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The history of Chambéry

Closely linked to the history of the House of Savoy, Chambéry’s history has been enriched with a thousand years of architectural and cultural influences and glorious or tragic events, all of which have played their part in creating the city we know today.

The city’s origins

“A small, beautiful market town, the main city in the Savoie region, situated among the mountains, but in a place where they recede somewhat to form a wide plain”, is how Montaigne described the city. Chambéry’s destiny has always been linked with its situation at the intersection of major routes. As early as the Gallo-Roman period, the “Table de Peutinger” (Roman road map) mentions a vicus (village) by the name of Lemencum. It was situated on a Roman road which linked Vienne (the capital of the Allobroges), in the Dauphiné region, with the Italian city of Aosta via the Petit Saint-Bernard pass. A personal possession of the Carolingian dynasty, and then the property of the King of Burgundy, the 11th century saw Lémenc fall under the control of the Abbaye d’Ainay in Lyon which built a Benedictine priory there. It was following the High Middle Ages that the first urban centre appeared at the foot of Montjay hill. In the 13th century, the Savoy family obtained manorial rights over the town and the small fort which belonged to the Lords of Berlion. The administrative centre for the county and the seat of the House of Savoy, Chambéry was given the title of capital. The Medieval town stretched between the two traditional poles: Lémenc hill, the religious centre including the town’s parish churches, and the castle, the symbol of political power. It was during this period that Chambéry’s “allées”, labyrinthine alleyways, were created.

From the Middle Ages to the Revolution

In 1371, Amédée VI decided to build ramparts, within which Dominicans and Clarisses then established themselves. Three suburbs (Maché, Montmélian and Reclus) grew up along the main transport routes to Lyon, Turin and Geneva. The population within the ramparts continued to grow and the town looked more or less the same until the end of the Ancien Régime. This goes to explain the founding of convents (Carmelites, Visitandines…) and aristocratic estates outside the ramparts from the 17th century. New roads were laid out where the wall which was destroyed during the French Revolution had once stood: the boulevards, the Rue de la République…

From the Revolution to the present day

The 19th century was characterised by ambitious urban planning projects. The Rue de Boigne was constructed in 1824, the theatre was erected thanks to the patronage of the immensely rich Count of Boigne and the Curial and Barbot infantry and cavalry barracks were built in the Larith quarter. When Savoy was annexed to France in 1860, the city’s transformation into a new French prefecture brought changes to the urban landscape. New buildings, such as the Town Hall, the Law Courts close to the Jardin du Verney and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, appeared. At the beginning of the century, a new ring of districts was built: urban developments on Montjay and Lémenc hills and school and hospital districts in the northern part of the city. The American bombings of 1944 destroyed around a quarter of the Medieval urban fabric. The renovation work carried out in the conservation area blends in with contemporary developments such as the Curial quarter.

For further information and to details of how Chambéry’s history is linked to that of Savoy, visit the Sabaudia website: the region’s history, heritage and archives http://www.sabaudia.org