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Discovery of the Gorges du Verdon

​First appearance of the Gorges du Verdon in texts

If we question the first printed texts describing the Haute-Provence, we note that there is no mention the gorges du Verdon site before the end of the 17th century. Michel Darluc, physician and Professor of botany at Aix, in his natural history of Provence, published in 1782, was the first to give a brief description. After the paragraph on Moustiers, he wrote: "the Verdon River is far from a half-mile; It runs through a narrow gorge between heaven steep mountains, from where it flows into the Plains by Aiguines and rooms. "It adds a little further:"rugged mountains through which the water flows appear to have been divided in two, as if it had cut them perpendicularly to open a way to the river. "The image of a cut, to characterize these deep gorges, will often appear in the second half of the 19th century. In these few lines, Darluc does not exceed the strict limits of a morphological description. In a time where you were however already sensitive, following the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to the wild beauty of the mountain and other landscapes, the Aachen naturalist does not allude to the impressive beauty of the gorges, its appearance imposing, majestic site, scary, as if its picturesque character did not yet deserve attention. When he says: «Glowering (sic) has nothing remarkable mountains separating high less Eiguines regions terroir (sic), through which the Verdon occurs is a scabrous and narrow road», it seems thus to reveal his lack of interest in the show sublime, is the word by which it will nominate it at the beginning of the 20th century, the entrance to the Gorge under Rougon. Or, at least, it does not take the penalty, if he felt it, to inform its readers.
There are a number of relations printed travel in Provence, from the sixteenth century to the early 19th century. None of those that may be read talks about the Haute-Provence, still less of the gorges of the Verdon. However, the English or french aristocrats who make the "grand tour" leading them in Italy passed willingly through Provence. But they were content to visit cities like Avignon, the city of the popes, Aix, the parliamentary capital, or the ports like Marseille or Toulon. They were interested mainly in antiques, to the ruins of the Roman civilization: Orange, Saint-Rémi, Arles and Fréjus aqueduct. The sight of the mont Ventoux Comtat Venaissin and the visit of a natural site, Fontaine de Vaucluse, allowed to evoke the memory of Petrarch: he had made the ascent of the first and had remained close to the second.
These Northern travellers were not likely on bad Mule paths of inland and Eastern Provence. Tourists from the former regime did not visit the Roman ruins of Riez, still less the curious chain of ler stretched between two rocks of Moustiers, while their tables were sometimes topped with the sumptuous tiles that are made, still less the gorges du Verdon, unknown and inaccessible.

The oldest witnesses speak of Saint-Maurin...

However, found in some texts of the 17th and 18th centuries, rare words, not not gorge themselves, but places that are close, making party, later, at the beginning of the 20th century, of the tour of the gorges. Their authors are not travellers to the province, but the Provencal.
The first site is Saint-Maurin. It is three storied prairies, lookouts slung underneath high cliffs with caves that retain traces of constructions troglodytes, overlooking the grand canyon just before its release, over the road that runs from La Palud to Moustiers. The water is gushing, spreading, jumping waterfall cascading from a terrace to another. Place both wild and idyllic, it is tinged with an ancient religiosity, which can testify the existence of a Romanesque chapel which still retains a tabular altar. Jacques Gaffarel, clergyman born in 1601 in Mane, near Forcalquier, was attracted by the mysteries of caves, abysses, underground water. He did print, in 1654, the prospectus of a book to be published, but who has never seen the day: the underworld or Description historical and philosophical all the finest dens and of all the most beautiful grolles of the Earth... Bizarre ancestor of speleologists (at least on paper), he is interested in «caves, the most renowned in the world spelonques and cavitez», «prodigious openings of the Earth and abymes without funds. Too bad that the manuscript of this book, if it was written, was not printed. It would have maybe mentioned the abysses of the Canjuers. In another book, this one published in 1629, Jacques Gaffarel dedicated a few lines to the Verdon, not to gorge themselves, but at the site of the caves of Saint-Maurin. It boasts "the Crystal fountains, whose source is prodigious, the beauty of its caves, worthy Palace of Nature, the waves of the Verdon, which forced in a too small bed a noise that causes a nice terror among these holy solitudes. This strange character seen in the concretions of the caves 'proof of the power of the images... that represent almost all of the figures that the imagination can provide. One might think, as seems testify hearing the noise of the waves notation, that he went in person to Saint-Maurin.

