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Development of the Verdon gorges and epilogue

​The development of the grand canyon by the Touring Club of France

The Touring Club de France which still almost did nothing on the site of the gorges du Verdon, decided, towards the end of the year 1927, to implement a large-scale tourist action. The reasons for the delay in the development of the site, nearly ten years after the end of the war, are poorly known. The remoteness of the region of the main road and rail, the inadequacy of resources that could offer to the tourists villages bordering in decline, still without running water and electricity, had perhaps previously so discouraged the weakness of arrangements from the powerful Parisian organization. As local or even regional initiatives despite Provencal excursionists visits, despite the gradual increase of tourists traveling by car, they were cruelly lacking, contributing to maintain the site of the Gorge in a lethargic. A long note of Martel's book, La France ignored, made the point on the tourist development of the grand canyon circa 1927. It teaches us that the TCF as early as 1925, instructed its Committee of tourism in mountain of a preliminary study. But the report by the two Commissioners, Iwan Imbert and Edmond Ardoin, was delivered to the TCF in October 1927. Édouard-Alfred Martel, almost fifteen years after his first exploration, was still interested in the gorges du Verdon. He was aware of what was happening and he had taken notice, in the greatest detail, excursions led by Isidore Blanc and Louis Henseling.

Martel, spokesman for the Touring Club

The eminent geographer and speleologist aging, it would reach seventy years, was no longer visits field. He now devoted much of his time to write the synthesis of his discoveries in France. The question of the tourist development of the sites that he had explored, that of the means to be implemented to make them accessible to a wide audience, was always concerned. He came to attend, on June 11, 1927, at the time of the completion of the tourist amenities of the Aven Armand, the inauguration of a monument commemorating the discovery of this abyss. The group represented both Martel, imperial bust, perched on three stalagmites and Louis Armand, underneath, emerging clos depths of the abyss. He died in 1921. Martel was privileged, rare in democratic States, to see his likeness immortalized in his lifetime on a public monument.
The scientific authority it enjoys, the renown of its explorations, amicale consideration he enjoyed on the part of the governing bodies of TCF, finally the particular interest which he wore to the gorges du Verdon, all these reasons justified the choice of Martel as spokesman preferred Touring Club in the launch of the site. On 21 January 1928, he gave a lecture in the hall of the headquarters of the TCF. We had invited "the representatives of the tourism of the major railway companies, geography and mountaineering", and also the press. The speaker outlined outline "of the new goal of the beneficent national association" for the development of the site of the gorges. The text of the conference was illustrated by projections of photographs he had taken in 1905 and 1906. The learned speleologist fit the relationship of his first explorations in the canyon. He evoked the memory of his companions missing, Armand Janet and Louis Armand. He also mentioned Isidore Blanc, principal at Bougon. The latter, 'our comrade of the first two visits', was entitled, finally, to a belated recognition of the leading role that he held in the discovery of the grand canyon. It is true that we needed the 'guardian of the gorges' in the development and monitoring of the work that was going to undertake.

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The Touring Club and the media...

The Touring Club mit carefully in the media launch of its operation in the gorges of the Verdon. The direction of the TCF neglected no means it could to ensure the propaganda, Word then used rather than advertising, its action in the Verdon. The conference of January 21, 1928 Martel was the subject of an article in the issue of the Illustration of the same date, with reproduction of a geographical map of the canyon and several of his shots of 1905 and 1906. The following month, the Touring Club chooses to illustrate the cover of its monthly review by the reproduction of an another photographic snapshot of Martel. There is, in 1905, Louis Armand in his canvas boat, Audibert standing father close to another boat, and other members of the expedition wading in the river water. Four other photographs are also reproduced in the article devoted to the gorges du Verdon and their next tourist development, in the same issue of the monthly magazine. One of them, representing the Masri from the farmhouse of Tosks, is still of Martel. Two others are signed with Toulon photographer Solia, the last was taken by one of the authors of the commission of inquiry of the TCF, Edmond Ardoin.
«By a radiant morning of may», in 1928, the governing bodies of the TCF, under the leadership of its President, Léon Auscher (Martel is not mentioned as part of the Group), began a study tour in the gorges of the Verdon. The PLM company had kindly "placed at their disposal comfortable coaches", to go from the train station of les Arcs to Castellane. In this small town and sub-prefecture had organized a meeting of propaganda"which had invited deputies, General Councillors and Councillors. During three nights, travellers made step at the Belvédère de Moustiers hotel. The TCF delegates appreciated the quality of the home, the excellent food, the relative comfort of the rooms, "circulation of hot and cold running water. But they noted the number of bedrooms inadequate "to meet the influx of visitors who will later visit the gorges du Verdon". For three days, delegates of the Touring Club, backpack and axe in hand, "raised very early and lying later," made walking explorations led by Isidore Blanc, "in which the canyon of Verdon has no secrets. A relationship of this study tour was published in the issue of July 1928 by the monthly magazine of the TCF.

