Tour de France 2017

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The world’s most prestigious bicycle race is a great occasion for flag flying. Fans and spectators line the route waving lots of national and regional flags. Some of the latter may not be that well-known. So, here are the flags of the regions that the Tour passes through this year, from Düsseldorf to the finishing line 23 days and 3,500 km later in Paris. 

[A] Rhineland, [B] Wallonia, [C] Luxembourg, [D] Lorraine, [E] Franche-Comté, [F] Champagne, [G] Burgundy, [H] Savoy‚ [I] Périgord‚ [J] Guyenne‚ [K] Gascony‚ [L] Béarn‚ [M] Bigorre‚ [N] Comminges‚ [O] Foix, [P] Languedoc‚ [Q] Rouergue‚ [R] Dauphiné, [S] Provence, [T] Île-de-France.

In 2017, like so many times before, the start of the course is outside France. The Grand Départ was in Düsseldorf, Germany, with the first individual time trials. On day 2 the Tour crossed the Rhine river and passed through Aachen on its way to Liège in Belgium. In the German Rhineland region the green-white Rhineland flag [A] could be seen in the streets of Aachen, for example.

The city of Liège is in the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia. The Walloon Rooster, red on yellow, is the region’s flag [B]. Stage 3 of the race started in Verviers in the Province of Liège, passed through the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and finished in Longwy in France. The Luxembourgers often use the armorial banner of Luxembourg [C] instead of their national flag which is very similar to that of the Netherlands. Longwy is in the historical province of Lorraine whose flag is also an armorial banner based on the province’s arms [D].

On day 5 the Tour will leave Lorraine and enter the historical province of Franche-Comté [E]. On day 6 the stage ends in Troyes in the historical province of Champagne [F] and on day 7 the Tour continues through Burgundy (Bourgogne, in French) [G]. Stage 8 is in Franche-Comté close to the Swiss border.

Stage 9, the first mountain stage, ends in Chambéry in the historical province of Savoy (Savoie, in French). The iconic Savoyard flag with a white cross on red [H] looks a little like the Danish flag.

After a day of rest, the course continues on day 11 with a flat stage from Périgueux to Bergerac. Both cities are in the Dordogne department i.e. the historical region of Périgord [I]. From there, the next stage takes the Tour south across the Garonne river through Guyenne [J] and Gascony (Gascogne, in French) [K]. It ends in Pau in the historical province of Béarn [L].

On day 13 and 14 the riders will climb the Pyrenees and pass through the historical regions of Bigorre [M], Comminges [N] and Foix [O]. The flag of Foix is an armorial banner with three so-called pales, red on gold, not to be confused with the flag of Provence which has four red pales on gold [S].

Stage 14 of the course stretches from Blagnac, a suburb of Toulouse, to Rodez, capital of the Aveyron department and the Rouergue region. Historically Rouergue was part of Guyenne. So, as on the flag of Guyenne [J], there is a golden lion on red in the flag of Rouergue [Q]. Both Toulouse and Le Puy-en-Velay, at the end of stage 15, are in the historical Languedoc region. The regional flag is red with a yellow Cross of Toulouse, or Occitan Cross [P]. This symbol is very popular in Languedoc and in others parts of southern France which are culturally and linguistically Occitan.

After yet another rest day, stage 16 of the course reaches across the Rhône river to the historical province of Dauphiné. The flag of Dauphiné has the fleurs-de-lys of the French kings and the dolphin of the heirs to the French throne [R]. The traditional title of a French crown prince, Dauphin, originated in this region in the 14th Century.

The steep mountain roads of the French Alps awaits the riders on stage 17 and 18, and the Tour enters Provence for the first time [S]. Stage 19, the longest this year with 222 km, starts in Embrun in the Alpine valleys of Dauphiné and ends in Salon-de-Provence. The second individual time trial will be in Marseille, the largest city in Provence.

The last leg on day 23 of the 2017 Tour is in the region of Île-de-France and, traditionally, the finishing line is on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in the centre of Paris. The fleurs-de-lys of the old Kingdom of France appear in the regional flag of Île-de-France [T].

 

Read also: Tour de France: A Festival of Regional Flags.

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Tour de France: A Festival of Regional Flags

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The French national Tricolore and French regional flags are inseparable parts of France’s famous bicycle race. On the route and in the finish line areas thousands of flags are flown by tourists, fans and compatriots of the riders.

The world’s biggest bicycling race is the Tour de France: Three weeks and 3,500 kilometres of dramatic, demanding and sometimes quite dangerous bicycling up and down the beautiful French countryside from the fair farmland in the north to the the steep mountain roads of the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Massif Central in the south.

The first race was in 1903. Today, many years and many doping scandals later, the Tour de France is still loved and watched by millions around the world. It draws fans and tourists from all over the world to France every summer.

