Tag Archives: france

Chamonix

A nighttime scene of Chamonix, France, at Christmas.

Photo by Sébastien B. (flickr)

Chamonix, France, hosted the very first Winter Olympic Games ever. This small town in a valley beside Mont Blanc, and a bunch of other mountains, (and I mean a bunch – the valley is surrounded), was “discovered” by modern tourists in 1741 when a pair of Englishmen showed up there and published their account of the incredible glaciers they found. However, they were far from the first people to visit the valley. They weren’t even the first to write about it.

Sometime around the year 1090, a Benedictine convent was founded in the Chamouny valley, and in the documents that granted the land for the convent can be found some clues to the origins of the name of the valley. The words used to describe the valley are campus munitus which translate, roughly, to “fortified field.” Since it was incredibly hard to access the valley at the time, (remember the mountains it’s surrounded by? they’re some of the highest in Europe), it appears that the mountains are the fortification, and the valley is the field. A community, albiet a small one, grew in the valley, so when those two Englishmen arrived in 1741 they met people, not just rivers of ice.

There is a second possibility of the origin of the name Chamonix. Placenames of the World says that the name “derives from a pre-Celtic, possibly Ligurian root, kam, meaning “rounded height.” I think that the fortified field may make more sense, but that’s just my opinion. Anyone is free to send me their arguments for the pre-Celtic root. Maybe we can discover history!

I don’t know exactly the city of Chamonix was founded, (the town created around 1090 was called Le Prieuré), but it seems like a fairly direct line from Chamouny to Chamonix. Maybe it’s even a difference between how a valley should be named and how a city should be named that I’m not aware of.

If you’re interested historical maps, here’s a good one of the area from 1881. Also, the origins of the word Chamonouy were quite difficult to find. It’s on Page 407 of the 1811 edition of A Handbook for travellers in Switzerland and hte Alps of Savoy and Piedmont.

Grenoble

Photo of the river in Grenoble, France.

Photo by Lady_Elixir (flickr)

Host of the 1968 Winter Olympic Games, Grenoble, France, is situated at the foot of the alps and the junction of the Drac and Isère rivers.

To find the origins of the name Grenoble, we have to cast our gaze back through history. Grenoble is derived from the name Gratianopolis, latin for City of Gratian. The name Gratianopolis was bestowed upon Grenoble in the year 381 after the Roman Emperor Gratian visited the city and was pleased by the welcome he received from the people, (Gratianopolis was originally founded as Cularo in 43 BC).

So, if Grenoble comes from the name Gratianopolis, then we need to find out where the name Gratian comes from. Gratian, (or Gratianus in Latin), simply means Grace, so, we could say that Grenoble is the City of Grace.

Albertville

Photo of the Chateau de Conflans in Albertville at night.

Photo by alexandre74 (flickr)

Continuing on the theme of host cities of the Winter Olympic Games, today we are featuring Albertville, France.

Albertville was created in either 1836, (according to Wikipedia), or 1835, (according to Placenames Of The World), when the neighbouring villages of L’Hôpital and Conflans were combined by Charles Albert of Savoy, who, it appears, named the city after himself.