.. .a film on the gorges du Verdon

Conferences, inserts in newspapers, travel study and propaganda, Touring Club used, this year of 1928, all means to publicize its action on the site of the Verdon. He also took the decision "to call for his help this outstanding advertising agent called cinema. The TCF confided to the Gaumont institutions making a film on the gorges of the Verdon. The operator, Charles Fiévé, embarked on a "sport boat" of the black House, filmed the most spectacular sights of the grand canyon. The expedition, in August 1928, lasted five days. They camped at the balm of oxen, the Mann, to the keel. Yet once, it ensured competition of peasants from Rougon and La Palud as porters. Isidore Blanc guided the crew, with the collaboration of an another lover of the Verdon, the Abbot Pascal, Professor of a Catholic college of Aix-en-Provence, which will find death a few weeks later due to a flood. A group of hikers Toulon, under the leadership of Louis Henseling, was present. Finally, a renowned speleologist, Robert de Joly, had come to make new explorations of certain aspects of the canyon. Equipped with a flotation suit, he made the perilous experience to immerse themselves in the passage of the Imbut. Contrary to the assertions of Martel, he demonstrated that the Imbut is not a loss, but a narrow Archway.
Robert de Joly, as the team of the film, used inflatable boats that proved much more manageable, more resistant to shocks, canvas, Berthon and Osgood, vessels which used Martel twenty five years earlier. In 1928, one sees if drafting the idea of using the riverbed for the practice of canyoning, M. Rouan, Member of the Board of the canoe club of France, joined the expedition. Its conclusions were as follows: «Le Verdon is the less navigable our torrents of France, because you can do with canoes in rubber slide and the pileup, but nothing that looks to canoeing, except on a few ten kilometers.» They agree with the descriptions by Martel of his difficulties in navigation. At the same time, they foreshadow what will become this new aquatic sport, Rafting on the Verdon.
The Gorges of the Verdon was first screened at the headquarters of the Touring Club, beginning November 1928, "representatives of the press and various notables from the tourism world. Martel is recreated once again the history of exploration gorges. On 25 November, a screening brings together more than five thousand enthusiastic spectators.
Latest manifestation of communication in the gorges of the Verdon to the year 1928, the British press representatives visited the site on 8 October. They were welcomed by Isidore Blanc.

The realization of development work: Touring Club to the Martel trail road

After this year where the Touring Club strove, with success, to communicate to a wide audience the site of the Gorge, by the press, the cinema, propaganda meetings, it took pass to achieve projected improvements. Work étagèrent several seasons during the year 1929 and the spring of 1930. The plan agreed by the mission of study entrusted to Imbert and Ardoin was coherent and ambitious. It consisted of several components. The first, most urgent, focused on the improvement of the existing road network and the development already trails as well as on creating new paths to allow easier access to the bottom of the canyon. The second was to promote, using the skills of the hotel Credit, the establishment of institutions home and accommodation of tourists in at least one of the bordering villages of the grand canyon. The last, finally, was to encourage public transport companies to implement regular services by bus services from railway stations.
The improvement of hotel resources between Castellane and Moustiers was not included in the first instalment of the development program. The investment could not come from the inhabitants of bordering villages of the canyon. They were less numerous, most of the pastoralists, with no capital. Villagers young, eager to change the condition, if they wanted to engage in trade, felt, rightly, that they were more likely to succeed by going to settle in the cities of the coast. One tried the adventure, Marius Ghibbelin of Rougon. He learned the trade of Cook in the city. Infringe quarantine, he returned to the country to open a restaurant located in a convenient location to attract tourists, over the road, under Rougon, in the front of the tray of fossils leading to Sublime Point. The restaurant was already opened in May 1928 when the leaders of the TCF had conducted their study tour.
The issue of collective transport, last part of the development program, was less critical. At least during the summer months, with bus services connecting Marseille to laugh, laugh at Castellane, Castellane at Saint-Andre, operated regularly. Moreover, there were easily, in the villages of Haute-Provence, cars for hire with driver.

Improve roads

Improve existing roadways was part of the first phase of the program had set the Touring Club. The road from Castellane to Moustiers, in the second half of the 19th century, was often narrow, not allowing, in many places, the crossing of cars. It included short turns little adapted to the speed of motor vehicles. It was necessary to expand some of them, develop passing and areas, including below Saint-Maurin, where the panorama on the last part of the canyon is visible from the road, parking areas. These works were carried out by the services of bridges-and-pavement of the Department of Basses-Alpes. As they were carried out at the initiative of the TCF and with, in part, his money, some took, in the following years, used to styling this way "route of TCF", to recognize the benefits of the association. These improvements should allow to make easier the movement of the flow of tourists to finally open Verdon.
Always to make contemplation of the views from the top of the cliffs easier, it arranged from Sublime Point site. The vast plateau of the fossils was near the road, flattened to become a parking area for cars and automobiles. It again drew the old Zürcher path leading in a few hundred metres on the brink. It sealed handrails in order to admire the panorama safely. Tourists would no longer need, as had Clémenceau in 1908, lie stomach.