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...Then of Fontaine - L'EVEQUE

The other nearby place of the gorges du Verdon is Fontaine-l ' Evêque. This is not a source, but a resurgence to the powerful flow, located a few hundred metres of the left bank of the Verdon, terroir of Bauduen, several kilometers from the exit of the grand canyon, much closer to the gorges of directed. It was, we should say, because force is to talk about the past: Fontaine - l ' Evêque is now engulfed in the waters of the Lake of Sainte-Croix.
At least two Provencal historians of Provence spoke in the 17th century. The first, Simon Bartel, priest and historian high Provence, actually a bucolic description in his ecclesiastical history of the bishopric of Riez, published in latin in 1632. This resurgence, this fountain as they indicated this natural phenomenon of mysterious emergence of groundwater was called, since the Romans (who had an establishment), fountain of Ross. The name of Fontaine - L'EVEQUE was adopted when Louis Doni to Attichi, Bishop of Riez, had built in the 1630s, a House of pleasure. Honoré Bouche, ecclesiastical him also in his voluminous choreography of Provence, published in 1664, in the chapter of "Considerable fountains of Provence", after describing Fontaine de Vaucluse, dedicated a few lines to Fontaine - l ' Evêque: ' it rotates up to ten different Mills, each to grind wheat, others to make paper, others to trample sheets. ".
Why refer to a now defunct site? Several reasons. Well before the rise of tourism in the gorges of the Verdon at the dawn of the 20th century, Fontaine - L'EVEQUE already was a goal of excursion to the coast varoise, botanists or simple walkers urbanites, who came to search for, the time of a meal at the Inn of the mill or a luncheon on the grass, the freshness of its shades and its waters quivering. This stop will be still part of the circuit of gorges, departing from Draguignan or Castellane, until in the 1950s. The blue Guide of Provence from 1914, at the end of the chapter on the visit of the gorges, boasts "the magnificent make Ross or source of Fontaine-l ' Evêque... at the bottom of a remote Valley on the slope of a small nipple, at the foot of a centuries-old fig tree". And clans the 1930s, J. greenhouse, in his Handbook of the Verdon, gives this description: «his shadows, the charm of small islands of green surrounded by multiple branches of the torrent, make a stop very tasted, at the gateway to the scenic canon (sic) Baudinard.»

The journey of Millin in 1804

At the beginning of the 19th century, some travelers dared to risk on the roads of the Haute-Provence to visit this resurgence. Parisien Aubin - Louis Millin, curator of the cabinet of Antiquities and medals of the National Library undertook a tour to Provence around 1804. His curiosity, fortunately, was not confined to the Graeco-Roman monuments. Naturalist at least as much as archaeologist, Director of publication Le Magasin encyclopédique (he published an essay on the language and Provençal literature), he showed the interest in many fields. In the relationship written of his trip to Provence, entitled Voyage in the departments of the South of France (1807-1811), it tries to apply the definition he had given the picturesque travel in his dictionary of the fine arts: "be understood by this expression all travel as an artist began in such country whatsoever, to study nature in all its collect sites, the views, the most likely landscapes of beautiful effects... »
In early July of the year 1804, it is in Draguignan, received by the prefect Fauchet. With his travelling companion, Winckler, so used to the cabinet des médailles in Paris, under the conduct of a guide to the country, Millin sailed the Haute-Provence. Our travelers are step in Aups. The next morning, equipped with a second guide, to not get lost, they headed Bauduen and arrive at Fontaine - l ' Evêque to eight hours. A bit disappointed by his visit, Millin said only: "this source comes out with a crash, caused by his impetuosity and abundance; but we can say that it is much ado about very little. After giving the movement a few Mills, it will lose two hundred not in the Verdon. "This Parisian seems less sensitive than the Provençal charms of this site.

