Its inhabitants are called the Bas-Alpins or Bas-Alpines referring to the department of Basses-Alpes which was the former name of the department until 13 April 1970.
Bounded in the east by Italy, the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department is surrounded by the departments of Alpes-Maritimes, Var, Vaucluse, Drôme, and Hautes-Alpes. It can be divided into three zones depending on the terrain, climate, population, and economy:
The relief of the land compartmentalises the region: the enclosed valleys are difficult to access so dividing the country into as many local areas which communicate very little with the outside. In 1877, 55 communes only had access to trails or mule paths.
The seismic hazard is moderate (zone 3) to medium (zone 4) with different faults such as the Durance located in the department.
The main cities are Manosque, Digne-les-Bains, Sisteron, Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban, Oraison, Forcalquier, Les Mées, Pierrevert, Villeneuve, Sainte-Tulle, Gréoux-les-Bains, Barcelonnette, and Castellane.
The main river is the Durance which runs in the west of the department. It is in the Durance valley that the most important traffic routes are found: the A51 highway and the railway main line. Almost all of the department is in the watershed of the Durance except for the extreme south-east (the cantons of Annot and Entrevaux) which are drained by the Var.
The Durance and its tributaries have a torrential character, with a transition between the snow regime of the high valleys and the mediterranean rainfall regime in the lower mountains and below. The summer low water levels are severe and violent floods occur when heavy rains fall which is often in autumn. The Durance, Verdon, Bléone, and Buëch have had the construction of several dams and the diversion of parts of the river for irrigation and power generation in the 20th century.
The climate of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department is a Mediterranean climate degrading by altitude and latitude. In fact, while in the lower valleys and flat lands of Haute-Provence an inland Mediterranean climate prevails, by contrast in the hills it is more mixed with the valley of the Ubaye characteristic of the inner Alps, with a marked continentality: winters are very harsh with stormy summers. In between, the two influences mingle in the area of the Lower Alps. The characteristics of both climate trends are found throughout the department to a greater or lesser extent:
Haute-Provence is therefore very interesting for European astronomers looking for a partly cloudy night sky and untouched by light pollution. Many amateur observatories have been built and the Observatoire de Haute-Provence is one of the largest observatories in continental Europe. It is an active astronomy research centre.
|Climate data for Saint Auban|
|Average high °C (°F)||9.0
|Daily mean °C (°F)||4.3
|Average low °C (°F)||−0.4
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||45.0
|Average precipitation days (≥ 1 mm)||5.2||4.6||5.2||8.0||7.5||5.9||4.1||4.6||5.8||7.6||6.4||6.4||71.3|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||170||187||232||225||260||302||343||310||247||191||159||148||2,774|
|Source: Meteorological data for Saint Auban - 461m altitude, from 1981 to 2010 January 2015 (in French)|
|Arrondissement||# of communes|
The population was once fairly evenly distributed in the territory, including in the mountainous areas where mountain agriculture was well developed. From the middle of the 19th century, however, it began to decline due to a strong rural exodus. There were more than 150,000 inhabitants in 1850 but it fell to less than 100,000 after the First World War. It was not until 1960 that the trend changed upwards quite strongly from less than 90,000 in 1954 to nearly 140,000 in 1999 and 153,000 in 2005. However, if this figure is close to the number of inhabitants had department 150 years earlier, the distribution and activity of the population are very different. The population is now concentrated in the valley of the Durance and the South West of the department, and agriculture employs less than ever before. Services, mainly tourism and local services, is now the main industry.
According to the general census of the population, 32.8% of available housing in the department are second homes.
The department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence is one of the least densely populated of France with barely more than 20 inhabitants per km2. The population is concentrated mainly in the valleys of the Durance, the Bléone (up to Digne) and the nearby flat lands. The rest of the department is sparsely populated (less than 10 inhabitants per km2 over most of the territory).
Half of the Communes have less than 200 inhabitants, 17 communes have less than 50 and many villages have been abandoned. The towns are small: only Digne-les-Bains and Manosque approach or exceed 20,000 people. The arrondissements of Barcelonnette and Castellane are the two least populated arrondissements in France and the only ones in France with less than 10,000 inhabitants. The city of Castellane is the smallest sub-prefecture in France.
The ten most populous communes are (figures for 2010 and population change from 2009):
Nord-de-Provence was one of the 83 original departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790 under the Act of 22 December 1789. It was renamed Haute-Provence then Basses-Alpes.
On 12 August 1793, the department of Vaucluse was created from parts of the departments of Bouches-du-Rhône, Drôme, and Basses-Alpes. Basses-Alpes lost the canton of Sault to Vaucluse at this point. Seventeen years later, in 1810, the canton of Barcillonnette was transferred over to Hautes-Alpes.
