oak branch.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 9 December 2007