The impressive Verdon

Wanting to win the other side of the River, Millin and his companions do not date back to the bridge of Aiguines, chose to cross the Ford between Bauduen and St. Croix, as was the use (the Garruby bridge was not yet built). It should ensure the good offices of a smuggler. But "the gaifreur (it is known that moves men and horses as), had left his post. Waiting, Millin had leisure to observe the Verdon, 'this river, or rather this torrent, which grows in an amazing way in a few hours' and the presence in his bed from "large clusters of rolled stones", a phenomenon that hit him because it will give an engraving in the atlas which completes the journey in the departments of the South of the France. If the place where it is located it can see the output of the grand canyon, he noted however the entrance, beautiful said Martel a century later, the Gorges of Baudinard. "Cent not Bauduen, wrote, its waters emerged through a limestone mountain by a narrow calcarine and deep steep cut on both sides." Yet once, found to describe gorges, these images of failure, of calcarine, hack.
A few hours later, the gaifreur finally returned, the travellers passed the river "with quite great difficulty; the horses had water up to the belly". Late in the evening, they arrived at Riez 'to half dead from fatigue and hunger". Two days later, at two o'clock in the morning, they left Riez towards Digne. "It would have been take on the right to go to Moustiers and Sandra." II is a pity that the necessities of the Millin travel schedule have done renounce this detour. It could have been the first tourists from North to give us a description of the grand canyon. In the relationship of his trip, he had to settle for a few ratings second hand on the earthenware of Moustiers (a naive engraving of the town figure in his book), and "the dervishes of the neighbouring villages who work the boxwood", probably those of Aiguines and La Palud.
Finally, the last reason that justifies to have spoken as long of Fontaine-l ' Evêque, extinct, and the most important historical viewpoint, is the role it played in the Verdon hydraulic development projects.

The Verdon old maps

Next to these few texts written in the 17TH and 18th centuries and at the beginning of the 19th century, which testify first looks on the gorges du Verdon, examination of the maps of the region provides the evidence of a precise knowledge of the topography of the site of the grand canyon from the last third of the 17th century. Two mapping companies have realized, for the region of the Verdon, in the close years of 1780.

Cassini map

The first, the most known, as broadcast by engraving and printing, gradually covering all the territory of the Kingdom, is that of the Cassini dynasty. Geographers from Cassini engineers came Sunrise, by triangulation method of Castellane and Moustiers jurisdictions map sheets in the early years of the reign of Louis XVI. They are passed to Rougon, La Palud, Aiguines, maybe slept in nasty hostels of these villages, unless they have been received by the parish priest, notary, or even at the Castle. They examined records of the cadastral tax of these communities. They investigated the names of localities, mountains, hamlets, closed to differences. They looked Gorge, Rougon or near the abyss, La Maline and Tosks more. When considering the portion of their card for La Palud and Rougon, we note the wealth of built and inhabited heritage survey. For La Palud, over twenty names of hamlets and houses therein, as well the large hamlets of terroir close enough Church and castle that habitats much more away, very near the cliffs of the Gorge, for example La Maline, where three houses are comic and Tosks, where a single farm. The territory of Rougon, less populous than La Palud village, are a little less names of hamlets. On the left bank of the Verdon, close to Trigance, but part of Rougon, are referred to the hamlet of Entreverges and Encastel.
The Cassini map is also committed to the representation of the channels of communication and the bridges which cross the River: bridges of Carejuan and of Aiguines, path of Moustiers in Castellane. This road, old Roman road, bad Mule in the 19th century, passes very remotely of the grand canyon, North of La Palud, of Châteauneuf, away also from Rougon, then toward Chasteuil.
This first cartographic representation mainly focuses on providing a more complete record possible, the location of buildings on the territory of the communities, indicating their names. Human geography is favoured at the expense of physical geography. If reliefs are illustrated, it is a summary and inaccurate manner. The tormented character of the landscape, particularly in the area of the Gorge, appears wrong. Its representation on the map is served by the absence of colors in gradient that would have allowed the drawing of shadows to give the illusion of the reliefs.