Make more accessible to tourists Verdon

The other part of the TCF program wanted to make easier the access routes to the riverbed. The village of La Palud was chosen as a starting point for hiking. It thus renounced the old tradition (randon-coaching, from the pioneers of 1905 until more recently, hikers led by Isidore Blanc and Louis Henseling, assumed always Rougon. It is true that the purpose of these large walkers was the journey of 20 kilometres of the grand canyon in whole. The equipment that they should wear for this race of two or three days, with one or two nights of camping, including food, blankets and sleeping bags, was heavy. The Organization of the race was democratized. Hikers in the 1930s were mostly services of porters and guides of La Palud or Crabby. Touring Dub was addressing broader categories of tourists did not, for most, stamina and training of the excursionists Toulon or Marseilles. We wanted to offer them a walking tour combining the views from above, closer to the cliffs of the right bank, and the discovery of the most interesting places from the bottom of the torrent. The choice of La Palud, remote village in the canyon of several kilometres, as starting point of the circuit, had the disadvantage of ask two or three hours of walking, perhaps tedious, before it can reach the cliffs of the right bank. It set up the existing trail that now follows the road, the cornice of right bank, built in the 1950s. In the portion that runs along the cliff, going towards La manna 'platforms have been installed, where carefully secured by an iron railing, the tourist can admire all at ease the torrent sea through rocks cyclopean two hundred meters below him' (monthly of the TCF, August 1930).
The new access roads leading to the riverbed were multiple. A first path led to the Plan-to Koshukova "where a fresh prairie, the only one of the whole course, extends along a sandy beach and invites to rest". Another brought near the confluence of Verdon and du Baou, torrent come to the terroirs of Rougon and la Palud. A branch of this last road could arrive a little upstream from the Masri. This passage, in a stack of what is called the great breach necessitated significant work. It was necessary to build a staircase which includes 152 iron and 87 markets wood, nearly five tons of materials transported on the back of men. Isidore Blanc, who was watching from near the site, took pictures of this staircase during its construction. He did edit at least two in postcards. On one, we see five
or six workers, cigarette to the lips, making pose for photography. The teacher of Rougon, who had begun to publish his pictures into postcards before the expedition of 1905, completed his collection at the time of the construction of the TCF. In a new album Softcover comprising twenty shots, entitled the grand canyon of the Verdon, one of the most beautiful corners of the ignored France, he gave to the public, to 1930, both his old negatives and those taken in 1929 during the work.

The official inauguration

In June 1930, the Touring-Club proceeded to the official inauguration of facilities that it had commissioned in the gorges of the Verdon. The TCF had invited representatives of the Parisian press (Le Figaro, L'echo des sports, Illustration), those of the regional press, and Director of the blue Guides. Two senators and a member of the Basses-Alpes were also invited. Representatives of the Department of the Var were absent: the facilities were inaugurated, all located on the right bank, lower-alpine, Verdon, did not. However, as the train come to Paris stopped, by special favor, to the small station of les Arcs, to drop off the official caravan, it granted the Var Department time to a small reception in the nearby prefecture, Draguignan.
PLM system frameworks, who attended the inauguration ceremonies, had kindly made available by the Touring Club of comfortable cars and making journeys by road, three coaches belonging also to their network. On 28 June it alla do step in Castellane, in the hotel du Levant "that the new owners have completely and happily transformed." As Castellane was to become "the main gate" circuit of the visit of the gorges, the organizers thought that small sub-prefecture hotel resources would become soon quite inadequate when deferllerait 'the crowd tourists that must attract the opening of the gorges.
The next day, all the participants, under the direction of Edmond Chaix and Léon Auscher, president and vice president of the Touring Club, left great morning Castellane, "the alarm was sounded at 4:30", to go by bus to La Palud, starting point of the hiking circuit which was being developed. It took time to reach first the cliffs of the canyon by the Mortmain trail, then down to the riverbed, using stairs constructed under the aegis of the TCF in places. Of the step-of lssane, several hours were still necessary to go up the River to the Sublime Point, using, sometimes the new path of the right bank, sometimes tunnels constructed at the beginning of the century by the great work of Marseille. The TCF had them consolidate and make openings in the longest of them, in order to admire the surrounding cliffs.To the step-of lssane, ' the breakfast camping was served by the Ghibelline master care ", patron of the restaurant from Sublime Point. Holders of Rougon had put to contribution down equipment and food at the bottom of the torrent.

