Regional flags of France: 7 facts and history

Find out about the different regional flags of France, their origin and history, and why many of them are still flying high today.
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While the tricolore flag of France is instantly recognizable, outsiders may not know that there are also many regional flags in France. Dating back through French history, many of these regional flags belong to a time when these areas were independent duchies or counties.

Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille
Regional flags in the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille

Aes various monarchs of France conquered different territories, and married or used diplomacy to gain territories, the locals tried their best to hold on to their language, flag and culture.

Some of these flags still fly high today, and are immediately identifiable by the French. Interestingly, the previous standard royal fleur de lys has been removed from most of the regional flags.

So let’s explore the most popular regional flags of France and get to know their history, shall we? Allons-y!

1. Brittany (Bretagne)

The region of Brittany still vaunts their Gaulish and historical Celtic connections today, with their language Breton and a black and white flag that is called the Gwenn-ha-Du.

Flag of Brittany
Flag of Brittany

When the Duchess of Brittany, Anne de Bretagne, was forced to marry two French kings in the 16th century, she did not do so willingly.

Throughout her life Anne de Bretagne fought for the rights of Bretons, as its citizens were called. To this day the region of Brittany considers itself a separate entity, paying her tribute.

The current flag of Brittany was designed in 1923 by Morvan Marchal, an activist in the Breton movement for liberty and independence, who was inspired by the American flag and the flags of the age-old rulers of Brittany.

2. Normandy

The region of Normandy has a flag and standard featuring two (or sometimes 3) golden leopards. It is inspired from Old Norse ensignia since this is the area that Rollo the Viking and his followers conquered and settled in.

Arms of William the Conqueror
Arms of William the Conqueror – Courtesy of Wikipedia

William the Conqueror, a descendant of Rollo, adopted those leopards on his standard.

As William and his Duchy of Normandy descendants made their way across the English channel, today if you look at the Royal standard of the UK, you will notice the same snarling leopards that originated in Normandy.

3. Savoy

The House of Savoie was a royal dynasty and independent country dating back to 1003AD. The city of Chambéry became the capital of the Duchy of Savoy in the middle ages, a designation created by the Holy Roman Empire.

Savoy flag in Chambery
Savoy flag in Chambery

The area remained in disputed for centuries, with the Kingdom of France threatening it on several occasions. (This is the reason nearby Grenoble was so heavily fortified).

The duchy covered much of this area of the Alps until Napoleon Bonaparte decided to annex Savoie in 1792 on his way to conquer Italy. Today, the old flag of Savoy still flies as a regional flag in the city of Chambéry and Annecy, harking back to the duchy.

4. Nice

The city of Nice was also part of the Duchy of Savoy, and also has a flag and coat of arms that shows its allegiance to the House of Savoy.

Coat of arms of Nice
Coat of arms of Nice – courtesy of Wikipedia

The eagle head is an imperial emblem, standing over the three hills to show Savoy’s domination over the country around the historical County of Nice. The colors of silver and red is a reference to the colours of the flag of Savoy.

The flag of Nice is particularly popular during football (soccer) games of the local team OGC Nice.

5. Marseille

The city of Marseille has its own flag, which features a blue cross on a white background:

Flag of Marseille
Flag of Marseille

The cross was adopted since at least around 1254, as a symbol of the Crusades since at that time, Marseille was one of the ports of embarkation to go to the Holy Land.

The blue cross flag was flown in the Vieux Port to indicate that this was a safe harbor. The colors of the flag represent the Mediterranean, and also harken back to the colors of ancient Greece to show their roots.

Like the flag of Nice, the Marseille flag is particularly popular during football (soccer) games of the local team Olympique de Marseille.

6. Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

The flag of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) is an amalgame of multiple symbols. The left half consists of 9 vertical stripes of yellow and red, representing the historic County of Provence.

Regional flags of France: 7 facts and history 1
Flag of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – courtesy of Wikipedia

On the right are the dolphin of the former province of Dauphiné (whose territory is now divided between PACA and the region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) and the eagle of the County of Nice.

7. Corsica

A small island just off of mainland France, Corsica has a flag, culture, and language of its own.

Flag of Corsica
Flag of Corsica – courtesy of Wikipedia

It had been ceded to French King Louis XV by the Republic of Genoa (now part of Italy) to pay off some debts in the year just before Napoleon Bonaparte was born, in 1768.

As such, the island and the Corsican language has maintained its independent nature as it was not the locals who had asked to change countries.

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If you enjoyed this article, you may like to read more facts about France. A bientôt!

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