Map of the Royal Army

The second mapping company is very different in its goals and methods. It was conducted by the cartographic services of the Royal Army, who's mission is to map the boundaries of the East of the Kingdom, Dauphiné, Provence Eastern and Mediterranean coast. The decision had been taken in the years that followed the invasion of Eastern Provence in 1746 by austro-sardes armies. It fought from Castellane to Moustiers, La Palud and Rougon. The making of maps covering vast territories took time. The last to be mapped, in 1778, were those that interest us. Experience gradually helping, the maps of the region of the high Verdon are the most beautiful. They were made by prestigious engineers geographers of the King, officer corps created for this purpose. The result is surprising. Looking at the leaves affecting the gorges du Verdon, one has the impression to be before aerial views of the region. The design of the walls of the right bank gives the illusion to see from above, a few hundred meters above the Canjuers plateau. To represent these reliefs, topographical engineers use bistre, mixed red and green hues. Because these cards, patient and fine painted images are enhanced color. Contrasting with the savagery of the cliffs of the Verdon, represented by tawny hues, the cultivated land of La Palud is figured by a checkerboard alternating light ochre squares with others hatched green, schematic pictures of fields and meadows that seem remote. The habitat is always indicated by tiny squares or blood-red rectangles. The configuration of the villages is faithfully rendered. The houses of La Palud are elongated along the main street. Those of Rougon, grouped under its feudal rock, form a circle. The hamlets and isolated farms are identified with accuracy, as in the Cassini map. But, unlike the latter, the military map much more rarely mentions their name, probably to not overload the space of the map to the detriment of the drawing of a relief. On the other hand, most often that of Cassini, military map finds the names of these reliefs.
The goals of the two mapping companies were not the same. Wide dissemination of maps engraved the drawings in black ink, covering the whole of the national territory, for the Cassini map; production of polychrome maps using sophisticated, slow and costly, techniques to highlight ground accidents, for military maps of the boundaries of the East. These stunning leaves made no publication. They will remain unique copies, original works never reproduced, jealously kept in cartons of the army, Director for strategic purposes, held in incommunicado military detention.

The look of a geographer

After the first description by Michel Darluc, in 1782, it will be the 19th century to find a new page devoted to the gorges du Verdon. It is inserted in a book on Provence, but in a book aimed at a much wider audience, a monument, the new universal geography of Élisée Reclus. It appears in volume II, published in 1879. The great geographer wrote: "limestone ridges that grow in the West to the Durance are also cut in many places of great Glues. Cited especially, although one of the least beautiful, a gorge of the arrondissement of Castellane, of Moustiers, including two cornices are several centuries connected one to the other by a chain swinging to the breath of the wind; but the Glues of the Verdon, Castellane downstream are well otherwise amazing: it is hardly more remarkable example on Earth to hack practiced by waters in the thickness of the rocks. There, the Verdon sinks to the bottom a real cut of a half mile depth. »
These last lines of text of Élisée Reclus in the gorges du Verdon will be cited, at the end of the 19th century and later, in tourist guides. They sometimes put out on early postcards representing the gorge at the beginning of the 20th century. Elisée Reclus mentions, in the chronology of the discovery of the gorges, Moustiers anticipation on the gorges of the Verdon. The entrance to the Gorge views of the village of Rougon yet offers an otherwise spectacular than the rocks that dominate Moustiers. But these, as a backdrop to the walls of the houses grouped around the Romanesque Bell Tower, form a backdrop more friendly, less wild than that of the entrance of the grand canyon. The sight of Moustiers had attracted painters and printmakers at the beginning of the 19th century. She decorates some of earthenware made in this place. The OM painter Jean-Antoine Constantin, a time to worthy at this time, gave several times drawings.

Between geography and tourism

Neither Michel Darluc, Élisée Reclus transgressing the bounds of a physical description, even if the latter is much more detailed, highlighting its unique character. But it would probably be a mistake to interpret the silence of Élisée Reclus on the beauty of the scenery of the gorges of the Verdon as a lack of sensitivity to their picturesque character. Adolphe Joanne, primary sponsor french tourism in the second half of the 19th century, author of the guides that bear his name (and his son Paul Joanne who succeeded him from 1881), ancestors of the blue Guides, did seem, as part of its new collection of departmental geographies, the geography of Basses-Alpes, one year before the description of the Gorge by Élisée Reclus. Adolphe Joanne wrote Verdon: "his course, perpetual succession of small basins which were Lakes and very narrow and very deep, parades is nowhere as picturesque in the grandiose Gorge, which range from the confluence of Jabron, near Rougon, at the bridge of Aiguines on the road of Digne in Grasse." Drawing attention to the picturesque character of some sites, in its intended primarily to teachers and their students departmental geographies, Adolphe Joanne contributes to educating the sensitivity of its readers to the beauty of the landscapes that surround them.
Elisée Reclus, geographer by profession, but, as Joanne, father and son, traveller and passionate, though Mountaineer accustomed to contemplate the beauty of the panoramas, adopted here, without a value judgement, the writing style of both physical and human geography. At most, words of some narrow parades or "Glues" of Provence, he notes their "scary appearance. If it uses the word picturesque, this is not so much to describe the "steep or overhanging, hundreds of metres high rocks" in the Gorge, but to describe the topography of the dwelling places, "the picturesque walls of some former village clinging to the top of their cliffs. Yet, the boundaries between geography and tourism, at the end of the 19th century, should not be traced a line too pressed. Elisée Reclus participated himself actively in the drafting of the Guides Joanne.

