Grenoble is a city in southeastern France, at the foot of the French Alps where the river Drac joins the Isère. Located in the Rhône-Alpes region, Grenoble is the capital of the department of Isère. The proximity of the mountains—as well as its status as the most populated city of the Alpine region before Innsbruck and Bolzano—has led to the city being known in France as the "Capital of the Alps".
Grenoble's history goes back more than 2,000 years, at a time when it was a small Gallic village. While it gained in stature by becoming the capital of the Dauphiné in the 11th century, Grenoble remained for most of its history a modest parliamentary and garrison city on the borders of the kingdom of France.
Grenoble grew in importance through its industrial development, the city experiencing several periods of economic expansion in the last centuries. It started with its booming glove industry in the 18th and 19th centuries, continued with the development of a strong hydropower industry in the late 19th to early 20th centuries and ended with its post-World War II economic boom symbolized by the holding of the X Olympic Winter Games in 1968. The city is now a significant scientific centre in Europe.
The population of the city (commune) of Grenoble at the 2008 census was 156,659. The population of the Grenoble metropolitan area (French: aire urbaine de Grenoble) at the 2008 census was 664,832. The residents of the city are called "Grenoblois".
The first references to Grenoble date back to 43 BC. Cularo was at that time a little Gallic village founded by the Allobroges tribe near a bridge across the Isère River. A strong wall was built around the small town in 286 AD.
The Emperor Gratian visited Cularo and, touched by the people's welcome, made the village a Roman city. In honour of this, Cularo was renamed Gratianopolis ("city of Gratian") in 381 (leading to Graignovol during the Middle Age and then Grenoble).
Christianity spread to the region during the 4th century, and the diocese of Grenoble was founded in 377 AD. From that time, the bishops exercised a significant political power over the city and, until the French Revolution, styled themselves the "bishops and princes of Grenoble".
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city was part of the first Burgundian kingdom in the 5th century and the second Burgundian Kingdom of Arles until 1032, when it was integrated into the Holy Roman Empire.
Grenoble grew significantly in the 11th century when the Counts of Albon chose the city as the capital of their territories. At the time, their possessions were a patchwork of several territories sprawled across the region. The central position of Grenoble allowed the Counts to strengthen their authority. When they later took the title of "Dauphins", Grenoble became the capital of the State of Dauphiné.
Despite their status, the Counts' authority was shared with the Bishop of Grenoble. One of the most famous of who was Saint Hugh. Under his rule, the city's bridge was rebuilt, and both a regular hospital and a leper one was built.
In 1336 the last Dauphin Humbert II founded a court of justice, the Conseil delphinal, which settled at Grenoble in 1340. He also established the University of Grenoble in 1339. Aging and heirless, Humbert sold his state to France in 1349 on the condition that the heir to the French crown used the title of Dauphin. The first one, the future Charles V, spent nine months in Grenoble. The city remained the capital of the Dauphiné, henceforth a province of France, and the Estates of Dauphiné were created.
The only Dauphin who really governed his province was Louis XI, whose "reign" lasted from 1447 to 1456. It was only under his rule that Dauphiné properly joined the Kingdom of France. The Old Conseil Delphinal became a Parlement (the third one in France after the Parliaments of Paris and Toulouse), strengthening the status of Grenoble as a Provincial capital. He also ordered the construction of the Palais du Parlement (finished under Francis I) and ensured that the Bishop pledged allegiance, thus forging the political union of the city.
Due to Grenoble's geographical situation, French troops were garrisoned in the city and its region during the Italian Wars. Charles VIII, Louis XII, and Francis I went several times to Grenoble. However, the people had to suffer from the exactions of the soldiers.
The nobility of the region took part in various battles (Marignano, Pavia) and in doing so gained significant prestige. The best-known of its members was Bayard, "the knight without fear and beyond reproach".
Grenoble suffered as a result of the French Wars of Religion. The Dauphiné was indeed an important settlement for Protestants and therefore experienced several conflicts. The baron des Adrets, the leader of the Huguenots, pillaged the Cathedral of Grenoble and destroyed the tombs of the former Dauphins.
In August 1575, Lesdiguières became the new leader of the Protestants and, thanks to the accession of Henry IV to the throne of France, allied himself with the governor and the lieutenant general of the Dauphiné. But this alliance did not bring an end to the conflicts. Indeed, a Catholic movement, the Ligue, which took Grenoble in December 1590, refused to make peace. After months of assaults, Lesdiguières defeated the Ligue and took back Grenoble. He became the leader of the entire province.
Lesdiguières became the lieutenant-general of the Dauphiné and administered the Province from 1591 to 1626. He began the construction of the Bastille in order to protect the city and ordered the construction of new walls, increasing the city's size. He also constructed the Hôtel Lesdiguières, built new fountains, and dug sewers.
From Louis XIV to the French Revolution
The revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV caused the departure of 2,000 Protestants from Grenoble, weakening the city's economy. However, it also weakened the glove industry of Grasse, leaving the glove factories of Grenoble without any competition. This allowed a stronger economic development for the city during the 18th century. For example, at the beginning of that century, only 12 glovers made 15,000 dozen gloves each year; however, by 1787, 64 glovers made 160,000 dozen gloves each year.
