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History of the town

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A site blessed by nature

A special destiny has permitted a town with origins that reach far into the past to exploit all the resources of a site blessed by nature, knowing how to seize opportunities and how to survive through the centuries while remaining always of its own time.

A lock town at the exit from a lake on a road crossing the great routes from Italy to Geneva, its site puts in contact with two zones: the pre-Alpine mountains of the Bornes and the Bauges on one side and the plain with the Albanais district on the other.

Its site is particularly blessed with the lake which has become its symbol, the Thiou, a former industrial route that has become a tourist attraction, the huge Semnoz forest which has remained wild, the spacious Fins plain well-suited to unlimited urban development, and finally the sloping border of Annecy-le-Vieux, the pleasant beginning of the northern landscape.

As for its history, the nearness of Geneva was to be the cause of successive rises in status as the town became in succession capital of Geneva county when the Counts chased from that city settled there in the 13th century, then a bishopric after the triumph of Calvinism in the 16th century.

Promoted in the 15th century to capital of an attached territory of the House of Savoie, it was to experience a radical transformation at the beginning of the 19th century by becoming an active industrial centre, a role which grew stronger in the 20th century without slowing the growth of tourism.

3100 years before Jesus Christ : a village on the shore-line

Annecy is probably one of the oldest inhabited sites in the Northern Alps. In fact, the recent digs carried out by the Department of Sub-Aquatic and Sub-marine Archaeological research, set up in Annecy, have allowed us to date the lakeside village which has been identified off the bank at Annecy-le-Vieux at 3,100 years before Christ.

The station known as “the Port”  located near the Swan Island ; could be used to fix the date at 2,500 years before Christ.

Boutae in the Gallo-roman period

The Gallo-romain period started about years before our own and saw the rapid emergence of a “village” of about 2,000 people given the name Boutae whose expansion into a town on the Fins plain let enough remains to let us know the precise location of the Forum, Temple, Thermal baths (to be seen at 36 avenue des Romains), and of the theatre, the final element which could be restored.

The triangular shape of this town shows the importance of the traffic routes converging on this crossroads: points leading to Faverges (Casuaria), Aix Les Bains (Aquae) and Geneva.

After the dispersal of the inhabitants of Boutae in the 6th century, a new stage was begun from the 12th century with the progressive occupation of the banks of the Thiou at the lake mouth, an advantageous position controlling a vital part of the great north-south axis, crossing the river at the level of the island which was very quickly converted into a stronghold.

The medieval town

From that moment the medieval town began to be built on both sides of the Thiou protected by the fortifications which would become the castle. This was the beginning of “New Annecy” which is mentioned in a text of 1107.

The growing township was given an unexpected boost when it became the residence of the Count of Geneva when he was chased out of his capital after disputes with the Bishops.

Annecy becomes Savoyarde

This event triggered the building of the castle which became the prince’s residence until the extinction of the Geneva family in 1394 when the last member, Robert of Geneva, who had become anti-Pope at Avignon under the name of Clement VII, died. A few years later, in 1401, Annecy became Savoyarde with the absorption of the County of Geneva into the Savoyard state under its most prestigious ruler, Amadeus VIII, the first Duke of Savoie.

The former capital of the Geneva district, having lost its title, went through a period of sharp decline caused by a series of terrible fires which destroyed the greater part of the town in 1412 and then again in 1448. Amadeus VIII, realising the seriousness of the situation, took action to help the city to rise from its own ruins, undertaking reconstruction of the castle and the town.

He then completed these signs of regard for the town by creating an attached territory of Geneva for his son Philippe in 1444. And so Annecy rose from the ashes and regained its title of capital of a county including the districts of Geneva, Faucigny and Beaufort.

This brilliant dynasty of princes formed matrimonial connections with the royal family of France and received from Francis I the Duchy of Nemours (near Fontainebleau), conferring on these new princes the title of Dukes of Geneva-Nemours.

Annecy as a bishopric

This period left a permanent mark on the history of Annecy, when it became a bishopric after the Bishop of Geneva decided to leave the town after the Protestant Reformation in 1535. He was followed by several religious communities who further reinforced Annecy’s importance as a religious centre, which was such that some historians called it “The Rome of Savoie”.

From this period Annecy has preserved some beautiful buildings which permanently enriched its heritage: the Nemours Lodge, St Peter’s Cathedral, the Lambert House, the Note Dame de Liesse bell-tower. If we add to this the glorious history of the episcopate of St François de Sales, the opening of the Chappuisian College, and the creation of the Florimontane Academy, we can speak without doubt of a golden age for our town.

The occupation of Savoie by the French Revolutionary Army (1792) shook the town even though we notice a decline in religious fervour from the beginning of the 18th century.

An industrial destiny

Now open to new ideas, the town experienced a transformation for industrial uses of the sites vacated by the clergy, which was a considerable economic boost. Factories of all sorts were started, powered by hydraulic force from the Thiou.

It was a also a revolutionary vision which inspired the town plan drawn up by Thomas-Dominique Ruphy in 1794 in which a wide rectilinear road on the main traffic routes was designed to divert circulation from the historic town centre.

During the period of Sardinian rule (1815-1860), the industrial destiny of the town was confirmed by the plan for hydro-electric power carried out at the end of the century.

But from the middle of the century, the new sensibility concerning Alpine sites opened the region to the fashion for tourism attracting ever-growing numbers of visitors to our lake.