"Glues" to the "Grand Canyon of the Verdon"

Examination of the two texts on the Verdon, Michel Darluc and of Élisée Reclus, allows a last note about terminology. Michel Darluc uses the word "Gorge" while Reclus chooses "Glues". This last term, Glues or glues, form regional Provencal "cluses", was the one who was commonly used in Provence at the time where he wrote his geography, and even now, is to designate close parades, for example in the area of Digne, Chabriere Glues, Glues of Barles. The term "Gorge" is one who prevailed, even today, the Verdon as for the Tarn. There the two words side by side in the great encyclopedia Larousse Verdon description: "from Castellane, it turns West and is committed soon, below Rougon, in a narrow gorge and curvy, a deep gorge sometimes 7 800 metres, where there is more than a few meters wide and no route could follow." The use of the Spanish word of canyon, by reference to the canyon of the Colorado, is widespread in the first half clu \ century to designate the main gorges du Verdon, who range from Rougon to Aiguines. The invention of the "grand canyon of the Verdon" term is usually attributed to the speleologist Édouard - Alfred Martel, after the first descent by the bottom it reads these gorges in the 20th. He often uses this term in the many writings that he consecrated him. But it is not the first to do so. The word "canyon" is already ten years earlier in the new dictionary of universal geography, M. Vivien de Saint-Martin and L. Rousselet (1895)
Another term to designate the gorges, which said that it was still used at the beginning of the 20th century by its residents La Palud or Rougon, is the one of the abyss"or"abyss", Word already used in the 17th century to call, not the gorges or Glues formed by a river, but rather sinkholes, potholes that hole some limestone plateaus. To stay in the territory of the Verdon, include the numerous sinkholes of the Canjuers plateau, which some have been explored by Martel in 1905, and to stay in Provence, the Cruis, at the foot of the mountain of Lure, visited ten years earlier by the same Martel, but already known to some historians of 17th century Provence. You can be surprised by the choice of this term by the inhabitants of Aiguines, Rougon and La Palud. Cutters of boxwood, trout fishermen, these villages poachers were quite familiar with the bottom of the Gorge to find out that it was not damaged or chasms as those who are scattered on the nearby limestone plateaus that they were accustomed to browse.
In a century, between Darluc and recluse, familiarity with the site of the gorges of the Verdon had progressed. In the last thirty years of the 19th century, the interest for this site will move little by little in the field of geography in tourism. The increasing spread of successive editions of travel guides, in response to the request of the public, will be one of the principal vectors.
But at the same time along the 19th century, also develops the interest, nor for the landscapes of the Verdon, but for the use of its waters, agricultural and industrial purposes.

Coveted water

Marseille doctor Claude-François Achard, in the general table of Provence he places at the beginning of his historic, geographic and topographic Provence Description book (1787), writes, speaking of the Verdon: 'Adam de Craponne had proposed to make it buoyant. A few pages later, mentioning important networks of irrigation canals carried out by this great hydraulic engineer of the 15th century in the region of Salon, his hometown, Achard, using a classical rhetoric ligure, calls it in these terms: "Adam de Craponne, immortal man, who knew in as much as former engineers and more than modern engineers, which voulûtes make the Verdon navigable and floatable.»
This old project of the Verdon, narrated by Achard twice, seems today utopian. However, it appeared feasible to his contemporaries. "Communities along the Verdon," reports still Achard, asked in 1785 General Assembly communities of Provence to re-examine the project to make the river navigable.
In the 1780s, the naturalistic doctor Michel Darluc observed, especially in the region of the gorges, the ravages of torrential waters related to deforestation. The scientific elite of the province then tried to find ways to contain the beds of rivers, in order to avoid the damage that were undergoing their torrential floods, the Durance especially, but also its tributary the Verdon.