Has a Rougon, celebrates Martel, Blanc and the Touring Club

The arrival in Rougon gave an opportunity to the author's account of the inauguration published in the monthly magazine, mentioned in a few lines the history of the discovery of the grand canyon. «Rougon!» name that will often return when it wrote the history of the gorges du Verdon. As Rougon that is part the idea of exploration of the canyon is mysterious and full of legends. Rougon is born and that returned profess Isidore Blanc, the man who discovered, one might say, the Verdon and that, with Martel, the Forest Couppey and them missed Janet and Armand went down in the Riverbed to do out in the plain after three days and three nights of toil and danger (11 to August 14, 1905). This 25 years ago. And now, thanks to the Touring Club, this wonder is in the scope of any modest Walker! "Late, but pressed, tribute to the guardian of the gorges, the child of the country, Isidore Blanc, to whom is reserved a place of honor at the inauguration. The other pioneer still alive, Édouard - Alfred Martel, had not come to the inauguration of the facilities where he was the main instigator. The Martel, traced by the TCF Canyon, trail does not yet bore his name. Perhaps waited - on his death in 1938, to give it to.
After this long day of market, La Palud to Rougon, many had to feel, as they say, a healthy fatigue. Also, Edmond Chaix, president of the TCF proposed that we transform the farm Petapardy of Maline in lodge. This would, through a Gîte d ' étape, perform in two days all of the circuit that had just been opened.
Many media outlets reported the event. Among the journals and Parisian newspapers, L'Illustration weekly devoted two full pages to the Verdon. The first includes a short text box of five photographs and a map of the course. The second reproduced two very beautiful shots, the first showing a part of the official caravan discovering the riverbed, the second, two walkers on the trail at Cliffside, a few tens of metres from the bed of the river. Other published views highlight facilities, stairs and gazebos. The monthly magazine of the TCF of August chooses, once again, a view of the Verdon to illustrate its coverage. The article already cited in this issue is entitled: "Le Verdon is open," somewhat eye-catching title that would leave suggests that the grand canyon was still inaccessible before though the Touring Club of tourist facilities.

A tourism success

Despite the efforts of the Touring Club, it is not sure that, in the 1930s, the hordes of ordinary tourists have invaded the gorges du Verdon. Before the completion of the development work, Isidore Blanc was invited, at the end of the summer 1929, to give a lecture on the Verdon at Moustiers. "Mr. Blanc, who is an enthusiastic and confident, said his faith in the tourist future of our district." as wrote a reporter for the regional press. In support of his hopes, Rougon teacher gave his listeners the attendance figures of the grand canyon during the summer 1929. "Already three hundred mountaineers executed, this summer, the journey at the bottom of the Gorge. Several thousand have travelled the upper road. "If one analyzes these figures, it can be noted that between June and September, the months where you can visit the gorges, the average daily flow rate was still low: two or three per day in the riverbed and twenty-five motorists daily walks along the road from Castellane to Moustiers.
Tourist flows have perhaps increased in the following years, but we cannot talk of mass tourism before several decades. Louis Henseling, in the pages of Zigzags in the Var, entitled «into the abyss of the Verdon», gives very detailed account of the most recent crossing of the grand canyon that he made in 1937 with a group of walkers. He mentions no meetings of other hikers in the riverbed. It notes only the presence of a few tourists whom he sees at the top of the cliffs - left bank, perched on the ledge under construction.
A few years later, the great geographer Raoul Blanchard, in a page of volume IV, the Prealps French Southern, his masterful book the Western Alps, made notes about tourism in gorges: 'trail established by the Touring Club to cover the bottom of the parade, South of La Palud to Rougon, attracts few visitors because it's five hours of exhausting market and a show varied quite little. The few inhabitants of the few farms scattered on the edge of the abyss, on both sides, ignore the canyon, merely to enjoy with a snide surprise trails or the roads to bring tourists. "In other pages of the same book dedicated to tourism in the Basses-Alpes, Raoul Blanchard found that the massifs in this region lack"of grace and charm; the picturesque was still at base of harshness or violence. It is not less bright, not to mention sublime the Verdon canyon. The Grenoble geographer himself amateur mountaineering, does not hide his preference for the Dauphiné Alps. Yet, he points out, about tourist numbers in Haute-Provence "How is thin the battalion of these happy few that fully meet shows of the Southern Alps. Another reason put forward to explain the difficulties of the tourist development in this region, he believes "that the inhabitants, who are sociable, show no willingness to facilitate the arrival and stay of foreign guests; it do not have the tourist vocation. This assertion applies well to the riverain villages of the gorges. Apart from the initiative of the Rougon Cook, Marius Gibelin who opened his restaurant from Sublime Point, there is no investment of villagers in tourist trade. It is true that their communes are not favored. They are empty every year more a part of their inhabitants. They are always devoid of electricity and running water.
Once past the euphoria of official speeches and banquets, the TCF judged necessary to publish, one year after the inauguration, in the issue of June 1931 of his magazine, a sort of patch's enthusiastic descriptions of the previous year. Verdon was open, but not to the crowd of ordinary tourists. In reality the course "still requires some serious qualities of endurance. The author of this article entitled "the visit of the gorges du Verdon", gives a list of practical information that will be included in the Guidebook that the TCF will soon publish. The tourist wishing to explore the route of the trail in its entirety, was forced to carry a loaded bag, unless you have used the services of a guide Rougon or La Palud. But rent a guide was perhaps not within the reach of all budgets of ordinary tourists. He should take his bag of clothes light and warm, the food for a very long day of walking, a gourd of water, a "lantern" for the crossing of tunnels. The topo-guide sales time of the ride from La Palud to Rougon to more than eight hours, counting a stop ten minutes to each Lookout, fifteen minutes of rest on arrival at the Plan of Koshukova, an hour and a quarter for lunch at the prairie of the Masri.

