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Villages around the Gorges du Verdon

​The riverain villages of the gorges

When August 14, 1905, Camus, Audibert father and son Audibert regained their village of Rougon, their impressions on the adventure they came to live had to be different. Happy to have pocketed a tidy sum for price of their fatigues, they had probably not unlike the leader of the expedition that had just ended, the belief that they have accomplished a great feat. Most of the sites encountered on their journey in the bed of the Verdon, Pigeons, balms-manage, balm high balm of Mann, and many others, they already knew them. They were, of long date, listed, named, visited by the peasants of Rougon, La Palud, of Aiguines, for generations. It was their ancestral territory of picking, fishing, course of goat herds. The enthusiasm expressed by this Parisian gentleman, this slightly haughty scientist, discover landscapes that they were not watching them, even to force the too know, caused no doubt their smirk. The Rougonais quickly returned to their daily toil in their fields, their sheep, their mules and their asses.

The teacher of Rougon

Their teacher, Isidore Blanc, who had trained them in this curious adventure, was also, for several generations, a child of the country. We knew about his passion for the gorges, born from the encounter with Armand Janet almost ten years earlier, in the village when he attempted his first crossing of the grand canyon by boat. Isidore white regularly identified by running the beauties, and already for several years, he was photographing. Before the exploration of Martel in 1905, he had already made edit a series of his photographs of gorges, but the General views of Rougon and La Palud, postcards and even more ethnographic subjects, like this caravan of mules on the sun deck. Isidore White was in a sense an enterprising man. His attempt to publicize the beauties of his region by the dissemination of photographs can attest, as the acquisition of a motorcycle, well before 1914, for travel in the region. Rougon teacher was a wise, passionate about beekeeping, perfectly selfless, poet in his time. He loved to annotate some of his views of the Verdon couplets or quatrains of his pen, it must be said, not always happy inspiration. Here is an example. At the bottom of the view of pas de L'imbut, is printed this couplet:
"At the bottom of this Erebus where scolds the torrent. Cloudy, the heart sinks and terror takes you. »
White was modest, probably too modest. Character key from knowledge of the gorges, and the dissemination of tourism in this place, until his accidental death in 1933, present at all times on the premises, he has never spared his sentence, always available to render service. He described himself by this term borrows discretion: "I am the keeper of the gorges." He has never protested when, in its relations written by early explorations, Martel, relegating it to the same plane as the peasants of Rougon, assigns a subordinate role and does not have a word of appreciation for the valuable information provided to him by the teacher.

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Recognition and consequences

This inelegant omission sign perhaps of a certain contempt for the villagers (Martel, in contrast, spares no thanks to Armand Janet or GTM engineer, Tessier), was later repaired, but by others as Martel. In the preface of a guide of the gorges of the Verdon which dates from the 1950s, E. Ardoin, Director of the TCF, speaks of "the enthusiasm of a guide unique, poet and pioneer, who practiced these wild places since his more tender youth, which had led my master e. Martel, and which made us share his lyricism of the terroir, drawn to dark corners where still resided the old deities of the torrent; I named Isidore Blanc».
The easy success of second full course of the grand canyon in 1906, using belts kapok, donna Isidore Blanc the idea, shared with Armand Janet, to offer tourists this hiking tour. He himself was the leader of the expedition, Camus, the Audibert and other farmers of Rougon he had trained and recruited, filling the role of carriers. Way to try to make better known the gorges, and perhaps provide some resources to his compatriots. A Guide - Booklet illustrated published by the Syndicat d'initiative of the Valley of the Verdon, circa 1910, bears the words: 'for all information about the detailed visit of the gorges, guides, equipment, etc, please contact Mr. Blanc, teacher at Rougon.

