The Prytanée National Militaire of La Flèche
The Prytanée National Militaire de La Flèche. Source: Photo Grentidez
Today, the Prytanée is one of six military high schools around the country under the authority of the Ministry of Defence.
In 1603, Henri IV decided to found a college and donated his Château de La Flèche to the Jesuits. The college grew and was reorganised as a cadet school in 1764. It was during this period that it took on its military mission before the Prytanée de Saint-Cyr was transferred here in 1808. It contains a remarkable library.
In September 1603, Henri IV decided to found a college to “instruct young people and get them to love sciences, honour and virtue, to be able to serve the public...” and donated his Château de La Flèche to the Jesuits, a château that his grandmother had had built in the 16th century. One of its first students, René Descartes, who stayed there from 1607 to 1615, told, notably in the first part of the Discourse on Method, the story of the education he received there.
The college was then expanded: a vast church and large buildings were constructed. The main structure of the Church of Saint-Louis was built between 1607 and 1621. Its Baroque interior decoration was completed in 1693. Three components of the décor are of particular notice: the large retable by Pierre Corbineau (1633), the organ and its tribune (1640) and the royal cenotaphs containing the hearts of Henri IV and Marie de Medici.
In 1764, two years after the expulsion of the Jesuits, Louis XV and Choiseul reorganised the college as a “École de Cadets ou École militaire préparatoire à l'École militaire du Champ de Mars” (Cadet School or Military School preparing for admission to the Champ de Mars Military School). It was during this period that it took on its true military mission.
In 1808, Napoleon I decided to transfer the Prytanée de Saint-Cyr to La Flèche. It is located in two quarters.
The historic quarter (16 ha / 40 acres), located in the centre of La Flèche, is home to the command, preparatory classes for admission to the military “Grandes écoles”, the medical centre, workshops, etc.
The Gallieni quarter (13 ha / 32 acres) is on the edge of the town. Originally, it comprised the La Tour d'Auvergne barracks, built in 1876 for the 117th Infantry Regiment. In 1921, it became the secondary school quarter.
The present school infrastructure was put in place starting in the 1950s. The library, in the shape of a long, vaulted vessel decorated with two frescos depicting Calliope and Urania, holds over 30,000 encyclopaedic volumes. It notably has over a thousand books from the old Jesuit collection. The oldest book is an incunable of “The City of God” by Saint Augustine dating from 1470. Amongst its other treasures, there is a Homer and a Virgil from the 16th century, a multilingual Bible from 1645 and the Encyclopédie by Diderot and d'Alembert.
All of the buildings are classified or listed in the inventory of historic monuments. Today, the Prytanée National Militaire is one of six military high schools around the country under the authority of the Ministry of Defence. It is also at the crossroads of the Ministries of Education and Culture. Furthermore, it is the heir to the Prytanée established by Napoleon as of 1800 and transferred to the town in the Sarthe department in 1808. Since then, it has pursued the same educational mission and, since 1982, has the dual vocation of assisting families for the secondary school and assisting in the recruitment of officers for the preparatory classes.
The Prytanée covers a total surface area of 29 hectares (72 acres). It is located in two quarters, Henri IV and Gallieni.
The Henri IV quarter
The Henri IV quarter, covering 16 hectares (40 acres), is located in the centre of La Flèche.
Today, this quarter is home to:
The Prytanée command (staff headquarters and academic administration).
Preparatory classes for admission to the military “Grandes écoles”, with some 300 students in an academic environment (dormitories, cafeteria service and recreation rooms).
Support to ensure the establishment’s proper operations.
Library and documentation centre.
Several sports facilities (swimming pool, military equestrian section, gymnasium and sports fields).
The Gallieni quarter
The Gallieni quarter is 800 metres as the crow flies from the Henri IV quarter. It covers 13 hectares (32 acres) on the edge of the town of La Flèche. Originally, it comprised the “La Tour d'Auvergne” barracks, built in 1876 for the 117th Infantry Regiment.
Today, this quarter is home to:
The 3 years of high school classes, with some 450 students in an academic environment (dormitories, cafeteria service and recreation rooms and clubs).
A documentation centre.
A sports complex.
This historic monument, entrusted to the Ministry of Defence, is part of a Defence Culture protocol signed on 17 September 2005.
Prytanée National Militaire
22, rue du Collège 72208 La Flèche Cedex
Ministry of Defence
Secrétariat Général pour l'Administration Direction de la Mémoire, du Patrimoine et des Archives
(Secretary General for Administration, Department of Remembrance, Heritage and Archives)
14 rue Saint-Dominique 00450 Armées
22, rue du Collège 72208
Visit free of charge
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