The construction of chalet-hut of the Maline

On the day of the inauguration of the trail, in 1930, president of the Touring Club, it said, had pointed out the excessive length of the path of the whole route. It had proposed the creation of the Gîte d ' étape La Maline, then more than two hours walk from the village of La Palud. The decision to transform the abandoned farm of old Maline in lodge was taken immediately. The TCF hoped, with «the valuable assistance of the Department of Basses-Alpes», the completion in the spring of the year 1932. This was without reckoning with the administrative delays. Work did not begin until 1934 and lasted two years. First, they required the capture and the supply of water from a source of a fairly remote ravine. The transport of construction materials had to back of a mule by the trail from La Palud. The inauguration of the Chalet-hut, built under the aegis of the Touring Club, took place on Sunday, July 26, 1936. Despite the period of political and social upheavals that had just crossed the Government of the Popular Front, the tourism association had taken to give all its brilliance at the ceremony. It was chaired by Albert Bedouce, Minister of public works. As in the usual, deputies and Senators of the Department of Basses-Alpes were present, surrounded by their electors, councilors and mayors. The national and regional press had been invited. The monthly magazine of the TCF once again devoted its front page to a view of the gorges, a great snapshot of the cliffs seen from the bottom of the Gorge which Toulon photographer Solia, also lovers of the Verdon, was the author. Édouard-Alfred Martel, seriously ill, his old friend Léon Auscher, convalescent, could not come. It paid homage to Isidore Blanc, disappeared three years earlier, victim, age 60, of a motorcycle accident. His son, Albert white, accounting in Marseille, but very attached to his home region and the gorges du Verdon, was present. As president of the Syndicat d'initiative of La Palud and Inspector of TU in the Verdon, title that had just been awarded it to make it clear that it was a worthy successor to his father, it was he who uttered the first of many speeches that followed during the banquet in the great Hall to eat the new chalet-refuge.
The official, hiking or Cavalier caravan (had been mules and horses available for the journey of the trail leading from La Palud to manna), quickly left the Department of Basses-Alpes to get the same evening to Draguignan. Another banquet was organized in the prefecture of the Var. It was the prelude to another opening, the next day, one of the first segment of the corniche of left bank road, which the general Council of Var undertook the construction. The new cart path necessitated very important works, including the construction of tunnels where openings allowing to admire the panorama were provided. The banquet took place in a new facility, the restaurant of the grand canyon, hung at the top of the cliffs of left bank, near the bastide of the jumpers. The Solia photographer there had organized an exhibition of his photographs of the gorges. The var corniche, the corniche Sublime, adjective already used thirty years earlier by Martel to name the point of view of the entrance to the Gorge under Rougon, and now taken over by the Department of the Var, was completed a few years later, in 1942. The road would cross the gorges of the Artuby. A bridge of a daring design was thrown above the abyss.

The memory of Isidore Blanc...

Another opening still took place in the course of the same year, that of the monument erected to the memory of Isidore Blanc. He was placed on the plateau of fossils near the archer leading to Sublime Point trail. Tribute to the teacher of Rougon, the pioneer of the gorges, then its guardian and Manager, as he liked to tell himself, took place on Sunday, September 5, 1936. He began with a reception given to Castellane by representatives of the Syndicat d'initiative of this city. Personalities invited to the commemoration, prefect of Basses-Alpes, senators, Councillors, mayors of the municipalities of the region, representatives of the Directorate of the Touring Club, and many friends of the deceased then collected at the foot of the monument. It represents his effigy in the form of a bronze medal embedded in a hanger full stone of the Verdon. There were several speeches. After the inauguration, it went first to La Palud for a new reception, and at Moustiers, where a banquet was organized finally. Even to honour the memory of one who disappeared, speeches are not enough. It is also necessary to get together for a communal meal. "A banquet whose flavor sang at the Palace, another of the attractions of Alpine tourism, brings together all the personalities", wrote the representative of a regional newspaper. "At the end of this breakfast of quality', five speeches were still delivered at the glory of Isidore Blanc.

...And celebrities of the gorges du Verdon

Thus, the plate sealed a few years earlier at the bottom of the cliffs of the grand canyon to the memory of the Abbot Pascal, the monument to Isidore Blanc, the names of the pioneers of the given sites or paths gorges trail Martel, Janet, trail Zürcher trail, gateway Isidore Blanc, until the plates inserted into the walls of the new restaurant of the riders, engraved names of Martel and whiteall these signs fit little by little as milestones of places of remembrance that draw the history of the discovery of the gorges du Verdon.