The other concern, already present for a long time, but become crucial in the 15th century, was intended to increase the surfaces of cultivable land of Provence by creating new channels derivative streams. Hydraulic projects intended to transform the uncultivated soils in land to be cultivated, yet timid in the Valley of the Verdon until 1860, took a new magnitude after that date. Some achievements at the local level in the upper Valley, Colmars or Saint-André, construction of canals and aqueducts, had already emerged. But it was realized, even for these small channels of a few kilometres in length, their flow became poor after periods of drought, the water intake was insufficient during the flow of the river. To overcome this drawback, it had the idea to use reservoirs along the rivers dams.
Around 1860, there was a proliferation of hydraulic projects that then exceed the local interests of the residents of the Verdon. No longer are the engineers of the roads and bridges of the Department of Basses-Alpes (therefore called itself the modern département of Provence since its creation in 1790 until 1970), which develop new hydraulic studies, but those of the Bouches du Rhône and Var. The demographic upsurge in cities like Toulon and especially Marseille, urged these departments to gain land for fruit and vegetable crops. Much later, will be felt in connection with the industrial boom, mechanical energy and, still later, electrical, provided by the force of the water. Finally, for the watering of Toulon and Marseille city dwellers, drinking water, including the source of Fontaine-l ' Evêque, became the subject of after lusts.
Some of these projects will be completed. The first of them is the canal of Pontoise, put in water around 1870. It is powered by two outlets, one in the Verdon, Gréoux upstream, the second in its right tributary, the Colostre. The other, more important, is the channel of the Verdon. Two different projects have borne this name. The first, in the years 1855, related to irrigation of the land of 26 all communes in the Department of Basses-Alpes, mainly on the Valensole plateau around laugh. This channel had its main water intake in the Verdon, very upstream of the Gorge, in Saint-André, last town located at the north end of the territory of the current regional CRA. For higher flows, other water intake was envisaged further upstream at Allos Lake. The "grandiose" project, as said some contemporaries, will be quickly abandoned.

The Verdon canal

That will be carried out, bearing the name of canal du Verdon or the right of channel of Aix, will be different. It was the work, nor the Department of Basses-Alpes, but that much richer Bouches, specifically the city of Aix. The purpose was to drive the waters of the Verdon to the campaigns of Aix. The construction of this canal, long more than 80 kilometres, ranging from Quinson, in the Basses-Alpes, up to Aix, necessitated significant work: development of galleries dug in the cliffs of the gorges of Baudinard, and also construction of two tunnels, one of four of five kilometres. Also, had to in order to have a tank, lift a dam on, Verdon at Quinson, from a height of 13 meters. Testifying to the importance of this work, Le Monde illustré, weekly newspaper of wide national circulation, devoted them a page and an illustration in its issue of January 26, 1867. The text says that "more than 500 workers, almost all Piedmontese, work continuously. If we turn to the technical conditions for the end of the Second Empire, it is clear that the construction of the canal of the Verdon was, in his time, in hydraulic works, a leading company. It is well that expresses the journalist for le Monde illustré: "there still need considerable work of art. The whole shows that the channel of Aix, when completed, will be one of the most significant works of this kind carried out in France. "All this took time (the Decree of declaration of public utility of the canal date from 1863 and putting it into water was carried out only in 1873), not only because of the importance of the work, but also because of the objections of administrative and legal on the part of some common riparian.

Large storage dams projects

Other major projects will remain on paper for decades. All those that have been made, the dam of Serre-Ponçon on the Durance, Castillon and St. Croix on the Verdon, were in gestation for a century. Next to those which have been completed, it is interesting to examine those who were considered and abandoned, not so much because they are thereby less known, but especially because of the threat that constituted some of them to the site of the grand canyon.
Weather hazards played their part in the initiation of the hydraulic projects. In 1856, the major floods of the Rhône river and its tributary the Durance, ravaged cities and the countryside. During this same year, began spotting, on the course of the Durance and the Verdon, to determine the locations where it could build dams tanks. The site of Serre-Ponçon, but also that of Sisteron, were chosen on the Durance, and St. Croix, upstream of Gréoux on the Verdon. But these studies remained on paper and were, not forgotten, the suite will display it, but mothballed, without that no administrative action to be taken, for several decades.

