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Chateau de Duingt, Annecy, France

Annecy in the French Alps has ancient origins dating back to 3100 BC


The history of Annecy can be traced back a very long way indeed. Annecy, and the neighboring town of Annecy-le-Vieux, were built on one of the oldest sites of human habitation in the French Alps. In a series of digs, organized in Annecy by the Department of  Underwater and Submarine Archaeological Research, it was discovered that a lakeside village once stood on the shoreline of Lake Annecy. This ancient settlement has been dated back to 3100 BC.

 Lake Annecy

(Photo: Guilhem Vellut Lake Annecy)

Lakeside Dwellers and a Gallic tribe

It is known from evidence found by archaeologists that the shores of Lake Annecy have been occupied from at least 4000 BC, which was the Neolithic period of ancient history. Prehistoric pile dwellings or stilt houses were often constructed around the edges of lakes and rivers.

Gaul in the 1st century BC, showing the territory of the Allobroge

(Photo: Public Domain Gaul in the 1st century BC, showing the territory of the Allobroge)

A Gallic tribe, known as the Allobroges, lived in the area of Lake Annecy in the pre-Roman era but they were conquered by the Romans in 62 BC. The Romans then colonized the region and went on to found the town of Boutae. Boutae was later on to become what is now Annecy, as increased occupation of the banks of the Thiou River took place at the mouth of Lake Annecy.

It was these ancient tribes of Gaul, before Julius Caesar’s  conquest of France (58–51 BC), who were to be the people who spoke the original Gaulish tongues, which the French language has, in part, evolved from (although mostly from Vulgar Latin). As a matter of interest, besides being a popular tourist destination, for rather obvious reasons, Annecy is a great place to learn French today because it actually has its own French language school.

Château d'Annecy or Annecy Castle

Nowadays, Annecy is a picturesque town in the Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France, and it is also the capital of the Haute-Savoie. The location of many historic buildings, Annecy is dominated by its medieval castle, built between the 12th and 16th centuries, and known as the Château d'Annecy or Annecy Castle.

Château d'Annecy

(Château d'Annecy Photo: Kemper Boyd)

Listed as a historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture, Annecy Castle has survived fires in the past, including one in 1320, and has undergone many changes in its long history. It was actually abandoned in the 17th century but after restoration it became a barracks right up until 1947.

In 1953 it was bought by Annecy and restored before being opened as a museum, which it has remained as ever since. The museum contains a collection of furniture dating back to the 15th century, as well as sculptures and paintings.

The Queen’s Tower

The oldest part of Annecy Castle is known as the Queen’s Tower (“Tour de la Reine”) and dates back to the 12th century. It has walls that are 4 m (13 ft) thick. Since 1993, the tower has housed an observatory in the part known as the Logis Perrière (“Perrière Lodge”), which was built later and dates back to the 15th century.  The observatory is correctly called L'Observatoire régional des lacs alpins (“Alpine Lakes Regional Observatory”). 

Counts of Geneva

The castle is now a museum but it was once the place of residence for the Counts of Geneva from the 13th century onward, and also the Dukes of Genevois-Nemours, which was an offshoot.

Amadeus III was Count of Geneva from 1320 until he died in 1367. The Counts of Geneva ruled over Genevois, a former province of the Duchy of Savoy, but not over the city of Geneva itself, which was ruled by the Bishops of Geneva.

Palais de l’ile

Another landmark and historic building with strong links to the former rulers of Annecy, is the Palais de l’ile or Palais de l’isle, as it is also spelled, which is situated in the heart of the town on an islet right in the middle of the canal that is part of the Thiou River. The river and canals of Annecy, by the way, have given the town the nickname of “Little Venice of France,” and it is easy to see why.

Palais de l’ile

Palais de l’ile  (Photo: Pug Girl)

A former place of residence of the Lords of Annecy of the 12th century, it became an administrative center for the Counts of Geneva. This was followed by its use as a prison and this usage continued on down until 1865. At one stage in its history, this turreted building was also a mint. It was officially classified as a Historical Monument in 1900.

Today the Palais de l’ile is a history museum after being officially allocated this role in 1952. It contains the “Centre for Interpretation of Architecture and Heritage.”

Basilica of the Visitation

The Visitation Order was set up in Annecy by St Francis de Sales and St Jane Frances de Chantal in 1610. It is a Roman Catholic religious order for women.

St. Francis de Sales giving the Rule for the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary to St. Jane Frances de Chanta

(lPhoto: Noël Hallé (1711-1781 St. Francis de Sales giving the Rule for the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary to St. Jane Frances de Chanta)

Basilica of the Visitation

Basilica of the Visitation (Photo: teens4unity)

The building of a church known as the Basilica of the Visitation, situated on the edge of Crêt du Maure forest, was begun in 1909 and completed in 1930.  Consecrated by Cardinal Tedeschini in 1949, the Basilica of the Visitation was built to honor a hidden mystery of the Catholic Church. The “Visitation” is that of the Virgin Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth.

Other historic buildings of note in Annecy include St Peter’s Cathedral and the Notre-Dame-de-Liesse Church. The latter of these was constructed between 1846 and 1851 and replaced a Marist sanctuary of the 13th century.

Annecy is a medieval town where you cannot get away from the mysteries and glories of the past.

Featured image: Chateau de Duingt, Annecy, France (Wikimedia Commons)

By Moreno

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