In the beginning: Aquae Calidae
In the 1st century A.D., the Roman urban area of Aquæ Calidæ (Vichy) was established strategically at the crossroads of land and fluvial routes, in the northern part of the territory of the powerful Arverni. The town extended roughly over 50 ha, marked out by natural boundaries: the river Allier to the west and south; to the north, its tributary the Sichon; to the east, the foothills of the “Montagne bourbonnaise ». The urban area was structured by a street network – one of these is archeologically well-known and ran along what is today rue Callou and avenue Victoria. On both sides of were zones dedicated to housing crafts (pottery, metalworking and butchery). At the heart of the city lay three hot springs – tapped and exploited, they are testimony to the thermal vocation of the future “Queen of spa towns”. Aqueducts, two water dividers and underground sewers were used to convey, deliver and drain the drinking water.
The origins of the spa town (1st-5th centuries A.D.)
Signs of Gallic presence are rare in Vichy: only a few objects (coins, ceramics) are proof the area was indeed occupied in the 1stcentury B.C. Towards the end of protohistory, the oppidum of Cusset-Vermieux, a “fortified town » situated 5km to the east, formed the main population hub of the area.
In the 1st century A.D., the Roman urban area of Aquæ Calidæ (Vichy) was established strategically at the crossroads of land and fluvial routes, in the northern part of the territory of the powerful Arverni. The town extended roughly over 50 ha, marked out by natural boundaries: the river Allier to the west and south; to the north, its tributary the Sichon; to the east, the foothills of the “Montagne bourbonnaise ».
The urban area was structured by a street network – one of these is archeologically well-known and ran along what is today rue Callou and avenue Victoria. On both sides of it were zones dedicated to housing crafts (pottery, metalworking and butchery). At the heart of the city three hot springs were tapped and exploited. Aqueducts, two water dividers and underground sewers were used to convey, deliver and drain the drinking water. Several deities such as Mercury, Minerva and Jupiter were honoured.
The outskirts of the urban area were occupied by spaces devoted to pottery or the cremation of the dead.
The thermal baths in Aquae Calidae
The hot, odorous waters springing naturally at the heart of the area made the reputation of the future « Queen of spa towns » during ancient times.
Since the 19th century, monumental vestiges which may have formed part of a spa building have repeatedly been mentioned by local scholars; however, the location of the spa buildings is still uncertain and recent excavations have uncovered no structures which could have been part of them.
On the other hand, three springs were definitely tapped and exploited during Roman times: Lucas (28°), Chomel (43°) and Hôpital (34°). Medical equipment and ex-votos depicting patients have been recovered; they suggest the virtues of these waters were known during ancient times, particularly with regard to the treatment of rheumatism, muscular disease and infertility.
A monumental ARCHITECTURE?
In Augustonemetum (Clermont-Ferrand), the capital city of the Arverni, the forum at the heart of the city was surrounded by imposing civic, religious, court or commercial buildings. In the smaller Aquæ Calidæ (30 ha.), public spaces and buildings are not as well-documented: their location and importance remain unknown to this day. However, a few monumental architectural elements such as tambours of columns, capitals, friezes and mouldings are evidence of the presence of public buildings in the city. This capital from a Corinthian pilaster, decorated with Acanthus leaves, is the sole remnant of this past splendour. It was discovered on rue Lucas and may have been part of a spa building or a temple.
Everyday life in AquÆ Calidæ
Archaeological remains discovered at the location of the ancient town allow us to get a partial understanding of the day-to-day life of its inhabitants. While movable remains are many, few buildings have been excavated. Only one modest-looking house has been studied and no domus (wealthy urban home) has been identified yet. Streets were lined with carts transporting ceramics and food. Covered pavements were filled with life: children throwing dice, women spreading the latest gossip, dogs chasing chicken…
Everyday life carried on to the sound of tools and the calls of stallholders; the smell of smoke coming out of potters’ ovens blended with the aromas from nearby kitchens. The eating habits of the population are now well-known to archaeologists, who have meticulously studied household rubbish bins containing a mix of pottery fragments, animal bones and vegetal remains (such as seeds, fruits and stones).
Handicraft was an important activity in Aquæ Calidæ as well as a source of income for part of the population. Several potters, metal workers and tablet makers had workshops near their homes where they produced crockery, tools and other common objects (buttons, pins, dice…). There was also a large handicraft center on the outskirts of town which specialised in the production of ceramics, white clay statuettes and oil lamps. Like other places in the Allier valley where pottery was produced (Saint-Rémy-en-Rollat, Varennes-sur-Allier, Toulon-sur-Allier, Yzeure), Vichy took advantage of natural resources present in the surrounding area. Part of the production was sold locally; the rest was exported towards the North to faraway markets.
Late antiquity and the Early Middle Ages
After thriving for a while, Vichy entered a period of decline during the 3rd century A.D. Remains from the 4th century are rare and those from the 5th century appear to be non-existent. Vichy was not abandoned because of a crisis due to “Barbarian Invasions »; the evolution of the city has more to do with the reorganisation of territories during late antiquity. Several marble slabs bearing mortuary inscriptions have been recovered on the site of the ancient city; they date from the Merovingian period (5th-8th centuries). These graves, as well as a few ceramic shards, are proof that at least part of the town was still occupied during this period.
From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance
From the 6th century onwards, Vichy “fell asleep”, though a Benedictine monastery was founded near the baths; it was replaced by the Saint-Christophe Church in the 12th century. The origins of the upper town (today known as Vieux-Vichy) are uncertain.
The geographical position of the city, which sits above one of the few crossing sites of the river Allier and at an important crossroads, made it vulnerable to the passage of troops. Clashes with English soldiers, the dispute between King Charles VII and his son (the future Louis XI) and the Wars of Religion caused major damage.
Soon after 1400, Louis II de Bourbon founded a Celestine convent outside the town’s fortifications. Constable Charles de Bourbon chose to support Emperor Charles V against King François I; his duchy was confiscated and transferred to the French Crown in 1527. The Vichy springs became part of the Domaine Royal, and then later became the property of the State – which they still are as of 2019.
The baths in the 16th century
Nicolas de Nicolay was a soldier and geographer to the King; he was put in charge of describing French provinces. This manuscript contains the first description of the baths in Vichy and underlines their basic aspect: « There are two great warm baths… of which the main one is a bubbling well of oval shape, four King’s feet deep, five and a half long and four and a half wide [1.30 x 1.80 x 1.50m.]; and the water coming out of said gush, which is not as warm as that of Bourbon, flows underneath, into another large bath of almost triangular shape, which has at one end a similar warm gush coming out of a hidden well of marvellous depth of said water…”.
An emerging spa town
After the Wars of Religion, the town went through a quieter period. The population living within the shelter of the rebuilt city walls varied between 700 and 1.000 inhabitants, but at the end of the 17th century the castellany included about 30 parishes, totalling more than 6.000 subjects for whom Vichy was the administrative, financial and judicial centre. The town’s location on the banks of the river Allier, at the entry point of Auvergne, turned it into an important port and commercial centre. In 1790 the municipality of Vichy was created, with Cusset as its county seat. Little by little, the Vieux-Vichy (the old town) extended beyond its limits to join with its neighbour Vichy-les-Bains (the spa area) and make up one city.