The city gained some notoriety on 7 June 1788 when the townspeople assaulted troops of Louis XVI in the "Day of the Tiles". The people attacked the royal troops to prevent an expulsion of the notables of the city, which would have seriously endangered the economic prosperity of Grenoble. Following these events, the Assembly of Vizille took place. Its members organized the meeting of the old Estates General, thus beginning the Revolution. During the French Revolution, Grenoble was highly represented in Paris by two illustrious notables, Jean Joseph Mounier and Antoine Barnave.
In 1790, the Dauphiné was divided into three departments, and Grenoble became the chef-lieu of the Isère department. The city was renamed Grelibre and took back its real name only under Napoleon. Only two abbeys were executed at Grenoble during the Reign of Terror. Pope Pius VI, prisoner of France, spent three days at Grenoble in 1799 before going to Valence where he died.
The approval of the establishment of the Empire was clear and overwhelming (in Isère, the results showed 82,084 yes and only 12 no). Grenoble welcomed for the second time a prisoner Pope in 1809. Pius VII spent 10 days in the city en route to his exile in Fontainebleau.
In 1813 Grenoble was under threat from the Austrian army, which invaded Switzerland and Savoy. The well-defended city contained the Austrian attacks, and the French army defeated the Austrians, forcing them to withdraw at Geneva. However, the later invasion of France in 1814 resulted in the capitulation of the troops and the occupation of the city.
During his return from the island of Elba in 1815, Napoleon took a road that led him near Grenoble at Laffrey. There he met the royalist fifth Infantry Regiment of Louis XVIII. Napoleon stepped towards the soldiers and said these famous words: "If there is among you a soldier who wants to kill his Emperor, here I am." The soldiers all joined his cause. After that, Napoleon was acclaimed at Grenoble and General Jean Gabriel Marchand could not prevent Napoleon from entering the city through the door of Bonne. He said later: "From Cannes to Grenoble, I still was an adventurer; in that last city, I came back a sovereign". But after the defeat of Waterloo, the region suffered from a new invasion of Austrian and Sardinian troops.
The Bastille fortress was transformed between 1824 and 1848 by general Haxo and took on its present-day aspect. During the Second Empire, the region saw the construction of its railway network, and the first trains arrived at Grenoble in 1858. Shortly thereafter, in 1859, Grenoble experienced widespread destruction by extensive flooding.
In 1869 the engineer Aristide Bergès played a major role in industrializing hydroelectricity production. With the development of his paper mills, he accelerated the economic development of the Grésivaudan valley and Grenoble.
On 4 August 1897, a stone and bronze fountain was inaugurated in Grenoble to commemorate the pre-revolutionary events of June 1788. Built by the sculptor Henri Ding, the Fountain of the Three Orders, which represents three characters, is located on the Place Notre-Dame. People in Grenoble interpret these characters as follows: "Is it raining?" inquires the third estate; "Please heaven it had rained", lament the clergy; and "It will rain", proclaims the nobility.
World War I accelerated Grenoble's economic development. In order to sustain the war effort, new hydroelectric industries developed alongs the various rivers of the region, and several existing companies moved into the armaments industry. Chemicals factories were also established in the area surrounding Grenoble. This development resulted in significant immigration to Grenoble, particularly from Italian workers who settled in the Saint-Laurent neighborhood.
The site of the exhibition has become an urban park in 1926, called Parc Paul Mistral since the death of the mayor in 1932. Today, the only building remaining of this exhibition in the park, is the Tour Perret, closed to the public since 1960.
During World War II, at the Battle of the Alps, the Nazi invasion was stopped near Grenoble at Voreppe by the forces of General Cartier in June 1940. The French forces resisted until the armistice. Grenoble was then part of the French State before submitting to Italian occupation from 1942 to 1943. Their mercy towards the Jewish populations resulted in a significant increase of their number in the region.
Grenoble was extremely active in the Résistance against the occupation. Its action was symbolized by figures such as Eugène Chavant, Léon Martin, and Marie Reynoard. The University of Grenoble supported the clandestine operations and provided false documentation for young people to prevent them from being assigned to STO.
In September 1943, German troops occupied Grenoble, escalating the conflict with the clandestine movements. On 11 November 1943 (the anniversary of the armistice of 1918) massive strikes and demonstrations took place in front of the local collaboration offices. In response, the occupiers arrested 400 demonstrators in the streets. On 13 November, the resistance blew up the artillery at the Polygon, which was a psychological shock for an enemy who then intensified the repression. On 25 November, the occupiers killed 11 members of the Résistance organizations of Grenoble. This violent crackdown was nicknamed "Grenoble's Saint-Bartholomew". From these events, Grenoble was styled by the Free French Forces the title of Capital of the Maquis on the antennas of the BBC.
In 1955 future physics Nobel prize laureate Louis Néel created the Grenoble Center for Nuclear Studies (CENG), resulting in the birth of the Grenoble model, a combination of research and industry. The first stone was laid in December 1956.
In 1968 Grenoble welcomed the Xth Olympic Winter Games. This event helped modernize the city with the development of infrastructure such as an airport, motorways, and a town hall. It also helped develop new ski resorts like Chamrousse, Les Deux Alpes, and Villard-de-Lans.