This year’s winner, Christopher Froom, who also won the yellow jersey in 2013 and 2015, was born in Kenya of British parents and has represented Kenya and the United Kingdom in professional cycling. In 2016, too, he and his UK based Team Sky had a loyal following in France made visible with lots of UK flags.

Traditionally the flags of Belgium and Flanders have been waved prominently in the history of the Tour de France. This year the Flemish Belgian Thomas de Gendt came second in the mountains classification. The number one mountain climber in 2016 is Rafał Majka of Poland. His red and white polka dot jersey matches the flag of Poland perfectly.

The flag of Slovakia goes together with the green jersey. Five times the Slovak Peter Sagan has won the prestigious points classification. He and the runner-up, Marcel Kittel of Germany, as well as Michael Matthews of Australia, who is third in the points classification, are sure to find supporters en route waving their national flags.

Columbian flags along the roads of France indicate the staunch support for Columbians Quintana and Pantano. And Norwegian flags fill the traditional “Norwegian corner” just across from the golden statue of Joan of Arc on the final stage of the Tour, in Rue de Rivoli in Paris.

Not only national flags are in widespread use by spectators during the Tour de France, French regional flags are too. Flags of regions and historical provinces as well as flags of national minorities can be seen on the roads and in towns and villages which are part of the race’s route.

Compared to other big European countries like Germany and Spain, France is more centralized politically and linguistically. The historical provinces may not be very well known and the contemporary regions may play a lesser role in the life of the French Republic, but regional identity is manifested by the use of sub-national flags by locals, tourists and bicycling fans.

The red-white-green Basque flag is widely displayed, not just in the Basque lands of the western Pyrenees. The same goes for the black and white flag of Brittany. The Catalans of the Pyrénées-Orientales department use the horizontal red stripes. The very similar, but vertical red stripes of Provence have Catalan roots too: A count of Barcelona married the heiress of Provence in the 12th Century.

The Occitanian cross, yellow on red, is a popular symbol on flags in the former regions of Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon which were merged this year. In a wider cultural and linguistical sense Occitania covers almost all of southern France.

I the departments of Savoie and Haute-Savoie the Savoyard cross, white on red, is equally, if not more, popular. On a windy mountain top this flag can easily be mistaken for the flag of Denmark, also a white cross on red. Danish camping tourists and cycling enthusiast have been known for bringing the Dannebrog to Savoy and other holiday destinations.

France’s cities and landscapes are certainly worth exploring at the hight of summer, whether or not you do it by bike, or bring your own flag.

 

Read also: Tour de France 2017.

UEFA Euro 2016: Germany in Black and White

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Germany’s “National Eleven” don’t play in the national colours of black, red and gold. Instead the successful and popular team play in black and white. It has been so for more than a hundred years. The tradition and the colours date back to the time of the Kingdom of Prussia and its ruling family, the House of Hohenzollern. 

The German national football team is one of the world’s best: Four times winner of the FIFA World Cup, three times winner of the UEFA European Championship. Today they play Italy for a place in the UEFA Euro 2016 semifinals.

More than a 100 years ago, at the beginning of the 20th Century, the colours of the German national football team were established as white and black. (This tradition was only broken by the German Democratic Republic; from 1952 to 1990 the East German team played in white and blue.)

Black and white were the colours of Prussia and its royal family. In 1871 Prussia led the formation of the German Empire, and the King of Prussia became the federal head of state with the title of German Emperor.

The Royal House of Prussia, also known as the Hohenzollerns, trace their roots back almost a thousand years to the 11th Century. From the 15th Century onwards they ruled in Berlin and Brandenburg, later expanding both east and west. In 1701 the Kingdom of Prussia was established when Frederick I was crowned in Königsberg, the modern day Russian city of Kaliningrad.

The coat of arms of the Hohenzollern dynasty was quartered white and black. The coat of arms of Prussia was white with a black eagle. Both inspired the black and white flags of the provinces of East and West Prussia as well as the flag of the Kingdom of Prussia. From 1892 to 1918 the Prussian state flag was a horizontal tricolour of black-white-black; in the broader middle stripe a black eagle with the royal cypher of King Frederick I on its breast held the Royal Prussian crown, sceptre and orb in its claws.

Prussia was the dominant constituent country in the German Empire of 1871. The black-white-red tricolour adopted by the Empire as its national flag combined the black and white of Prussia with the red and white of the Hanseatic cities.

The royal colours of Germany’s football team were continued after the fall of the monarchy in 1918 at end of World War I. The Prussian state, with its black-white flag, also survived and was still the largest state in Germany under the republican Weimar Constitution. In 1947, though, Prussia was dissolved by the Allied Control Council following 12 years of Nazi dictatorship and a devastating war.