Becoming a spa town
After the Wars of Religion, the town went through a quieter period. Fortifications were rebuilt, probably at the same location as the previous ones: they were 700m long and 7m high and there were five gates and at least four towers which survived until the beginning of the 19th century. Population living inside these walls varied between 700 and 1.000 inhabitants; but at the end of the 17th century the castellany included about 30 parishes, totalling more than 6.000 subjects for whom Vichy was the administrative, financial and judicial centre.
The town’s location on the banks of the river Allier, at the entry point of Auvergne, turned it into an important port and commercial centre. There was an office in charge of collecting taxes imposed on all goods in transit; a salt-house to store the precious product and collect the salt tax; a « lieutenant général” in charge of civil and criminal matters; a collector; and a prosecutor.
The city walls became obsolete and were demolished in 1740. The convent of the Célestins was shut down by Pope Pius VI in 1777, sold and, after briefly becoming the town hall, used as a quarry. In 1790 the municipality of Vichy was created, although the county seat then was Cusset.
Little by little, the Vieux-Vichy (the old town) joined with Vichy-les-Bains (the spa area) to make up one city.
The Maison du Roy and the birth of modern balneology
In 1605, King Henri IV created the Superintendency for Baths and Mineral Water. Gradually a therapeutic codification was put in place regarding how to take the waters and showers and follow a diet. The popularity of Vichy waters was renewed.
The “Maison du Roy » (King’s house) – a modest pavilion containing two pools – was built around 1630. A new floor was added in 1729 under the direction of Jacques-François Chomel, intendant-doctor of the waters of Vichy, who built a new fountain which was named after him.
In 1787, following a request from Mesdames de France, the daughters of Louis XV, the architect Jeanson was put in charge of the renovation of the baths. He designed a covered gallery on top of the two springs and built an adjoining building with bath and shower cabins. On top of the gallery, he built a salon and a function room. However, after the French Revolution broke out, the aristocratic clientele of Vichy abandoned the resort, which was once again put on standby.
The Couvent des Capucins
The Order of the Capuchins was present in Vichy from 1638 to 1790. Its installation was made possible by a donation, by the widow of King’s Counsel François Gravier, of a plot of land to the east of the baths. The widow’s wish was for sick members of the religious community to be treated there.
The Capuchins then progressively extended the size of the domain, building a hospice and a church. Treatments were provided in a disused part of the Maison du Roy (King’s house). The convent buildings were three storeys high and included a refectory, kitchen, common room, six bedrooms (including three for strangers), dormitories and a library. The monks also built the first promenade in the city.
Patients flocked to the convent and a new, larger church was built and inaugurated in 1704. The convent was seized and sold soon after the French Revolution; it was bought by the State in 1830.
The first park
The Parc des Sources was created in 1812 by a decree from Napoléon I, then midway through the Russian Campaign; in doing so he followed the advice of his mother Letizia Bonaparte, who had come to take the waters in Vichy in 1799. The decree ordered the destruction of houses close to the spa buildings to make way for a new promenade. Cost estimates drawn up by staff from the département mention lime trees from Orléans and Holland, elms, plane trees, rowan trees and sycamores. The park was enclosed and a circular pool with a water jet was built at the southern end of the park; it was removed when the Casino was built in 1864. A stream called the Rozières went through the park from east to west; it was insalubrious (becoming dry during the summer) and was covered in 1843.
The new baths
The construction of new, larger baths was the idea of baron Lucas (1768-1833), the inspector of mineral waters, who had the support of the duchess of Angoulême, the daughter of Louis XVI. The architect from Cusset Hugues Roze Beauvais (1774-1859) designed them reusing the gallery built by Jeanson: « The buildings put together with the four courtyards form a rectangular parallelogram measuring 57 metres by 76 metres. This spa building now includes seventy-two bath cabins, four showers, four steam rooms, four boilers and four other rooms to serve as warehouses. In addition, four courtyards in the middle of which are four pools of freshwater to be used as reservoirs for the baths which need to be mitigated with mineral water”. The first stone was laid by the duchess in 1821 and the building was completed ten years later
Local historians have singled out a few benefactors of the resort: Victoire and Adélaïde, daughters of Louis XV, who came to Vichy in 1785 and persuaded their nephew Louis XVI of modernising the baths; Letizia Bonaparte, mother of Napoléon I who stayed in 1799 and asked her son to have a promenade built (it became the Parc des Sources).
In 1815, the Duchess of Mouchy intervened so that the approach to the spring near the hospital would be embellished – the spring was named after her mother Rosalie. One of the most important visitors to the city was the Duchess of Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI, who made several visits between 1814 and 1830 and whose generosity and influence in the construction of larger, more modern spa buildings made quite an impression.
WHICH ADDRESS FOR THE MARQUISE?
Artists and writers have also left their mark on the city’s history, among them the marquise de Sévigné (1626-1696), who stayed in 1676 and 1677. Her celebrated letters demonstrate that the paralysis of the hands from which she suffered was alleviated. However, there remains doubt as to where she lived in Vichy: for some, the pavillon Sévigné is a commercial fraud set up in 1838. There are two other theories: one in favour of the « logis de la Croix-Blanche » (today’s no. 5 square Albert I), the other leaning towards the « maison Badoche » (2 rue de l’Eglise), though nothing in the letters of the Marquise gives a definite answer to the matter… What is however absolutely certain is that the Marquise greatly contributed to the renown of the resort.
Born in Strasbourg in 1806, Isaac Strauss settled in Paris in 1827. He studied at the Conservatoire, was first violin at the Théâtre Italien before becoming a conductor for the balls at the Tuileries and then at the Opéra until 1873. He composed more than 400 pieces. He was also the conductor during the season in Plombières, Aix-les Bains and finally Vichy between 1844 and 1860. Strauss was the director of the salons where he organised highly sought-after receptions which contributed to the resort’s popularity. Strauss was also a shrewd businessman: along with his brother-in-law Salomon Schriber, he invested in
Vichy, secretly hoping to be awarded the concession to the spa buildings. This did not come to pass; Strauss withdrew from Vichy and rented his house situated place Aletti to the Emperor. Isaac Strauss died in Paris in 1888.
The imperial spa town
The middle 19th century marked the rebirth of Vichy. Its expansion was such that the opposition between « Vichy-la-Ville » (the town) and « Vichy-les-Bains » (the spas) disappeared and the two entities joined together. The concession of the spa buildings to a company and the special interest taken by Napoléon III were determining factors in the evolution of Vichy. The Emperor visited the town not only to take the waters but also to ensure it would become a worthy European rival to the great spa towns of Germany.With his decrees, and also through the publicity generated by his presence, Napoléon III played a large part in the metamorphosis of the city.
The imperial spa town
The middle 19th century marked the rebirth of Vichy. Its expansion was such that the opposition between “Vichy–la-Ville » (the town) and “Vichy-les-Bains » (the spas) disappeared and the two entities joined together, becoming one city. The spa buildings were conceded to a company. A decisive factor in the city’s evolution was the special interest taken in it by the emperor Napoléon III. At the gentle request of his minister Eugène Rouher, the duc de Morny and the baron de Veauce, the Emperor visited Vichy not only to take the waters, but also to ensure it would become a serious rival of the great spa towns of Germany at a time when the middle classes were contributing to the rise of tourism.
A series of decrees passed by the Emperor led to vast improvements to the city’s infrastructure: a new market and slaughterhouse were built to supply the hotels, and the cemetery was moved away from the spa resort.
Ultimately, however, the thermal spas were of little benefit to the Emperor: in 1866, he had to cancel his fifth course of treatment after it was discovered the waters were in fact detrimental to his health. But if Vichy was no good to the emperor, the emperor certainly did a lot of good to the city!
Imperial construction works
During his first visit, on 27st July 1861, Napoléon III issued an imperial decree which demanded the realisation of major works in the city, to be carried out under the supervision of engineer Jean François Radoult de la Fosse (1825-1900). They were financed by the rent paid by the Compagnie fermière to the state for the use of the spa.
Eight roads – named « thermales » – were built around the train station, itself built in 1862. An embankment was erected to protect the city from flooding and a 13 ha. English park designed in place of the drained, filled-in marshes. The Emperor wished to immediately enjoy the park, and so asked for adult subjects of native trees to be plucked from neighbouring properties.
This first decree also ordered the construction of a town hall and a new church. A new law was then enacted asking the Compagnie fermière to build a casino to the south of the Parc des Sources. Designed by architect Charles Badger (1822-1910), it housed an 820-seat theatre, a function room and various private rooms, and opened on 2nd July 1865
The Emperor in Vichy
Napoléon III visited Vichy on five occasions, dividing his time between “la cure”, political activities, and writing. Early morning was reserved for treatment – bathing and drinking water; then, the Emperor devoted some time to the affairs of State and the reception of politicians or famous personalities: in 1864, for example, he invited King Léopold I of Belgium. Afternoons were spent taking walks around the city or writing “L’Histoire de Jules César”. In 1863, Empress Eugénie joined her husband in Vichy but left when she discovered Napoléon III’s mistress Marguerite Bellanger was also in town. Three years later, the Prince Imperial spent a few days with his father. Most of the time, however, the Emperor was surrounded by his personal guard, his closest advisors and ministers, and a few close friends.
During his first two courses of treatment, Napoléon III lived in Isaac Strauss’s villa. Anticipating further visits, he then ordered theconstruction of his own chalet. He chose this type of building because it was a seasonal, middle class dwelling which was relatively affordable – plans and cost estimates were published in the papers for everyone to see. A chalet, with its rustic style, was a perfect fit for the terrain on the border of the brand-new park. Other chalets were then built for the Emperor’s entourage: some were Swiss-inspired, with sloping roofs and wood details, others more in the British colonial style with verandahs and bow-windows.
The Saint-Louis church
In 1861, Napoléon III attended Mass at Saint-Blaise church, which at the time was tiny. The vicar Louis Dupeyrat suggested to him that a « temple worthy of God” should be built; he was granted his wish as the project was written into the first decree of 1862. The chosen architect was Jean Lefaure (1814-1883), who took his inspiration from the Romanesque styles of Auvergne and Burgundy. The first time the Emperor attended Mass at the new church was in 1866; he was disturbed by stained-glass windows representing Christ surrounded by patron saints of the imperial family. He wrote to the Empress: “The window which represents you as a saint had me distracted, for I had never seen you wearing such a costume with a crozier in hand.” He made no mention of the representation of an unlikely saint Napoleon bearing the traits of his uncle Napoleon I…
A concessionary and its rivals
In 1853 the State, which owned the springs, decided to lease them to the “Lebobe, Callou & Cie” company, which became the Compagnie fermière in 1862. This first convention as well as the one signed in 1864 formed the basis of balneology in Vichy. It ordered the construction of an infrastructure capable of accommodating the growing number of visitors, and the organisation of amusements which would rival those of the big European spa towns. At the same time, many individuals, most of them physicians, decided to exploit springs and operate thermal baths; the most famous ones were the “Établissement hydrothérapique » of Dr Jardet (1858) and “Établissement Lardy » (1864) and, later, “Larbaud Aîné » (1879), Dr Lejeune (1881) and the « Institut physiothérapique » founded by Dr Berthomier in 1895. They were frequently renovated and modernised, offering the latest innovations in treatments and comfort to an ever-increasing number of clients.
A prestigious sedan chair
While sedan chairs had become outdated as early as the 18th century, in spa towns they were still in use in the 19th and 20th centuries as an effortless way to transport the most fragile patients to the spa while protecting them from bad weather. They also allowed famous clients to keep their privacy. They were mostly used in mountainous resorts; in Vichy, where the terrain is relatively flat, they were not widespread. In 1859, Ministry of State Achille Fould was looking for a sedan chair worthy of Her Majesty Empress Eugénie, who would be going for a course of treatment in Saint-Sauveur, in the Pyrénées. The Compagnie fermière de Vichy came to his rescue and ordered a litter to be made in the Louis XV style, and then sent to the Pyrénées. Their initiative made the headlines, even though the Empress never used the sedan chair in Vichy.
Vichy during the Belle-Époque
The renewal of the lease agreement with the Compagnie Fermière in 1898 marked the beginning of a new era for Vichy, during which the city became the « Queen of spa towns ». However, the Compagnie was not the only contributor to this transformation. The city council also played its part, modernising the water supply network and the sewage system, and installing electric street lights. During the season, entrepreneurs and employees came from large cities or the Côte d’Azur to Vichy to work in hotels, shops, casinos, to offer medical services or to perform in shows.
Vichy during the Belle Epoque
The renewal of the lease agreement with the Compagnie Fermière in marked the beginning of a new era for Vichy, during which the city truly became the « Reine des villes d’eaux » (Queen of spa towns). The Compagnie was not the only contributor to this transformation.
In a less spectacular way, the city council managed the population growth (from 1.600 inhabitants in 1851 to more than 14.000 in 1901) and delivered much-needed infrastructural improvements: a modern water supply network, sewerage, and electrical streetlights. The private sector also did its best to satisfy its ever-increasing number of clients – more than 100.000 in 1910.
During the season, entrepreneurs and employees came from large cities or the Côte d’Azur to Vichy to work in hotels, shops, casinos, to offer medical services or to perform in shows.
The advent of World War I put an end to this glorious period, but the city’s « crown jewels » were by then firmly in place and would become the symbols of Vichy‘s status as one of Europe’s main spa resorts.
The signing of a new convention with the Compagnie Fermière marked the beginning of a series of major works which propelled the resort into modernity. Each new building had a specific purpose
(drinks, treatments, bottling…); their architecture was a clean break from past classicism. New baths and a new drinking hall were built; the casino was enlarged, the « parc des Sources » was extended towards the « source de l’Hôpital » with shops and a gazebo, the park was surrounded with a gallery and new buildings were built for the exploitation of the waters.
This ambitious programme was supervised by two Parisian architects: the experienced Charles Le Coeur (1830-1906) and the young Lucien Woog (1867-1937). As preparation, Le Coeur went with the directors of the Compagnie fermière on a study trip to the big German spa resorts – their ambition was to build the largest and most modern establishment in Europe and the world (today, Germany is a partner in the bid to become a World Heritage site).
THE « THERMES DES DÔMES »
Built in place of buildings for the exploitation of the waters, the new spa buildings covered a surface of more than 20.000 m2. The main facade extended over 150m on each side of the main entrance, which was topped with a dome covered with enamelled stoneware. Decorated by painter Alphonse Osbert (1857-1939), this hall marked the start of the axis of symmetry where mixed treatments such as mechanotherapy were located; around it could be found ladies’ and men’s treatment areas. The style chosen was Roman Byzantine, which evoked oriental hammams and is visible in the two minarets which act as water tanks. The use of such a picturesque style was no obstacle to modernity: architects took advantage of the latest innovations in hygiene focused on providing air and daylight.
The outdated appearance of Napoléon III’s casino and the lack of services it offered made its extension inevitable. A new theatre was built in 1900 with 1480 seats and an 11xg meter-long and 15 meter-deep stage, which at the time made it the second largest theatre in France behind the Opéra Garnier. It is still today an exceptional hall, with its metallic load-bearing structure (without pillars), and its Art Nouveau decoration mixing plant patterns with ivory and gold musical and theatrical attributes. This was the work of a team of young artists: Emile Robert (1860-1924) did the ironwork, Pierre Seguin the staff and Léon Rudnicki (1873-1958) the painting work. A new function room acted as a foyer for the theatre. The former theatre itself was converted into a games room.
686 villas were available for rent in the Vichy directory of 1914. They were a popular alternative to hotels for clients in search of independence, as they did away with fixed hours, menus, and imposed dining companions. Many inhabitants of Vichy rented their homes to the « foreigners » and took refuge in their basement during the season. Competition was fierce; advantage could be gained through a picturesque address (Villa Saïd, Chalet Saïgon, Castel gothique) as well as architectural details that would entice clients. The visual result was a catalogue of the eclectic architectural styles of the times: historicist, exotic or modernist – the rue Hubert Colombier is a great example of this.
Big events and celebrities
Numerous celebrities chose to stay in Vichy in the wake of Napoléon III. The city was dressed up in the guests’s colours and triumphal arches were set up on the main streets.
Musical societies came from all over the region to play during official receptions. Among the guests were the Grand Duke Alexei, brother of the Tsar, in 1891; President Félix Faure in 1895, and President of the Council of Ministers Louis Barthou, who came to preside over the 39th federal gymnastics festival in 1913.
Other visits were more colourful, for example those of the Persian Shah in 1905 or the former sultan of Morocco Moulaï Hafid in 1912: though their generosity was remarked upon, they caused despair among staff by changing programmes at the Casino or other shows. These prestigious visits were the subject of reports in the national papers, as well as postcards or souvenir medals.
Welcoming the world
After the trauma of the Great War, most hotels went back into business and the Queen of spa towns went through what is perhaps her most prestigious period. The interwar period was Vichy’s most successful in terms of visitors, with as many as 130.000 « foreigners » each season.
After the trauma of the Great War, most hotels went back into business and the Queen of spa towns went through what is perhaps her most prestigious period. The interwar period was highly successful for Vichy with as many as 130.000 « foreigners » each season.
Many new buildings were erected: new neighbourhoods next to the parc des Bourrins (Quartier de France) and beyond the Sichon (Quartier Jeanne d’Arc). Spa buildings and sports facilities were modernised and new buildings aimed at the local population were built, for example the Salle des fêtes (function room) and the Bourse du travail (trade union centre) in 1934.
Children’s needs – medical or otherwise – were also taken into account. In 1936, for example, the Compagnie Fermière created the Parc du Soleil, a playground in the parc des Bourins offering many games, sporting activities and a puppet show.
All roads lead to Vichy
To help spa clients reach the town, transport was heavily invested in. Between 1922 and 1930 the station was modernised: a café was built, the main building was enlarged, and three more platforms were built, served by an underground passage; level crossings were also replaced by three bridges. A direct Pullman link between London and Vichy opened in 1927. Two years later, the Vichy-Rhue aerodrome was created at the instigation of Joseph Aletti (1864-1938): there were regular flights between Vichy and Paris, Lyon and Geneva. Roads were also modernised: the Bellerive bridge, which had become too narrow due to the increase in traffic, was rebuilt in 1932 and a coach station opened in 1937.
Many places of worship
The increase in population led to the construction of new places dedicated to worship. Father Henri Watthé (1878-1935) founded the Maison du Missionnaire in 1923 to help missionaries during their visit and treatments in Vichy. The building was designed by architect Pierre Lefort (1899-1966) in 1931. In Vieux Vichy (the old town), architects Antoine Chanet (1873-1964) and Jean Liogier (1894-1969) built Notre-Dame-des-Malades in the Art Deco style between 1925 and 1933 and put the Mauméjean workshop in charge of interior decoration. They also designed the synagogue, built on ground offered by the Compagnie fermière de Vichy. It is the only synagogue in the département and was inaugurated in 1933.
The modernisation of the spa buildings
After the war, the increase in the number of clients led to the signing of a new lease in 1927. This provided for the rebuilding of the 2nd and 3rd class baths, the extension of the 1st class ones, the extension and modernisation of the bottle filling plant and the update of the Grand Casino. The hall des Sources was raised and enclosed with large windows, while the park‘s main paths were paved.
The architect in charge was Charles Letrosne (1868-1939) with a new building inaugurated every two years: the Bains Callou (2ndclass baths) in 1933, the new wings of the 1st class baths in 1935, and the Bains Lardy (3rd class) in 1937. The inauguration of the Bains Callou was a big event attended by President Albert Lebrun.
However, these facilities eventually proved to be too large, with visitors ‘numbers decreasing due to the economic crisis of 1929 and the Second World War.
A modern post-office
The Hôtel des Postes (post office) designed by Léon Azéma (1888-1978) in 1935 is the third in Vichy, after one given to the city by Napoléon III and one located Passage de l’Opéra in 1905. Since 1920 the Post Office administration had wanted to build larger premises in place of the market, but the population was strongly against the idea. The architect, who had been awarded the Grand Prix de Rome, was tasked with building « the most aesthetic and modern post office in all European spa towns », equipped with a modern telephone exchange enabling communications between Vichy and the whole world. He designed a building with sober lines in a neoclassical style with elements of Art Deco and paid particular attention to light and the seasonal function of this administration.
The market hall
In 1930, the project for the construction of a new market hall in Vichy was controversial, as had been the case with the new town hall a few years before: the inhabitants were opposed to the idea of the market hall being built on the outskirts of town to make way for the new post office – but the administration prevailed. The competition, opened in 1933 to all French architects, was won by Chaumény, based in Vichy. The town council imposed several modifications and sought the advice of architect Henri Mazon (1876 1946). The distinguishing feature of the building is its exceptional surface without pillars thanks to a series of concrete arches spanning 36m. Construction works lasted for less than a year and the hall was inaugurated on the same day as the post office, in 1935.
Visitors flocked by the thousands to the casino, horse races or bullfighting. They also discovered new sporting facilities. In 1922, the tennis courts formerly located in the parks were moved to the Sporting-Club, along with a swimming pool. The old clay-pigeon shooting was replaced by modern facilities designed by Raymond Févier (1878 1952) and inaugurated in 1937 with the organisation of World Championships. The interwar period was marked by the evolution of sports practice, no longer reserved for the aristocracy. In 1932, the town council had Henri Ploquin build a municipal stadium to host national and local competitions. With a capacity of 2.000 spectators, it featured a football ground, a cycling track and a running track.
Events and celebrities
High society events were many during the « Roaring Twenties ». For the inhabitants, the most important one was certainly the inauguration of the new town hall on the 23rd of September 1928, presided over by the interior minister Albert Sarraut. Mayor Louis Lasteyras (1851-1931) was finally able to move into the new town hall, which he had called for since 1894.
There were music competitions, federal gym contests and various international championships, alongside the varied and rich line-up offered by theatres and concert halls.
Illustrious names from the aristocracy and the arts world mingled around the springs: Princess Stirbey née Bibesco (Bucharest), Grand Vizier al-Muqri (Morroco), the Maharajah of Alwar (India), the Countess Longworth de Chambrun (USA) or Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Serge Lifar, Fédor Chaliapine, Ray Ventura, Cécile Sorel…
The « Composers’ Congress » of 1935
Thanks to its popularity and intense musical activity, in September 1935 Vichy was chosen to host the meeting of the Permanent Council for International Cooperation between Composers, presided over by Richard Strauss (1864-1949). Seventeen nations were represented by seventy-eight composers and a festival was organised to celebrate the occasion, with a week of operas and ballets at the opera, symphonic concerts under the verandah, and chamber music concerts in the park. Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) and Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) conducted their own works, but the climax of the festival was the performance of the opera “Salomé” by Richard Strauss, conducted by the composer.
Vichy, capital of the French State
From mid-June 1940, hotels were requisitioned to accommodate first some of the general staff of the army, and then the members of the government. Vichy was chosen for several reasons: an exceptional accommodation capacity, a direct train link to Paris, and a very modern telephone exchange. It was a small town with a strong tradition of hospitality, politically moderate and easily manageable. It is important to separate the policies put in place in Vichy – often labelled « Vichystes » – from the attitude of the inhabitants of Vichy, the « Vichyssois », upon whom the presence of the government was imposed. Some supported it; others fought it – most had no choice but to endure it.
Vichy – Capital city of the french state
From mid-June 1940, hotels were requisitioned to accommodate first some of the general staff of the army, and then the members of the government. In early July, after having first stayed in Bordeaux then in Royat, President Albert Lebrun occupied the Pavillon Sévigné while Philippe Pétain, President of the Council of Ministers, stayed in the hôtel du Parc.
Vichy was chosen for several reasons: it boasted of an exceptional accommodation capacity divided within 400 hotels, villas or furnished houses, had a direct train link to Paris and a very modern telephone exchange housed in the new Poste built in 1935. It was a small town with a strong tradition of hospitality, politically moderate and easily manageable. Finally, the State owned the spa buildings and was therefore « at home » in Vichy.
Until 20 August 1944, the government of the « Etat Français » (French State) theoretically held authority over the whole of the country; in practice, it only exerted it over the unoccupied « zone libre » and over some parts of the Empire which had not rallied the cause of the « France Libre ». With the occupation of the South Zone on 11 November 1942, the authority of the Vichy Governmentwas progressively reduced.
The French State put an end to the regime of the République and practised a policy called « Révolution Nationale » defined by the exclusion of some categories of the population, including Jews, and by collaboration with the occupying forces. It is important to separate this policy – often labelled « Vichyste » – from the attitude of the inhabitants of Vichy, the « Vichyssois », upon whom the presence of the government was imposed. Some supported it; others fought it – sometimes as early as 1940. Most had no other choice but to endure it.
A City of refugees
During spring 1940 refugees started arriving in Vichy: people from northern and eastern France fleeing from enemy troops as well as French and foreign Jews threatened by persecutions. Many of them were housed in furnished houses; many more relied on solidarity from the inhabitants. Thousands were grouped inside the equestrian arena where they could find food and care.
To those numbers must be added those of the civil servants working for the government. In 1939, Vichy had 25.000 inhabitants; in 1940-41, the number rose to more than 100.000. This led to many difficulties with housing, roads and supplies exacerbated by shortages, forcing the authorities to implement regulations and institute rationing.
The end of the 3rd Republic
On 1st July 1940, a few days after the armistice, the government of Maréchal Pétain settled in Vichy. On 10 July, 570 MPs were gathered in the Grand Casino in Vichy by Pierre Laval to approve a draft bill giving “all power to the government of the Republic under the authority and signature of Marshal Pétain, to the effect of promulgating through one or several Acts a new constitution for the French State. It will be ratified by the Nation and enforced by the Assemblies it will have created.” 80 MPs opposed the bill.
This massive vote in favour can be attributed to the shock of defeat, the occupation of the Northern zone and the exodus which led to complete disorganisation in the country. Many MPs could not be in Vichy for various reasons: they were scattered around France or Morocco following the Massilia affair; others (communists) were banned. Many MPs were also convinced the parliamentary system of the 3rd Republic had failed and called for a regeneration of the country around authoritarian morals embodied by the winner of Verdun.
Until 1942, German presence in Vichy was limited, even though as early as 1940 officers of the SIPO-SD were in regular contact with ministers to put into practice the state collaboration initiated after the meeting at Montoire. From 1942 onwards, German troops were present in Vichy with a military detachment (General von Neubronn), as well as police departments and their French auxiliaries. Contacts between the government and the occupying forces were permanent, and collaboration gradually became submission.
In 1940 Pétain was very popular because of his military past and the signing of the armistice. The new regime wished to encourage “maréchalisme”, people’s affection for the old war chief. His image was carefully cultivated: many objects, photos, posters contributed to the establishment of a form of cult. There were also rituals, endlessly repeated in symbolic places (the Saint Louis church, or the cenotaph): swearing-in ceremonies, expiatory commemorations put forward an image of the leader sacrificing himself for the resurgence of his country.
This “maréchalisme” must be distinguished from “pétainisme” which is used to describe support for Pétain’s policies of national revolution and collaboration. “Maréchalisme” was powerful, if gradually less so, until 1944; “pétainisme” was strongly disputed as early as 1941.
Everyday life, resistance and liberation
The population of Vichy, French capital city, rose from 25.000 to more than 125.000 inhabitants. Life was upended: hotels were requisitioned, food supplies scarce, and activities related to the spa slow to pick up again. In spite of this situation, Vichy retained its place as a hotspot for high society: many stars of show-business, singers, actors or film directors spent time in town, drawn in part by the presence of the government.
As early as 1940 the government of the “Etat Français” started calling its enemies “Anti-France”. Communists were persecuted after June 1941, when a lot of them joined the Résistance. Masonic lodges were shut down.
In 1939, there were about 300 Jews living in Vichy. Thousands of refugees arrived after war was declared. Even before the promulgation of the “Statut des Juifs” law on 3 October 1940, more than 3.000 of them – of foreign nationality – were deported. According to the 1941 census there were 2.032 Jews in Vichy, of whom 1.780 were French. This did not protect them from persecution: from 1942 to 1944 police raids led to the arrest, deportation and death of 129 Jews living in Vichy – several of them children. Others were saved with the help of inhabitants, five of which have been awarded the honorary title “Righteous Among the Nations”: Marie Pelin, Elisabeth and Pierre François, Henriette and René Duphil – the Brazilian ambassador Luis Souza Dantas was also honoured.
Resistance in Vichy took on specific forms. It was mainly a resistance of networks, organized from 1940 onwards within administrative departments to provide intelligence to Allied services. Its members are called “vichysto-résistants”: they were soldiers or civil servants, anti-German, but who often supported the Maréchal and, for some of them, his domestic policies. One of these networks was Alliance, founded in late 1940; 23 of its agents in Vichy lost their lives. Other fighters organized rescue missions, were members of networks with ties to Free France (Marc Juge) or took part from 1943 onwards in the “maquis de la Montagne Bourbonnaise”. Two monuments, bearing the names of 93 victims, pay homage to these local resistance fighters.
On 20 August 1944, marshal Pétain was forced by the Germans to leave Vichy. Occupying troops left the city on the evening of the 25th. The FFI entered on the 26th. Vichy was liberated without combat, in part thanks to the negotiating skills of Swiss ambassador Walter Stucki during talks with the departing Germans and the leader of the Resistance for the Central region, Henry Ingrand.
At the end of the Second World War the city council and the Compagnie fermière reaffirmed Vichy’s place as a major spa resort through an innovative ad campaign and the organization of national events. Fearing a possible decline, Mayor Pierre Coulon (1913-1967) embarked on a large programme of public works designed to diversify the city’s activities. Vichy’s vision for the future and the UNESCO bid in partnership with 10 other spa towns are also evoked.
The reinvention of Vichy
At the end of the Second World War the city council and the Compagnie fermière reaffirmed Vichy’s place as a major spa resort through an innovative ad campaign and the organization of national events.
The evolution of balneology, which had begun before the war with the opening of 2nd and 3rd class spa buildings, continued with the influx of a more middle-class clientele thanks to the reimbursement of treatments by Social Security from 1947 as well as the advent of mass tourism. Fearing a possible decline of balneology caused by the end of the colonial Empire and, more importantly, advancements in chemical pharmacy, Mayor Pierre Coulon (1913-1967) embarked on a large programme of public works designed to diversify the city’s activities.
In 1971, a new convention signalled the withdrawal of the State from the affairs of the city with the transfer of responsibility for the parks near the river Allier. Balneology facilities had become too big and were adapted, while a new fitness centre incorporating non-medical practices was inaugurated.
In 1978 the Compagnie fermière adopted the concept of « integrated spa treatments » by opening a hotel inside the 1st class spa building. In 1987, this approach was validated by the signing of a new contract between the State, the Région, the Département, the City Council and the Compagnie (then owned by Perrier) which extended the lease until 2030.
Pierre Coulon’s legacy
Pierre Coulon was Mayor from 1950 to 1967. His ambition was to counter the decline of balneology by focusing the economy of the city on sports and young people from all over the world, thus bringing a new clientele to the resort and promoting peace.
Starting in 1959 he oversaw the construction, in a city dominated by water and greenery, of facilities to enable the popular practice of sports and the organisation of international competitions. An accommodation centre, a youth community and arts centre and a convention centre were also built.
In 1964, with the help of the university of Clermont-Ferrand, he created the Centre audio-visuel de langues modernes de Vichy (CAVILAM) which allowed young people from all over the world to come to Vichy to learn French and practice sports.
It was also under his mayoralty that the city library became accessible to the general public when it transferred to the former Petit Casino in 1960.
The artificial lake and the Parc Omnisports
The first reservoir was created under Napoléon III, thanks to a needle dam. In 1938, the managers of the rowing club wanted to create a competition pool; the project almost came to fruition under the government of the « Etat Français ». Pierre Coulon took on the project as a way of developing new nautical activities and work started in 1958. The reservoir was impounded on June 9th1963and inaugurated the following September with the organization of the water-skiing world championships. A sports park was also created on the 100 ha. of drained terrain on the left bank, under the supervision of architects Yervante Toumaniantz (1907-1969) and Louis Marol (1902-1969) and landscaper J.-P. Bernard. On the right bank, a new neighbourhood named Les Ailes, composed of eight buildings mixing social and private housing, was built.
New spa infrastructures
When the new lease for the spa buildings was signed in 1987, the Perrier group decided to build new baths and sought ideas from prestigious architect’s offices such as those of Jean Nouvel or
Christian de Portzemparc. The Douat-Harland office, based in Clermont, eventually designed the new Bains Callou, the new health and beauty centre, and their respective hotels linked by footbridges allowing clients to walk to their treatments in their bathrobes.
Originally, the old Bains Callou by Letrosne were to be extended; it was then decided that a new concrete and glass building would be erected. The old boiler room was also pulled down to make way for the new hotel and the new spa buildings, which were inaugurated in time for the 1990 season after 11 months of work. The health and beauty centre opened three years later and combined a 30.000 m2 treatment centre with a four-star, 200-bedroom hotel.
This was a confirmation of the arrival of a new era for spa treatments: less medically oriented, geared more towards fitness and beauty.
Conversions and renovations
The city council decided to house a new conference centre inside the former Grand Casino, which had ample space and extraordinary architecture. Restoration works were carried out by the Monuments Historiques while in 1995, architect Jean-Guilhem de Castelbajac designed a building balancing heritage preservation and contemporary creation.
In 2001 the Bains Lardy and the Orangerie were converted into a campus designed by architect Pascal Sirvin and Vichy-born Philippe Martin and based on the renovation of historical buildings; a new wing of concrete and glass was added. The campus is home to more than 800 full-time students and 4.000 students from all over the world who come to study French at the CAVILAM.
After some dubious work carried out in the 1970s, the train station was renovated in 2009. The original façades were restored; a new, bright hall was created, and the exteriors were turned into a square decorated with exotic gardens, making it more welcoming.
Looking to the future
Between 2008 and 2014, 3 km along the right bank of the river Allier were transformed by the Axe-Saône office to both benefit the environment and make the area more attractive. A road was removed to make way for a large tree-lined promenade between the dam bridge and the spa quarter.
The left bank is now undergoing the same transformation to become a « regional green route » and regain a more natural aspect. The metamorphosis of the banks of the river will then continue with the land restoration of the Sichon, which has been under study since 2009. Another future project is the renovation of the Place Charles de-Gaulle in the town centre.
In addition, both music schools in Vichy and Cusset were becoming dilapidated and will now be merged inside the former dormitory of Albert-Londres high school. The renovation is underway under the supervision of the Basalt Architecture office: only the framework of the building will remain and there will be a sound spectrum on the façade
Water: the essential element
The emergence of a thermal spring has always been a symbol of therapeutic activity and, for our ancestors, was a sacred place because of the exceptional properties of the resurging water. In this respect, Vichy is particularly strong in quantitative terms: Vichy and its hydrogeological area represented the first region of France in terms of the number of mineral water springs. The history of the water is part of the landscape around Vichy.
Water: the essential element
Water has always been considered as an element essential to life. A thermal spring has always been a symbol of therapeutic activity and, for our ancestors, was a sacred place because of the exceptional properties of the resurging water. Vichy and its hydrogeological area represented the first region of France in terms of the number of mineral water springs: nearly 270 springs have been legallyauthorized since the mid-19th century.
The most important springs are part of the town of Vichy itself. Some have been tapped and exploited since the Roman era. There are five natural springs: Chomel, Lucas, Grande-Grille, Hôpital and Célestins, which are used for medical treatment. Others supply spa buildings or are bottled and sold. Their location is protected.
The temperature of the water at the spring can vary from 17,5 °C (Célestins) to 43 °C (Chomel), and even 65 °C (Dôme) or 73 °C (Antoine). According to their concentration in mineral elements, Vichy waters are sodium bicarbonate and carbon dioxide waters. The history of the water is part of the landscape around Vichy: many buildings, objects, books, posters are testimony to its presence
In Vichy, the coexistence of springs of varying temperatures is proof that the waters follow a different path before coming to the surface. The faster the water reaches the surface, the warmer it will be. The important point, however, is to know their geological origin.
Current hypotheses take into account the rules of hydrodynamism which seek to locate the infiltration zone and then to evaluate the depth of the zone where waters can charge up in temperature and CO2.
The waters probably come from the Chaîne des Puys and then flow through the Limagne towards Vichy, where tapped natural water emersions have been supplemented by drillings since the 19th century. To limit these drillings and preserve resources, protected areas have been implemented – the last was established in 1930 and covers a surface of 15.600 ha.
May this link between the Limagne fault – a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2018 – and Vichy be a good omen for our bid.
Treatments in Vichy relate to digestive and rheumatological ailments. Some treatments are specific to one or the other, most are used for both.
The drinking cure (with several doses of 300 to 600 grams/day), intestinal showers or enteroclysis are used to treat digestive problems.
Steam treatments, applied locally, Bertholet steam rooms (hands and feet or general), as well as movement treatments in pools are used in rheumatology.
Other treatments are used in both domains, for instance the invigorating water jet shower or the shower taken while immersed in a bath or pool, which softens the strength of the water jet on areas to be treated. The most widely used baths are carbon dioxide waters, which combine the action of thermal water and carbon dioxide for antispasmodic and analgesic effect.
Massages by a physiotherapist under thermal water, as well as the application of thermal muds, remain major therapies.
Bottling and commercialisation
Bottling soon became an important part of the local economy, involving glassworks, printers, capping etc. This marks the commercialisation of what was originally a medical practice.
In the mid-19th century, this practice grew considerably, leading to a commercial war between the Compagnie fermière and other brands using the word « Vichy », which became a selling point: Vichy État, Vichy Étoiles, Vichy Lardy. Glass bottles replaced stoneware ones and their austere medical image gradually faded.
During the 1867 Paris world’s fair, the Compagnie introduced a blue glass, oval-shaped vial, an earlier version of the famous « Quart Vichy ». In 1900, 14 million bottles were exported, and the bottling operations of all springs were gathered under one roof.
With the arrival of the Perrier group, waters became consumer goods with two separate brands: « Vichy Célestins » and « Eau de St-Yorre », both synonymous with wellness and beauty.
Taking the waters: calibrated glasses
Until 1860, the measure used when drinking the water was the glass. Signalling the end of empirical balneology, Dr. Casimir Daumas created the first calibrated glass – containing 240 ml – in 1864.
Calibrated glasses came in many forms – cups, mazagrans, simple or decorated… The oldest had a handle to suspend them in the pump room, and the most beautiful were often made in the famous
Bohemian crystal glassworks.
In the 19th century, water was drawn directly from the spring into a basin. In 1903 a tap was installed to limit the risks of microbial contamination. The « integral glass” designed by Dr. Alquier to absorb thermal gases and radioactivity (1913) was also abandoned due to concerns about hygiene. In 1971 women stopped distributing the water and so each patient started carrying his glass in a small wicker basket. Nowadays clients are given a reusable and recyclable plastic glass to use for the duration of their stay.
The traditional and unavoidable drinking cure was supplemented by the application of water to the body. This kind of hydrotherapycan involve baths or showers which have a global effect through their physical action (thermal and dynamic) and through the absorption of minerals. Special hydrotherapy – for example intestinal showers in gastroenterology – allows water to be put into contact with mucous membranes. Baths can be taken in bathtubs, pools or paired with underwater jets, carbon dioxide diffusion or a localized underwater shower. Showers are easily adaptable to the patient’s needs: using different types of water jet, they can be administered underwater in a tub or, if high pressure, administered in a pool. They can also be paired with massages by a physiotherapist. Treatments sometimes also use by-products from mineral water, such as with steam rooms, used in the treatment of rheumatic ailments, or the application of vegetal and mineral mud.
Jobs for a spa town
A spa town such as Vichy sees its population numbers increase fivefold during the summer. Seasonal workers come to the city to provide the many services required by the organization of treatments and hospitality. The number of permanent residents also increased, from 700 inhabitants in 1801 to 30.000 in 1954. Some seasonal workers chose to settle permanently, such as doctors, architects or confectioners. The building trade employed large numbers of people during the eight months between two seasons.
Jobs for a spa town
A spa town such as Vichy sees its population numbers increase fivefold during the summer. Seasonal workers come to the city to provide the many services required by the organization of treatments and hospitality. The number of permanent residents also increased, from 700 inhabitants in 1801 to 30.000 in 1954.
Some seasonal workers chose to settle permanently, such as doctors, architects or confectioners. The building trade employed large numbers of people during the eight months between two seasons. New neighbourhoods were built to house these workers well away from spa buildings: carpenters, valets, wheelwrights and plasterers settled to the north of the city, in the Champ Capelet; road workers, blacksmiths, stonemasons, cement masons and unskilled workers lived to the East, in the “Tonkin »; many artists lived to the South, in the villas of the Quartier de France, close enough to the theatres but affordable because they were relatively far from the spa buildings.
The papers also mentioned many prostitutes in the neighbourhoods north of the spa buildings, where many villas were located. The police noted the presence of many « trackers », paid by hotel owners to « advise » visitors on where to stay as soon as they arrived in Vichy (sometimes even on the train or carriage), as well as that of many professional cheaters working in the many casinos and games rooms of Vichy.
Since the experimental work on the chemical composition of thermal waters carried out by Claude Fouet, first intendant of Vichy waters (1679), and particularly since the 19th century, many works have given birth to hydrology.
Besides their research work, Vichy doctors received patients from May onwards. These consulting doctors treated the « water drinkers » on the recommendation of the patient’s GP.
In 1870 there were nineteen doctors during the season and five who lived in Vichy all year round. They also treated destitute patients receiving free care at the hospital and patients from the military.
In 1884 a group of doctors founded the Société des Sciences Médicales and started an important library of works related to balneology, located inside the 1st class spa buildings, which still exists today.
giving the water and bathing
Many employees worked at the springs and in the spa buildings to help with treatments.
Firstly, women gave drinkers the right amount of water. These women were recruited by an employee of the Compagnie fermière who paid them minimal fixed wages which were supplemented by tips. These jobs disappeared in 1971, when the women were replaced by self-service taps in the Hall des Sources.
In the spa buildings, however, the many employees were both female and male, each catering to their own gender. They were better qualified and better paid than those working in the pump rooms.
Today, these employees receive training recognised by the state.
Other employees of the Compagnie fermière and its subsidiaries
The spa resort also provided a laundry service ensuring towels were always clean. Many laundrywomen also worked in hotels. During the 17th century, the bottling and dispatching of waters was supervised by the Indendant des Eaux. Filling, capping, labelling and packaging were first done near the springs before relocating next to the railway and gradually mechanising. Printing works were installed nearby to produce bottle labels and adverts.
At the pastille factory, men were in charge of production and women of packaging. The Compagnie fermière also employed croupiers, footmen and inspectors at the casino. There were gardeners to maintain the parks and grow flowers in greenhouses, and chair attendants in charge of receiving payment for the rental of a seat. The latter was often a job for teenagers, as was that of caddy at the golf course.
Artists and musicians
During the season, Vichy attracted many artists: musicians, dancers, actors, acrobats, mime artists, technicians, decorators etc., who worked in the great European theatres during the winter and, when these closed for the summer, took up employment in « music’s summer capital city« . They also worked in hotels, clubs or cafés. Others, often photographers, painters, cartoonists or street musicians, worked in the parks or near the springs and spa buildings.
The Société du Casino de Vichy remained their main employer: eighty musicians were hired from May to September to perform in symphony concerts, operas, ballets, as well as in smaller formations at the gazebo.
To these must be added fifty-five choir members, thirty ballet dancers, and conductors and soloists hired according to the programme’s needs.
Hotels provided many job opportunities: porters, bellboys, lift operators, valets, maids, maître d’s, cooks, wine stewards, and waiters, etc., made up a large portion of seasonal working in Vichy during the summer and on the Côte d’Azur in winter. Depending on its size and standard, the number of employees in a hotel could vary between a dozen and two hundred.
For forty years hospitality in Vichy was dominated by Joseph Aletti (1864-1938). Born in Switzerland where he began his career, he then moved to Germany and the Côte d’Azur. He settled in Vichy in 1901 and became manager of the Hôtel du Parc, modernising and extending it with the construction of the Majestic. He soon found himself at the head of an empire, with hotels in Vichy, the Côte d’Azur, Paris and Algiers.
In 1938 he managed the five most luxurious hotels in Vichy with 1.300 rooms and 2.500 employees. Joseph Aletti also played an essential role in the development of tourism in the city.
Vichy: a world-famous name
The therapeutic nature of the waters often serves as a justification for the use of the name “Vichy”; the renown of the resort or its prestigious clientele have also led manufacturers and merchants to use it even for their products. 1.700 trademarks including “Vichy” were registered between 1862 and 1939. Many of these products – including the famous pastille – take advantage of the benefits of mineral water. As for Vichy fabric, its popularity was helped by the reputation of its region of origin. For the last few decades, however, the most popular products bearing the name Vichy have been those of the cosmetics brand, which have helped make Vichy famous on every continent.
Vichy: a world-famous name
The therapeutic nature of the waters often serves as a justification for the use of the name “Vichy »; the renown of the resort and its prestigious clientele have also led manufacturers and merchants to use it even for products which have nothing to do with balneotherapy. In the early 20th century products using the Vichy name included cigarette paper, candles, butter, detachable collars, stockings, washing powder and even razor blades!
1.700 trademarks including “Vichy » were registered between 1862 and 1939, at a time when the worldwide export of bottles of Vichy mineral water had made the name highly fashionable. Many of these products – including the famous pastille – do take advantage of the benefits of mineral water.
The Vichy fabric remains very popular and its name is now part of the French language. The most popular product bearing the name Vichy for the last few decades has undoubtedly been the cosmetics brand, which is now sold on every continent.
Flirting and cosmopolitanism
Staying in a spa town to take the waters was an excellent occasion to mingle with high society and seek alliances, and Vichy was no exception. Around the springs, in the parks, during excursions or balls, strategies were developed to bring about marriage proposals. The main pathway of the Parc des Sources was nicknamed « la potinière » (« the gossip”) and the gallery was « Eligible bachelorettes’ corner ». Vichy was also a highly cosmopolitan city. In 1836, Henri Lecoq wrote: “Here the elite of the sick and the curious is to be found, forming a colourful society in which every part of France and every country in Europe is represented.” With the advent of new transport methods, nationalities became even more diverse: during the 1930s there were visitors from about 40 countries. The British were the biggest foreign colony, but there were also many people from North Africa, the Middle East and even North and South America.
Pharmacy and groceries
Many food products started bearing the name “Vichy”. There were many manufacturers – based in Vichy but also Marseille, Bordeaux, Arles or Paris – who advertised the beneficial effects of salts or natural gas in their products.
Many of them were sold at the chemist’s: dissolvable salts, digestive lozenges, emollient grains, laxative sweets or even soap or toothpaste. Lemonade – a fizzy drink like some of the Vichy waters – was often advertised as hygienic, mineral, digestive or laxative.
Spirits – according to manufacturers – were also supposedly enhanced by the digestive and fortifying virtues of mineral salts, especially when they were placed under the patronage of the Emperor or the Celestine monks! Cocoa powder, custard or biscottes were also branded with the Vichy name.
Pastilles and sweets
Pastilles and sweets from Vichy are undoubtedly successful because of their taste, but part of their popularity is also due to the sheer variety of souvenir boxes offered. Vichy sweets also take advantage of their therapeutic benefits: the famous pastille was invented byJoseph d’Arcet in 1825 to replace drinking the water in the case of digestive problems. It acquired its octogonal shape in 1857 and gradually became more of a sweet than a medicine. Mineral salts were soon added to various products such as candy canes or chocolate, and many spring owners started selling pastilles and sweets bearing the name of their spa.
Nowadays, two manufacturers produce roughly 2.200 tons of pastilles each year: Carambar & Co. uses mineral salts from the Chomel spring and brands its pastilles “Vichy« , while Moinet-Vichy Santé uses salts from the Roger spring in Hauterive under the brand name “Bassin de Vichy« .
Tablet press machine
The tablet press machine was an important breakthrough in manufacturing pastilles. Before its invention the mixture – mainly composed of sugar, water and mineral salts – was flattened and then cut using a punch. The tablet press prevented the distortion of pastilles and the alteration of aromas provoked by oven drying; it also enabled production capacity to be multiplied by 100. The machine was first used in 1953 when pastilles took on their current shape. The press also imprints the origin of the pastille onto it.
In 1931, after experimenting on the dermatology benefits of the Source Lucas, the manager of the spa buildings Dr. Haller and Georges Guérin were the first to use thermal water in cosmetology. They founded the Society for Dermatological Hygiene in partnership and launched a range of eight products dedicated to various skin types called the « Secrets of Vichy ». Before that, during the Second Empire, some perfume makers had used Vichy’s renown as a selling point, but without any innovation.
The company was bought by L’Oréal in 1955, which decided to market the products across Europe. In 1969, with the help of Mayor Dr. J. Lacarin, L’Oréal had a factory built in Vichy-Rhue, close to the thermal springs. The brand became internationally famous.
The Vichy plant is renowned all over the world for its innovating expertise in dermocosmetics and employs more than 450 people. The Vichy brand comprises 200 products sold in 60 countries and 85.000 chemists’.
Gingham in French is called “Vichy” because it was made in Cusset, in the Grivats mill founded in 1826. It was first made of hemp and renowned for its sturdiness. Gradually cotton was used instead of hemp and the fabric became more refined, while still cheap.
In the mid-19th century the uniform of women serving the water was cut from a blue cloth with white stripes. A visit to the mill was a popular excursion for women who wanted to bring home a souvenir, as L. Piesse noted in 1854: “Leaving Vichy without a “grivat” (a piece of fabric) is the same as never having visited Vichy. »
The mill was destroyed in a fire in 1867, but production continued in workshops in Cusset and Vichy until 1914. The Vichy pattern became fashionable again in 1959 after Brigitte Bardot got married wearing a pink gingham dress by Jacques Esterel. The timeless pattern is regularly used by fashion designers such as Sonia Rykiel, Chanel or Dior.