Between the opening of the chalet-refuge de La Maline in 1936 and the beginning of World War II in 1940, various tourism activities in the gorges of the Verdon evolved not many. It is not aware of the attendance rate of the establishment founded in La Maline by the Touring Club. There is no data on the geographical origin of hikers making step. Perhaps for new walkers urban, who came from more distant towns of the site of the Gorge than those of coastal Provence, which was until then the largest contingent, they were tempted by the exploration of the grand canyon. Some of them, members of the TCF, french Alpine Club or simply as the Illustration or the sports media outlets, readers could read the accounts of various openings of the tourist facilities in the Gorge. But, as suggested by Raoul Blanchard, could yet shove on the trail recently created or improved.
Customers merely to admire from the top of the cliffs the beauties of the canyon were every year more numerous. They were moving, each in their own cars or in those of landlords, the other coach. Some used the regular cars networks, set up, the months of summer, by carriers, in conjunction with trade unions of the region initiative Beauvezer, Castellane, La Palud, Moustiers and Riez for the Basses-Alpes, those of Draguignan, Aiguines, Aups, for the Department of the Var. Others, during their stay in the resorts of the French Riviera, including at Cannes, or close to the coast, such as Grasse and Draguignan, spent a day visiting the gorges in registering collective car excursions that offered these cities tourism organisations. The visit of the gorges du Verdon, in individual car or coach, was most commonly done by tourists who were not staying on site. In terms of the local economy, consumption of these tourists confined to the meal of midi, taken at the hostel of the Sublime Point, on the road to right bank, one of the riders, on the left bank, at the fountain restaurant - the Bishop finally, even to Castellane and Moustiers. Form of tourism of passage, and not to stay, as is still often the case for the crowds who traveled the roads of the circuit of gorges nowadays. The latest development a form of popular tourism, by implantation, along the course of the torrent, of many campgrounds, on the initiative of municipalities or individuals, has helped to change this situation.

Paid leave

Mass tourism, in the gorges du Verdon as in most of the attractions to be visited, did not exist during the years preceding World War II. The constitution of a popular Front Government in 1936, the introduction of paid leave for all employees, had failed to be flocking to the Verdon these crowds of tourists were talking about a few years earlier the leaders of the Touring Club. This is also not to the workers that thought the TCF when he spoke of these masses of tourists. This organization, giving advertising in developments that she had to promote in the Gorge, was addressing the traditional public of readers or its members. They were part of the middle or upper social classes.
During the few years where the left was in power, Governments made a few steps in favour of setting up a popular tourism. In 1938, they sent the general Commissariat au tourisme of a general survey on the Campsite in France. The prefects were send to the communes of questionnaires on this subject. The Mayor of La Palud, to the question on campsites, replied "individuals", specifying that the lands, meadows, were located around the village. In response the topic concerning water supply points, he mentioned that there was drinking water to the public fountains. Urban campers coming to stay in La Palud would therefore housed in the same boat as the villagers who still had no running water in their homes. Mayor of Rougon fit the same responses to this questionnaire, stating that there were fountains in his village, "which some pretty important and all drinking. Somehow, these two mayors were thinking that asked questions without interest, from distant officials of village realities. They used to meet in the Commons they administer, tourists practicing camping. Farmers in these villages, for many years, allowing hikers to camp on their land. They had very good relations with these regulars that they saw come the summer of seaside cities. It had not yet had the idea of organizing the camping less tourists in land enclosed and delimited, intended for this use against financial participation.

The post-war years: the slow awakening of tourism

The outbreak in 1939 World War II gave brutal brake for the development of tourism in the gorges of the Verdon. However, the resumption of leisure activities in France, after the end of hostilities in 1945, was fast enough. In 1947, editions J. Susse did seem a Guide of the Verdon, which, despite its modest dimensions, is in many ways, worthy of interest. This is the first time that a monograph devoted entirely to the gorges du Verdon had Parisian initiatives. The editor, as the author of the guide, Jean Hareau, were established in the capital. A few guides dedicated to the Verdon, published before the war, those of Louis Henseling and the practical Guide to the Verdon J. greenhouse, were published by the Provence, Toulon and Aix. Jean Hareau, his wife, some friends and the editor of the guide, had come to explore, the previous year, the gorges of the Verdon that they did not know yet. It was a group of trained walkers. They went down to the bottom the twenty kilometers from the grand canyon. As Martel in 1905, they also took the time to acknowledge some of the sinkholes that the eminent speleologist had explored. They also noticed that there were many others, noting that "the region is so rich that almost everything remains to be done. But a few years later, the curiosity of the speleologists was thwarted by the creation, in 1964, a military camp on the Canjuers plateau, cutting the territory of the commune of Aiguines by 60%. Susse and Hareau does not limited their investigations to the chasms of the Canjuers. They also discovered the existence of cavities in the walls that dominate the Artuby and resurgences of the Saint-Maurin tuffs which were already the admiration of Jacques Gaffarel in the first half of the 16th century.