Three villages: Rougon, La Palud and Aiguines

That could wait for a possible tourism development the inhabitants of the three coastal villages of gorges? At the beginning of the 20th century, none of them had the hotel facilities to the satisfaction of the needs of the tourists wishing to visit the gorges, accustomed to comfortable hotels of the Riviera or cities. Rougon, located outside the route from Castellane to Moustiers, was no Inn or restaurant worthy of the name. It was an Inn in Aiguines, but strictly regional interest, not listed in guidebooks. La Palud could if boasts a hotel, the family Turrel, mentioned in the Baedeker and Joanne guides. Perhaps there ate good with home-style cooking of trout from the Verdon and hunting products. But modern conveniences were sorely missed in these mountain villages without running water or electricity. This kind of establishment could agree to athletes who wanted to down at the bottom of the gorges or even browse a portion of the canyon. Hotel Turrel then put them in connection with the paluards familiar with the background of the torrent, making peasants, such as Rougon, office of guides and porters. But hurry tourists who simply round the Gorge in horse carriage or automobile preferred to do step for the night Castellane and Moustiers in Draguignan. If they stopped at La Palud, it was for a good lunch time.
In 1906, Rougon had barely three hundred inhabitants, La Palud was far from the five hundred, and Aiguines exceeded little. These figures are misleading. Did not see the hurry traveler who passed through La Palud, grouped around the Church, school, the Town Hall and a few stalls, only half of the villagers. 226 others live outside the metropolitan area, the largest number in homes of the large yet close to Bourras, hamlets of Boulogme, Bourbon, other in farms near the cliffs of the Verdon, Meyreste or La Maline. The same phenomenon occurs in Rougon. A quarantine of households live in houses huddled beneath the rock of a feudal Castle. The other, 30, occupy farms grouped the small hamlets such as Leone and Entreverges, or isolated, the vast territory of the commune. These two villages have an only agricultural vocation. Some artisans, often at the same time farmers, shoemakers, bakers, masons, tailors of the habit, blacksmiths, have no other customer than the villagers. La Palud, was a century earlier of potters producing common earthenware dishes, without the quality of Moustiers. It also noted the existence, in the past, wood Turners working boxwood from the riverbed.

Aignuines wood Turners

Aiguines, on the other hand, the presence of many wood Turners already attested in texts from the 17th century, was strengthened at the beginning of the 20th century. In addition to the traditional family workshops is were implanted one or two modest plants, doing work as a dozen workers. They made everyday household objects in boxwood and small toys (tops, bilboquet...), and especially the studded balls. The demand for this game very widespread in the South of the France was important. These balls, larger than those of today steel, were shot from large strains of boxwood.
They were found in the forests of the territory of Aiguines, but the oldest, largest, shrubs those who had escaped the depredations of the villagers were in the riverbed. Some intrepid boxwood cutters would look them by breathtaking and rugged paths. The peasants of Aiguines workers thus had intimate knowledge of the second part of the canyon. Their lemmas and daughters earned pennies by planting the nails used to cover large areas of boxwood. They knew decorate the balls by inserting in the middle of the Iron nails, a few nails copper drawing the initials of the happy purchaser or circles, arabesques for embellishing the railways balls. The village of Aiguines, facing South, at the foot of the Hill of Marges, turning his back on the canyon, was served by a secondary road ending in cul-de-sac. Outside the circuit of visit of the gorges, it were not so tourist vocation. It will take much later, the construction of the road on left bank of the Verdon, the Corniche Sublime, to give this role.

What remedies against emigration?

In the early years of I century the vast territory of the three villages bordering the grand canyon of the Verdon is thus inhabited by less than 1400 holidays, small farmers own their meagre lands, craftsmen, workers wood Turners. This shortage of men struck the geographer Onésime Reclus, younger brother of Elisha. Drafting, under the auspices of the TCF, the volume on the Basses-Alpes of the picturesque Atlas of the France, he wrote in 1909, about of the gorges of the Verdon region: «There is nobody to live at the bottom of those narrow-mindedness and those of most of the tributaries of the Verdon.» There are few families in the Highlands; overall the region is almost widow inhabitants and more and more it drains. "The emigration of the young rural layers became at this time a major concern of the public authorities, by local elites. In the region of the Verdon medium as in the rest of the Department, the demographic fall had begun since several decades. The population of La Palud increased from 804 inhabitants in 1861 to 463 in 1906, that of Rougon, 485 in 1851 to 308 in 1906, that of Aiguines Finally, 934 inhabitants in 1851 to 570 in 1906. The departure of young people was probably more to a desire for social promotion, one of the benefits of education to indigence.Deducting them in their home country? Onésime Reclus advocated reforestation in order to remedy the deterioration of arable land by gullies. The office of waters and forests had put on foot, since 20 years, major campaigns of plantations. But, by a perverse mechanism, to proceed with the expropriation of common lands, and probably some private lands, the company deprived farmers in the use of these gasies lands, as they were called in Provence.

What other remedies were proposed to stem the flow of emigration?

We see them very well exposed in a work published at Digne in 1914, the Haute-Provence, study of regional geography. Gabriel Eisenmenger, authors and Christian Cauvin are, a Professor of natural sciences and other history and geography at the Lycée de Digne. They extensively describe the mechanisms of rural emigration in their Department. The consequences are harrowing. "Everywhere from abandoned farms, of the deserted hamlets, partly ruined villages, fields delivered to the vain food." This is so little shiny. And the future? "It would be laughing if the population knew to make better use of the resources of the country. How? Considerations on the improvement of agriculture are unconvincing. The authors stress more extensively on two points that are likely to bring prosperity to the country and to stem emigration: the industry and tourism.
As already at the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century, the means proposed to promote the industry remain the same. They are based solely on "planning regular, methodical of the watercourse of the Haute-Provence. Projects of dams on the Verdon and Alios Lake development, catchment of Fontaine-l ' Evêque, are extensively cited. Cities in drinking water supply and irrigation of the land were the benefits expected from these developments. But, in 1914, date when this book was published more than at the beginning of the century when it had developed the major development of the Verdon, the importance of hydropower projects for industrial enterprises and transport, is more clearly perceived.
The second hope in a 'bright future', according to Eisenmenger and Cauvin, is based on the development of tourism. The Haute-Provence is still ignored and yet few areas have also comprehensive of which can attract travellers. "The authors agree to the non-rational management of hotels, but they note that the region is"already pervaded by a number of large tourist buses. There are still here, the duality tourism and hydroelectric development of the rivers.

The beginnings of actions of the TCF

As villagers from the banks of the Verdon, how were they themselves means to improve their lot?' No doubt with good reason, they seemed to put little hope in the development of tourism. Other texts published in these years seem to prove them right. J. Doyle, Director of the association General Automobile, writes in his book La France unknown, published in 1911: "Le Verdon, very laughing in the upper Valley and fearsome appearance in fantastic gorges bottlenecks, is still the rivers less travelled, the lesser known of Provence, while the roads bordering it are always very easy. '' And Gustave Tardieu, who has seen, had already published a relationship of his visit to the Gorge in 1892, pointed out in the guide the Provence Alps he published in 1912, 'that most of the most picturesque sites are still away from the tracks' and that 'hotels and hostels leave still a lot to be desired as comfortable and cleanliness.
Despite the publication by Martel of his complete exploration of the canyon in journals also broadcast that the Nature and World Tour, the latter fully reproduced in 1907 in a booklet published by the Syndicat d'initiative of Draguignan, the number of tourists explore the gorges du Verdon grew very slowly between 1905 and 1914. Martel forecasts about the visit of the canyon, "for long, no doubt, invisible or the less non-visitable", seem to occur.
Without taking into account these pessimistic comments, the Board of Directors of the TCF decided to devote a sum of 3,000 francs for the establishment of a trail at the bottom of the Gorge. The proposed work were designed, not to browse all of the canyon, but only "to make more readily available at any point the bottom of the Gorge. After consultation with the departmental services of the Ponts et chaussées, it was decided that this trail would start in the hamlet of Meyreste, which had the advantage of being located very close to the cliffs of Verdon and within walking distance of the road that runs from La Palud to Moustiers. September 1908 the monthly of the TCF number gives an account of a four-day trip organized by the Touring Club, 12-July 15, 1908. The start and finish were Nice. The choice by the line of railway from Nice to Digne was dinner and overnight in Saint-André. Initially of Rougon, the third day was devoted to the visit of the grand canyon. You could choose a bicycle ride or a walk. We had to meet for lunch at the auberge Turrel of La Palud, then everyone descended deep gorges, under Meyreste by the trail newly built by the TCF. The Group would then spend the evening and night at Moustiers. The next day, hook obliged to visit the beautiful source of Fontaine-l ' Evêque.
The excursion of the Touring Club's 1908 looks strong with that which had been organized in 1901 by the French Alpine Club, and the other two the following year, under the aegis, one of the Syndicat d'initiative of Draguignan, across the Valley of the Verdon. There is not mention of other group travel Gorge before the 1920s. For individual visits or those informal and non-official character, very small groups, they have left very few traces written in magazines or newspapers.


It however retains two relations of excursions in the gorges du Verdon, a 1911 of the following year. Their interest is that they emanate from botanists identify rarities of the flora of the region. The first, entitled Excursion to the Gorges du Verdon and on the limits of the departments of the Var, the Basses-Alpes and the Alpes-Maritimes, signed by Émile Jahandiez and R. Mollandin de Boissy, was published in the annals of the society of the natural history of Toulon. The two authors, "in the company of Mr. Joseph Arbost, botanist well-known Nice and Albert Jahandiez', parties of Hyeres by car, spent a week in the Verdon in July 1911. Reading these pages is instructive. The interest of these city dwellers to the cities of the coast to the Verdon is not limited to their passion for Botany. They are also the beauty of the panoramas, ancient and recent hydraulic works projects, mentioning the judgment, two years ago, tunnels and Galetas plant sites. They also reveal a deep understanding of the region, not only its flora, but also his men. Because they are not in their first trip into the Gorge, as they tell it to us during a citation of botanical order: «we review into a cavity below steep cliffs, the curious fern discovered by us in this place two years ago and that we reported under the name of Aspieniumfahandiezii.» The place where this rare fern was found is located between Aiguines and Les Salles, near Fontaine-l ' Evêque. The research of these ferns where other rare plant species is not unique to our authors.
They report the pickings made previously in the region by other botanists Provencal, those of Abel Albert in 1874, in the escarpments of Marges, the mountain that dominates Aiguines, and those, made ten years earlier, their colleague and friend Mr Bertrand de Roquebrune, near Carejuan bridge. We meet thus in the gorges du Verdon, next to ordinary tourists who are content to the circuit by the road, adjacent to the rare sports from the bottom of the canyon explorers, another kind of travellers, these curious rare species botanists come collecting on the banks of the torrent.

Botanical expedition

A bit like hunters and fishermen, the activities of the latter category of excursionists require time and patience. To complete their painstaking investigations, botanists come into relationship with local populations. After a night spent in the Alpine Inn, E. Jahandiez and his companions leave the village of very good morning, with a mule of the village which ait office guide. From the top of the left bank cliffs that dominate the gorges, the latter, "collector trade of wood Turners, explain what are these trails of Acrobat" which lead to the riverbed. After a journey of beech woods, the race makes 'cross the vast grounds, once cultivated and today covered with lavender, the abandoned farm of small forest'. After six hours of walking, they arrive at inhabited the great forest farm. Farmers, they know already, make them welcome. Spurred by scientific curiosity, four botanists, led by their guide on the provisions of the lunch, borrow then one of these trails of boxwood cutters to perform "a descent where the arms were provided to work as legs" until the riverbed, near the pas of the Estellie. Downstairs, exploring the near caves of the shore, they are pleased to reap a "rare campanulacee, Phyleuma Villarsii'. They once again pay tribute to the pioneer of the intensively botanized in Verdon, their late friend Albert, who had already explored this place forty years earlier.
The day ends at Moustiers, «coquet bourg, one of the cleanest Provence». The next day, travellers take the road from Castellane to Moustiers, visiting, along the way, the waterfalls of Saint-Maurin, rising above Mayreste, "miserable hamlet of a few hovels", reaching around noon, for lunch at the auberge Turrel, 'this poor village' of La Palud. Under Rougon, the Sublime Point, (panorama, reported by two posts established by the TCF has now received its name), we take a few shots 'of this wonderful show. Finally, in a storm downpour, we gain Castellane for the night.

The botanist who believed in tourism

Another botanist of Provence, nice Fritz Mader, known to Jahandiez and his companions, herborisait also in the gorges of the Verdon at the same time. Reflecting the same concerns as those of members of the concerned TCF of tourist development of trails, Mader delivers its opinion on what there is to do in order to make it easily accessible to look 'many beautiful aspects of this wonder of nature. Among other viewpoints, it prefers the view from the cliffs on the Masri, not far from the farmhouse of Tosks. The paths to reach this point were departing from La Palud, long, tedious, and sometimes improper. It proposes to improve the trail. He also suggested that tourists may use, as he did himself the tunnels built by GTM in the first part of the canyon, provided that work, abandoned two years does not resume. Use the tunnels for the first half of the journey of the Gorge by the background later, from the 1920s, a common practice. Fritz Mader seems not interested in complete crossing of the canyon, it deems may, like others, long and tedious.

The tourist action of Armand Janet

On the other hand, one of those who had managed this complete crossing twice, in 1905 and 1906, Armand Janet, published in the issue of February 1913 of the journal of the French Alpine Club, the mountain, an article entitled the visit the Gorges du Verdon, practical information. Income on the site of the canyon in the following years, "with fellow determined to attempt the crossing", he had to give it up twice, due to a flow of too much torrent, or appearance troubled waters as a result of storms. "It is impossible to consider making the crossing of the gorges du Verdon is not absolutely clear," he wishes to clarify. In an appendix to his article in February 1913, Janet says 'a measure ingenious', which is to have installed on the Verdon, near Carejuan bridge, a scale showing the flow of the torrent. He noted in this Appendix at the end of August of the year 1912, "the crossing could be completed in two days only by Mr. J. Paitre, Marseille, and two of his friends, accompanied by Mr. Blanc, schoolmaster of Rougon, with two carriers". It appears that between 1908 and 1912, to interpret according to Armand Janet, there was no other complete crossing of the canyon. Also, note for this last tour, the shortening of the time of crossing: "she was built with a single bivouac at the Mann Bannie caravan arriving dinner in La Palud to 19 hours. Kapok belts, inaugurated in 1906, made wonder. The inaugural expedition of Martel of 1905, technically inadequate, who had taken four days of immense fatigue, is already distant.
Janet gives in this text of 1913 all practical information useful as well for a hypothetical crossed complete for a partial journey of exploration of the canyon. We learn how to put the kapok belt that "guides, small nucleus of four to six mountaineers Rougon and La Palud grouped by Mr. Blanc" are available to hikers. He advises from "getting into the water fully clothed and shod: the water trapped under the clothing layer wasted no time to take a temperature near that of the body, and the movement is given subsequently is to ensure against any cooling while the clothes will dry on the body. Notwithstanding the "great facilities given by Mr. Turrel, owner of the hotel de La Palud, to tourism", despite "the jurisdiction and the helpfulness of La Palud guides", Janet advises against the choice of this village as a starting point for excursions in the Gorge. It considers it appropriate to arrive very early in Rougon, village chosen as starting point, coming either from Draguignan, Castellane. Finally, Janet poses the question at the end of this article written in the last months of 1912, of the possibility of impoundment of the tunnels of the GTM construction.
Between 1905 and 1914, the assessment of the development of tourism in the gorges du Verdon is not very bright. Busy travelers, few probably, "in this century of motoring, travelled from Castellane to Moustiers (or vice versa) without suspecting something another Gorge as seen from the road. Some will do step, a lunch time, at the hotel Turrel of La Palud. Very few hikers of the cities of the coast, will try, a few days a year, and not all years, the crossing of the grand canyon using the small team of mountain guides. The economic benefits to the inhabitants of the three coastal villages of the gorges are very low.

Hope in hydraulic works

That could wait for the villagers of the area of Verdon of the development of a hydraulic or hydroelectric industry? It is difficult to know. However here's a clue. In June 1893, an engineer, Athanore Edmundo, who sometimes resided in Moustiers sometimes in Draguignan, perhaps acting on behalf of the great works of Marseilles, had signed an act of acquisition of a plot of land near the Verdon, belonging to the municipality of Moustiers. This is the place where it had decided to build the hydroelectric plant, at a place called the Garret. A clause provided that the assignment would be cancelled if the work were not carried out in ten years after the signing of the Act, or in 1903. For reasons that remain unknown, at this date, Galetas plant site was little progress and the construction of tunnels in the riverbed had not begun. Worried to see the project fail, Athanore Edmundo, in the fall of 1902, addressed to the Ministry of Agriculture a request for an extension of the work. He was supported by the municipality of Moustiers who made register of proceedings, 12 October 1902: "The Council, after having deliberated, requests the Minister of Agriculture Mr. and Mr. the prefect of Basses - Alpes to consider this request and you want to well to give the period requested, all workers in the country looking forward the implementation of this important work". Probably at the initiative of Athanore Edmundo in the following weeks, it defeated the recall from the communes of Rougon and La Palud. The Mayor of Rougon will be registered in the registry of the deliberations the text of the query of Moustiers, without changing a single term. As of November 22, 1902, the Town Hall of La Palud adopts a slightly different wording: "whereas the execution of this important work, so eagerly desired by workers in the country, would, in this corner of the Alps so deprived in this respect, the creation of industrial establishments that would ensure the prosperity of any country...". "The decision of La Palud turns into a real petition. The content of the request is followed by the signing of 47 individuals, 'all owners or inhabitants of La Palud'.
It would be unwise to give too great significance to this kind of document. Farmers, merchants and craftsmen of the villages of Rougon and La Palud have thus expressed in favour of the continuation of the work to the solicitation of Athanore Edmundo. The latter had a more obvious personal interest in their pursuit as the peasants of La Palud and Rougon. Nevertheless, these villagers, without clearly analyze the benefits they could remove, were in principle in favour of execution of works likely to give some life to their country in full decline. Their hopes were not so much a job-oriented. These peasants owners, despite their poverty, were not unemployed and were too proud to accept the hard work of construction worker. When in 1905 work began to the tunnels, the GTM company, already mentioned, was forced to appeal to the foreign labor. The participation of the inhabitants of La Palud and Rougon was limited to hire mules for the charrois.

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