Lac d'Allos and Rougon dam project

Abandoning the construction of dams, is contemplated, a second time, to the initiative of the Department of Bouches, use a natural reservoir, Allos Lake in 1862. This beautiful natural lake, one of the largest in Europe at this altitude, 2200 meters, is located in the upper Valley of the Verdon River, far downstream from the source of the river. After investigation, the Chief Engineer of the Ponts et chaussées of this Department came to this conclusion: "it is possible to take advantage of Allos Lake to store water for irrigation. Just run jobs that allow you to adjust the flow. "Engineers will no damage that would undergo their work to the undeniable beauty of natural sites like Allos Lake soucièrent. You would think in an attempt to absolve them, that sensitivity to these attractions had not yet developed in the 1860s. Yet could be read in the friend of order, journal of the Basses-Alpes as of July 19, 1836, under the pen of Dr. Pandey, a description enthusiastic of this lake surrounded by Mont Pelat and the massif of the towers: "but, it is mainly to the tourist that this mountain offers sublime emotions by the picturesque sites of beauty, the Majesty of its Lake surrounded by rocky peaks wild. '' The Department of Bouches, after estimating the cost of the work, he found both too high and risky. He abandoned the project.
In 1879, shortly after the impoundment of the channel of the Verdon, the national company of the agricultural canals took over the idea of deriving a part. In order to offset the decline in its flow, the project included the construction of a dam by 70 meters in height at the entrance to the grand canyon downstream Rougon. At the time where geographers such as Élisée Reclus and promoters of tourism as Adolphe Joanne wore to the attention of a broad public wild beauties great gorges, engineers, on behalf of the benefits of irrigation, were going to destroy without even asking the question, the panorama of the entrance to the Gorge, once again, this project, deemed too expensive, was filed without further action.
Almost twenty years later, in 1895, after several years of drought that led to a serious lack of water, irrigation and power, in the departments of Var and Bouches, one falls old projects from their cartons. It became again the site of Serre-Ponçon on the Durance and St. Croix on the Verdon. It also, chooses more upstream, between Saint-André and Castellane, the site of Castillon. At the same time, the idea of using the waters of the Lake of Allos again caught the attention of engineers, this time instead of the Bouches du Rhône, but var. Finally, these two departments were in competition for the use of the waters of Fontaine-l ' Evêque.


All these projects the waters of the Verdon, whose starting point was, we saw, much older, were resumed with a lot more toughness and willingness to result, in the last years of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, until the declaration of war in 1914, they took a dimension, either departmental or regional but national. In the early years of the 20th century, it was the Direction of hydraulics and agricultural improvements to the Ministry of Agriculture which sponsored studies and performances of these projects. Indeed, their purpose was primarily agricultural: increase the surface of arable land by irrigating. As already noted, the needs in water supply became also increasingly pressing. Work on the course of the Verdon, including diversion of Fontaine-l ' Evêque, should meet the demand of the large Provençal towns for drinking water.
Studies of projects of development of the Verdon, in the early years of the 20th century, little interested in the use of water as a source of industrial energy. However, the applications of electricity, as the driving force in the industry, but for lighting and urban transport by tram also began to grow.
The president of the society of the Grands Travaux de Marseille (GTM), Augustin Féraud, quickly understood. In 1900, he founded the society of electrical energy of the Mediterranean coast. One of the first projects of this new firm was implanted in the Verdon River the following year. It was build on the terrace of the Garret, just out of the grand canyon, a plant of electrical energy fueled by a fall of 115 meters in height. The water of the Verdon would be captured before the entry of the big gorges, near the bridge of Carejuan. She had to elapse, about twenty kilometres, in the bottom of the canyon, with a masonry line, a line largely underground, also dug in the sides of the cliffs of the Verdon. In 1902, the foreman Jacquette and Eugène Teissier, GTM civil engineer, came to live in La Palud. In the exploration of the bed of the canyon, they did help by inhabitants of this village and Rougon, peasants trout fishermen, even poachers, keepers of sheep and goats, La Palud boxwood pickers, perhaps also of Aiguines. All knew the scabrous trails leading trays to the river. Teissier, and especially Jacquette, quickly attracted to the depths of the chasms, probably were the first foreigners to the region who dared to descend. Adventure, Oh how difficult, the construction of these tunnels in the bed of the grand canyon lasted several years. It was the first materialization of one of these many development projects of the Verdon, including those that were made will come much later. The first major work took place in the heart of the gorges. They fled starts in the early years of the 20th century. This is precisely the time who lives to establish the real beginnings of tourism in gorges. The links between tourism and construction of the Verdon, already timidly previously woven tightens then, but the way both insidious and perverse that they will keep so far.

Saint-Pancrace - Digne
Bléone Valley - Digne

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