And the thin benefits to villages

The most valuable pages of this short guide are those describing riparian Gorge villages, such as the author found them in 1946.
La Palud, Jean Hareau wrote: "archaic Village built at 890 metres on a plateau overlooking the Valley of Mortmain. Only one hotel operated only in part, where there is little chance of seeking asylum. No electricity in the village. A few shops: bakery, grocery, haberdashery. "And Rougon: «Village lost 915 metres above sea level, with neither electricity nor hotels (rents rooms homestay, inquire at La Palud). Austere, ignored the tourist nature. Old houses with much, abandoned, fall into disrepair, streets of Earth mingling manure, droppings of goats and cow dung. Restaurant and resource in goat's milk, cheese and lamb. Village without issue, being abandoned, deserted by young people. In 1946, the school had only two students. Ideal site for lovers of rustic solitude or those who dream of a phalanstery. »
It is clear, once again, that tourist facilities inaugurated with great pomp ten or fifteen years earlier, had brought no benefit to villagers bordering gorges. The demographic bleeding had not stopped. At the time of the impoundment of the Castillon dam, in 1948, the inhabitants of La Palud and Rougon were still without electricity. The development of tourism, nor the hydraulic works do had brought them lower profit.
Like so many others who have spoken before him to the gorges du Verdon, Jean Hareau, is a propaganda when he declares that he is "unforgivable that a hiker, as a tourist, as an artist, what a French does not, once at least in his life, the gorges du Verdon". But it is the first to be aware of the dangers of excessive frequentation of the site. He added, taken from remorse after extolled the beauty of the Gorge, that "when the Verdon is best served, we delay not to see a dancing moved to Sublime Point and a funfair for the lssane step. These images, deliberately grotesque, suggest however much of what was going to happen 15 years later on the site of the Gorge.

Albert Blanc, worthy son of Isidore

Rougon restaurant talking Jean Hareau was Sublime Point. Often closed since the death of Marius Gibelin in 1937, he came to be re-opened by Albert white, son of the pioneer of the gorges teacher. Delegate of the TCF for the gorges of the Verdon, founder before the war of the Syndicat d'initiative of La Palud, he had abandoned, around 1945, his job in Marseille to continue his father's work. He directed hotel until his untimely death a few years later. Blue Guide 1955 edition reported that Sublime Point chalet is again closed.
Albert white which, in the footsteps of his father, published in postcards, some of his photographs, did seem him also in the 1950s, a guide to the gorges du Verdon. This booklet is preceded by two short prefaces, one of Edmond Ardoin, the administrator of the Touring Club which had been loaded with Iwan Imbert to develop projects of tourism developments, the second of Fernand Cuvelier, Brussels lawyer, before 1930, an active member of the Touring Club of Belgium. Albert white guide, chapter "Descent of the grand canyon to the bottom" mentions new ways to do it: "swim, kayak or canoe". It is the beginning of new sports in the Verdon, in the meantime, a few years later, climbing the walls.
The copy of the guide of Albert white, who was part of the library of the Touring Club, is accompanied by a typewritten note prepared by the TCF. It is dated February 1953. The last sentence of the note is as follows: "the TCF discourages the excursion from the bottom, it has become very dangerous since the construction of the dam of Castillon due to very irregular water releases. ''

The completion of the first dam: Castillon

The ambitious programme of construction of storage dams on the clu course Verdon appeared, on the eve of the first world war, close to be realized. Nearly forty years later, a single hydraulic work was completed. Projects "grandiose", of the 1910s use of Allos Lake, Castillon dam, Carejuan dam, dam of Sainte-Croix and Gréoux, which had led to the official travel of the president of the Council, and then the Minister of agriculture, were left aside after the war 14-18. In the 1920s, it was decided to confine ourselves to the construction of the dam of Castillon. Despite the impatience of local elected representatives, things went slowly. It is only in 1929 that was laid the first stone of the Castillon dam by Fernand Bouisson, president of the Chamber of Deputies. Apart from the ceremony of inauguration of a hydraulic construction, this new official travel in the Basses-Alpes program was devoted to tourist activities. The president of the Chamber was first step the Alpine site of the Hotel Alpe in Beauvezer, in the upper Valley of the Verdon. After Castillon, he was received by the municipality of Castellane, then went to Rougon 'at the Point Sublime to admire the gorges du Verdon". Fernand Bouisson attended a Provençal reception at Moustiers, and then was going to laugh. In this last town, he was to inaugurate the season of Art Alpin and the lapidary Museum. A banquet was held in Riez, offered by the general Council, which had invited parliamentarians and the Chairmen of General Councils of the neighbouring departments, senior officials of the Ministry of public works, and "a number of personalities from the tourism and hydraulic forces". We had therefore brought together for this meal, representatives of tourism activities and those of the waterworks, even if, in reality, their interests were far from agreeing.
Many vicissitudes came to delay the construction of the dam of Castillon. It passed almost 20 years between the laying of the first stone and water. The work were being performed, as delivery of war damage, by a German company whose headquarters was in Paris. The site, number of 1200 workers, were not low-Alpine but Germans. A list of the hotels and trimmed of the arrondissement of Castellane, dating from 1931, mentions the existence, next to three hotels, two Inns and five-lined Castellane, intended for tourists, a "House of tolerance", to the use of German of the dam workers, in the almost uninhabited Castillon village (this village will be swallowed up beneath the waters of the dam that bears his name). The works were interrupted in 1932, by judgment of funding. In 1936, a fire, possibly criminal origin seriously came damage infrastructure already put in place. Work resumed only during World War II and was completed only in 1918. As said in the note to the guide of Albert white, the unintended opening of the valves of the Castillon reservoir by the EDF services came dangerously compromising the excursion by the bottom of the canyon.

Storage dams of Quinson, Gréoux and St. Croix

Tourism organisations wanted the rapid completion of the construction of the Sainte-Croix dam, which was already decided. Because she had to stop the "releases" Castillon. But it took another 25 years, in 1973, that this huge reservoir be put in water. The stop refreshing, so dear to the Provencal, under the shadows of Fontaine-l ' Evêque, ended. The resurgence, whose rushing waters had so long coveted by the towns of the Mediterranean coast, was then swallowed up.
Meanwhile, other reservoirs dams had been completed: Chaudanne in 1951, Gréoux in 1967. Quinson dam was put into water only in 1975. The flow of visitors in the gorges du Verdon, from the years 1960-1970, had grown exponentially. Several factors have contributed to this success: the development of holiday and leisure, the democratization of the automobile, the taste of the stays in the Mediterranean countries, the rise of the campsite on the banks of water bodies newly created. Since 1973, the tourists who came by boat or pedal boat from the shores of the Lake of Sainte-Croix, had leisure to admire the Terminal part of the grand canyon. The waters of the old torrent, finally domesticated, were now standing. The old dream of Ardouin-Dumazet, and others: comfortably contemplate the cliffs of a boat became a reality.

New threats to the site of the Gorge

While ended hydroelectric works, ranging from Castillon in Greoux, EDF échafaudait a new project of dam reservoir in the heart of the gorges of the Verdon region. No more on the former site of the Dalloyau Rouland project Carejuan, but upstream, in the first canyon, to the tune of Chasteuil. The powerful State body, after nationalization in 1945 of the former companies of electricity, already thought to build a dam at the entrance of the grand canyon, to the Samson corridor. One or the other of these two projects from time to time, was the subject of administrative investigations including Circa 1967. The most serious attempt took body, and very dangerous way for the site of the Gorge, from 1975. She clashed with multiple protests, including those of a Committee for the defence of the gorges of the Verdon to La Palud. The danger was narrowly avoided. At the time of the consecration of the gorges du Verdon as a major tourist attraction, the Government, on behalf of economic interests, were determined to sacrifice, without any qualms, the beauties of the natural heritage that attracted visitors.

The creation of the regional natural park of Verdon

Before these dangers, local associations for the defence of the environment obtained in 1990 all of the gorges of the Verdon to become a class site. That same year, the local communities of the communes close to both banks of the Verdon, decided to establish a record in order to apply for the establishment of a regional natural park. The regional natural park of Verdon, was born on March 1, 1997. With 44 municipalities, 25 for the Alps of Haute Provence, 19 for the Var, he interested a vast territory. Some local elected officials, some officials of the associative sector, would have preferred that the territory of the regional park is limit to the communes close to gorges, from Castellane to Moustiers, comprising, in addition to these two towns, Rougon and La Palud, on the right bank, Trigance and Aiguines, on the left bank. Others, on the contrary, had suggested to include the communes of haut Verdon to Allos. The constitution of the territory of the Park, which goes from Saint-Andre les Alpes northeast to Vinon, to the West, to the place where the Verdon River flows into the Durance, attempted to take into account the new realities of the landscape, not only the site of the Gorge, but also thousands of acres of artificial lakes. On the strictly tourist map, it is true that these water bodies became, also, a powerful pole of attraction.
The classification of the site of the Gorge, then the creation of the regional park of the Verdon, were not enough to stop the EDF projects. A few months after the birth of the NRP, we learned that the EDF was considering in the near future, the construction of a line very high voltage with huge towers défigureraient panorama gorges. Despite the protests and petitions of all kinds, end of 2000, the draft, even amended, is still not abandoned. In the space of a century, the site of the gorges du Verdon, by the fact of hydroelectric works, has been plagued by many of the dangers. In a time where sensitivity to the protection of the environment became so great, the threat posed by the economic interests on unanimously recognized as unique landscapes, by tourists as by governmental authorities, remains intact.

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