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Ville de Thann

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History and legends

A few words on the history of Thann: its origins, pilgrimage and wine growing, economic development and evolution of the town, Thann throughout the wars, new activities, Thann in pictures...


According to legend, the town of Thann has its origins in a miracle attributed to Saint Thiébaut, the Bishop of Gubbio (Umbria, Italy).

History shows that the town of Thann developed after the Counts of Pfirt family set up a toll at the entrance to the Thur Valley. The Counts of Pfirt family, who descended from Charlemagne, was one of the three most important families in Alsatian aristocracy. Their castle ruins still dominate the town, these are known as the Engelbourg or « The Witch's Eye ».

A turbulent history

Jeanne, the last Counts of Pfirt heiress, married Albert II, the Wise, Duke of Austria in 1324. The Pfirt's possessions thus entered the bosom of the Austrian House and remained there until the end of the Thirty Years' War, when the French King Louis XIV recovered the « Anterior Austria » territories at the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

In the meantime, the Austrian Archdukes who were often short of money had promised these Sundgauvian lands to the Burgundians and in particular to Charles the Bold (1469-1474).

To reward the Cardinal Mazarin for all he had done for the crown, Louis XIV donated his old Austrian possessions (1658) to him. Through the system of alliances, it's now Prince Albert II of Monaco, Prince Grimaldi who is Count of Thann.

Economic development and evolution of the town

Pilgrimage and wine-growing

The miracle of « the thumb and the ring »(The legend of Saint Thiébaut), quickly attracted crowds of people - especially from the Baltic regions - to the small developing village which was becoming surrounded by ramparts.

In 1324 the construction of the magnificent Collegiate Church Saint-Thiébaut began , a pure jewel of Gothic art in Alsace (all evolutionary styles being represented). Remy Faesch, originating from Basel, was the architect and construction manager and oversaw the completion in 1516. During this time, the town lived on the income from pilgrimages and the vines which stretched right along the hillside as far as the plain.

Every year, since the middle of the 16th century, the town has commemorated « the wonder », by celebrating the « Burning of Three Fir Trees » on the evening of June 30th

The Habsburg granted a great number of charters to the inhabitants of the village as it grew to become a town: a coat of arms, a seal, the right to mint money and large public markets.

As the Reformation hadn't yet reached Thann, pilgrimages became less attractive and the generated income diminished forcing the town to struggle along until the French Revolution.

The development of industry

In 1785 Pierre Dollfus was the first person to introduce painted fabrics. The abundance of water in the area and the presence of a large and skilful labour force encouraged well-off families to invest in textile industries (particularly spinning and weaving). From then on, during all the XIXth century and until the 1960s, Thann lived to the beat of the textile industry.

In 1808, Philippe-Charles Kestner from Hanover established a chemical business in Thann to answer to the needs of the textile industry. This chemical factory, which operates on the original site, is now the oldest chemical plant in Europe.

On September 1st 1839, the Mulhouse -Thann railway line was inaugurated. It was only the third railway line open to passenger traffic in France and it was financed by local manufacturers.

New activities

Nowadays, Thann is developing additional activities and tourism . The Saint-Jacques hospital is the town's main employer. A dynamic intermunicipal industrial zone has been developed at the junction between Thann and the neighbouring village of Vieux-Thann. There is a second intermunicipal zone in the pipeline in nearby Aspach-le-Haut.


The Franco Prussian War of 1870 and the French defeat in Sedan meant that Alsace-Lorraine was taken from France and incorporated into the German Republic, this considerably disrupted and changed the economic situation. A great number of people from Thann chose to remain French and thus left Alsace.

On August 7th 1914 Thann was liberated by one of the first French offensives on the Vosges front line and thus for the following 4 years it became the capital of liberated Alsace. As the front line settled at the entrance to Thann, there was considerable destruction to the town. Many distinguished people honoured Thann with a visit: the President of the French Republic Raymond Poincaré, the Prime Minister Georges Clémenceau...

une 1940 saw the return of the Germans and a new annexation. The people in Thann found it hard to endure this new ordeal and in the summer of 1940 some of them created resistance movements ( hence the memorial dedicated to the Alsatian resistance at the Staufen).

Pictures from heritage

As well as the Collegiate Church Saint-Thiébaut, not far from the Relais Culturel Régional of Thann, it is worth visiting the Bangard's cabin. Lots of streets and bourgeoise

houses are also worth a detour, for example the town hall (Hôtel de ville) built in accordance with plans drawn up by J.B. Kléber (a French General), the Architect's House, the Witch's Tower...

Unfortunately the destruction caused by the « modernists » of the 19th century proved fatal to the town's certain medieval style causing it to lose its ramparts, its monumental gates, its Saint-Michel chapel and its monasteries.

The Museum in the 16th century corn market retains traces of this rich heritage.

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