After World War II Germans regained some of their damaged national pride as the national football team of the young Federal Republic of Germany won the FIFA World Cup of 1954. “The Miracle of Bern” ended with a 3-2 win over Hungary in the final.

This day and age too many references to the historic state of Prussia and to the family of Germany’s last emperor may not be helpful. But it is still a great honour to wear the black and white colours of the Hohenzollern kings of Prussia on the football field. Nothing less than the best is expected of Germany’s team by millions of football fans.

UEFA Euro 2016: The Royal Roots of Italy’s Blue

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The colour of the Italian football team is blue. The origin of that can be found in the thousand-year-old history of the Savoy Family, the former Royal House of Italy, and in a medieval battle between Christian princes and the Ottoman Turks.

Four times the Italian national football team has won the FIFA World Cup. This evening Italy plays Spain for a place in the UEFA European Championship quarter-finals. The Spanish national team will be playing in the colours of their flag as is usual for most sporting nations. Contrary to this practice, the football kit of the Italian national team is not in the colours of the Italian flag, the red-white-green tricolour.

Instead the players’ jerseys are blue. The Italian nickname for the team is “gli Azzurri”, the Sky Blues. The specific variant of the colour used is called Savoy Blue indicating its ancient origins.

Blue was the so-called livery colour of the House of Savoy, one of the oldest royal families of Europe. It originated in the Western Alpine Region more than a thousand years ago. The early heads of the dynasty were vassals of the Holy Roman Emperor and ruled on both sides of the Alps: Savoy (Savoie) today is in France; Piedmont (Piemonte) in Northern Italy steadily grew into the Kingdom of Sardinia and united all of Italy during il Risorgimento in the 19th Century.

The House of Savoy (or Savoia in Italian) ruled the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 to 1946. After World War II Italy became a republic. But the national football team continued to play in blue, the colour of the Italian royal family.

The Savoy Blue, according to historians, dates back to 1366 when Count Amadeo VI of Savoy, il Conte Verde, fought the Muslim Turks under a sky blue flag with the image of the Virgin Mary surrounded by gold stars. Amadeo was a cousin of John V, Emperor of Constantinople, who was under attack by the Ottoman Empire. Ever since the sky blue colour has been connected to the Savoy dynasty.

Before the constitutional referendum of 1946 both the Savoy Blue and the arms of the House of Savoy, red with a white cross, were in the middle of the Italian tricolour. The Italian Republic removed the royal arms from the flag.

The Italian football team still wears the Savoy Blue and thus carries the torch for Italian history and the dreams of a football fanatic nation. As always, expectations are high. The goal is the gold, of course.

UEFA Euro 2016: Northern Ireland’s out-of-use flag still in use

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Northern Ireland is a country without a flag. Almost two decades after the Good Friday Agreement the Northern Ireland Assembly still hasn’t agreed on a flag for this part of the United Kingdom. So, when Northern Ireland’s national football team plays in the UEFA European Championship later today an old and officially defunct flag will represent them.

The flag used by international sporting organisations such as FIFA and UEFA to represent Northern Ireland is the so-called Ulster Banner. It is a white flag with a red cross and has the Red Hand of Ulster on a white six-pointed star together with the British Imperial Crown in the middle. Officially, however, this is not longer the flag of Northern Ireland.

The Ulster Banner was designed for the Government of Northern Ireland which came into being after the partition of Ireland in 1921. The island’s six northern counties remained a part of the United Kingdom. The southern part of the island were to be the independant Republic of Ireland. It adopted the green-white-orange tricolour as its flag in 1922.

The Government of Northern Ireland didn’t last through the Troubles i.e. the violent conflict between Catholic Republicans and Protestant Unionists in the second half of the 20th Century. In 1972 Northern Ireland’s parliament and government were suspended and with it its flag. The Ulster Banner has been out-of-use ever since.

Direct rule of Northern Ireland from London ended after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but the new Northern Irish legislature hasn’t yet adopted a flag for Northern Ireland. Catholics and Republicans never accepted the Ulster Banner with its British crown and “English” colours – the flag is similar to England’s Saint George’s Cross – and they likely never will.

Therefore, until Northern Ireland decides on a commonly accepted, inclusive new flag design, the international community and Northern Ireland’s national sports teams are faced with a problem.

Flags are an integral and inescapable part of football culture. National teams, their fans, championship organizers and the media use flags all the time, everywhere and in all possible shapes and sizes. A sporting nation needs to have a flag! This is why, during this evening’s match between Northern Ireland and Wales, millions of fans and viewers from all over the world will see the Ulster Banner waving in Paris.

Officially, and maybe also out of respect for Northern Ireland’s Catholics and Republicans, it shouldn’t. But it does. Hopefully the Ulster Banner together with the green jerseys of the Northern Irish team will be seen as a unifying compromise. Green is the colour of Ireland, of Irish nationalism and of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations.