Sèvres, City of Art and History
The first recorded reference to Sèvres dates to the year 588 in Childebert’s act to establish the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés « whose boundaries extended to the stream of Savara. » In 560 there are a church and a small town. Destroyed and rebuilt throughout centuries of invasions and wars, the present church is dedicated to Saint-Romain, patron saint of sailors. It preserves the base of the twelfth century tower and some pews from the thirteenth century. When Louis XIV decides to build his castle in Versailles, it is at the port of Sèvres that precious woods, marble, statues and all necessary supplies for the creation of the palace are unloaded. The port and the poor road that crosses the town are hubs of activity. In 1682 Versailles becomes the royal residence. To make the road from Paris more direct, in 1684 the king has the first bridge built in Sèvres. This wooden bridge stretches over the island of « Sève »—the future île Seguin.
In 1739 Louis XV decides on the first renovation of the village, with alignment of the houses and the rebuilding of the old bumpy road. Upon the encouragement of Madame de Pompadour, the china factory in Vincennes moves in 1756 to Sèvres into the buildings of the present Centre International d’Etudes Pédagogigues (International Center for Pedagogical Studies—a training center for teachers of the French language from around the world). The king’s mistress likes to welcome Louis XV and his friends privately at Bellevue and Brimborion. At the same time, the king is becoming the only lord of Sèvres.
The village expands in all directions, along with other new developments—including manufacture of oil paints, various other small factories, as well as wine merchants favored by the king. Philippe Lambert, future mayor of Sèvres, discovers the secret of crystal production. The Royal China Factory, the Factory of the Queen’s Crystals, the King’s Wine Cellars, and the Inn of the King’s and Queen’s Stables attract artists, craftsmen, and the working class to Sèvres. The city’s population grows, while wine growers and laundry owners continue to prosper.
With the wooden bridge now time-worn, Napoleon orders the construction of a stone bridge; work begins in 1808. Damaged in 1815 during the conflict with the Prussians, the bridge finally opens in 1820. With the development of the railroad, the line Paris-St Lazare-Versailles (Right Bank) is inaugurated in 1839 and the line Montparnasse-Versailles (Left Bank) in 1840. Sèvres is changing from rural to residential. The train attracts Parisians, who buy property to build vacation homes in the growing city. Among the most well known residents are Sisley, Jules Sandeau, Renan, Balzac, Gabetta, Hetzel, Eiffel.
With the new means of transportation, industry develops in Sèvres. Two gun cartridge factories are built in Bruyères—Gévelot in 1827 and Gaupillat in 1834. In 1846, nearly 600 people are working in the city. The last cartridge factory closes in 1979. On the site of the former king’s cellars, J. B. Reinert opens the first Sèvres brasserie (brewery) in 1852, and others follow. Beer is produced until 1950, and the last brasserie closes in 1988.
In 1861 construction of a new and more efficient factory and a building for a ceramics museum begins on property in Saint Cloud, given to Sèvres by Napoleon III. MacMahon —then President of the French Republic— inaugurates it in 1876. In 1884 the first laboratories of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) open in the section known as Breteuil. On the property of Saint Cloud, with its entrance leading into Sèvres, the BIPM benefits from exterritoriality, as would an embassy.
In Boulogne-Billancourt in 1897, Louis Renault creates a workshop of automobile construction, which in 1919 begins to extend out onto Seguin Island. Many Sevriens work there. Between 1942 and 1944, the factories taken over by enemy forces are shelled in several exchanges, and Sèvres suffers losses. The city is liberated by the Second Armored Division, which loses seven men in this battle on August 24, 1944.
At the dawn of the 21st century, the city is endowed with many modern public resources—with SEL (Sèvres Espaces Loisirs), a cultural center created in the Baltard Pavillion of the former market place, and the conservatory, gymnasiums, the new library/multi-media center, l’Escale (youth information center), and the Organization of Associations. Henceforth, the main goal of town planning is a more lively and urban city center, with more development of parks and open spaces accessible to all. Quality of life is a requirement in Sèvres – of course !