The department of Basses-Alpes was occupied by fascist Italy from November 1942 to September 1943.
On 13 April 1970, the department of Basses-Alpes was renamed Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
Here is an unflattering excerpt from an article called "Basse Alpes" from the Atlas Larousse published at the beginning of the 20th century:
"Scattered whitish rocks stand out like bones, a thin topsoil where bushes languish, some mountain flowers and stunted trees ... these mountains form almost everywhere a dreadful desert which will not have more inhabitants: this is the Sahara without the sun of Africa, with the snows of Siberia." (P. Joanne).
On these steep slopes deforestation and flooding have resulted in a lack of fertile soil and agriculture has been the most miserable. There is a small harvest of wheat, wine in small quantities (but good), and truffles in large numbers. In the southern part, which has the climate of Provence, there are olive trees, mulberry trees, and orange trees. Aromatic plants abound, and there are 250,000 beehives. Manosque because its location is by far the second largest city of the department (with 5,500 inhabitants). Near Manosque are the lignite and gypsum mines. Despite a fairly active trade in olive oil, wine and raw silk, this department is also one of the least populated. (Larousse Illustrated Atlas, Printing Larousse, Paris, 1900).
Azure, a fleur de lys of Or surmounted by a Label of three points gules all over a terrace in base argent indented of three points.
A total of 199 communes and 15 cantons.
The rural exodus of the 19th and 20th centuries has had a significant impact on the population of towns: some were completely or almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants which led to the disappearance of fifty communes since the creation of the department. Some villages still exist and sometimes gave their name to a new commune created by mergers (e.g. La Mure-Argens) and others are nothing more than a pile of stones (like Levens in the commune of Majastres). They are sometimes listed on maps (e.g. Bédejun in the commune of Chaudon-Norante). At its formation, the department had 270 communes (262 after changing the limits of the department) but it is now 200. Apart from eight communes which were attached either to Hautes-Alpes (the three communes of the Barcillonnette canton, or to Vaucluse (the canton of Sault) many communes have di)sappeared.
In 1854, the state of communes in the department was as follows:
in total 256 towns and 30 townships.
Also some other noteworthy atypical cases:
There are still some cases of communal associations since 1973 (some have also gone more or less quickly in favour of a "simple aggregation"). For example, La Mure-Argens with Argens enjoying this status (with the Mayor delegated specifically for Argens, a city hall annex and an electoral district).
The department has an electoral tradition markedly old left. There are strong republican traditions such as the number of Political clubs during the French Revolution and the resistance to the coup of Napoleon III in 1851. The tradition of the left is also manifested in rural areas since all cantons devoted to agriculture very early showed an inclination to vote for Republican candidates. The installation of the large chemical plant at Saint-Auban also had a favorable effect on the vote for the left (see below) and has been a breeding ground for the political organization of the left in the department by the trade union movement. The power station at Sainte-Tulle also supplied many activists to leftist organizations.
Exceptions in the department: the alpine areas of Barcelonnette and the upper valley of the Verdon, both territories of emigration but also with a garrison of Chasseurs Alpins in the first. These areas, deeply Catholic, have long opted for elected conservatives - one of the most famous being the former Minister of the Third Republic, Paul Reynaud. A definition of the political choices of the county population is often translated as: the higher the altitude rises, the more the popular vote looks to the right.
Since the end of the First World War the department has been most often depicted, both by the Senate and the National Assembly, as an electoral issue of either the PCF or, especially, the socialist movement - the SFIO or the PS, or by the radical left.
A landmark of the Resistance during the Second World War, at Liberation the department deeply changed is roots to the left, a change that has not really been challenged since. A change, which may be temporary however, was recorded in 2007 when, for the first time in local political history, a right-wing deputy elected in the previous election (in 2002) was re-elected to the National Assembly.
François Mitterrand won the majority of votes of the inhabitants of the department in 1974, 1981, and 1988 although in the last two cases it was 53% of the vote. In 1995, Jacques Chirac was leading the second round of the presidential election with just over 52% but less than the national score. In 2002 it was Jean Marie Le Pen who topped the first round. Finally, in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy, who reached the top in the first round, with nearly 30% of the votes, gained 53.2% in the second round.
In European referendums, the department has voted "No" during the consultation on the Maastricht Treaty at 51.6% (majority of 2238 votes) and "No" during the consultation on the European Constitutional Treaty at 60.3% (majority 16,575 votes).
|•||French Communist Party||3|
|•||Citizen and Republican Movement||1|
|Union for a Popular Movement||2|
The department has, by its own characteristics (mountainous and low population), a character marked by a relatively weak industrial base and a move towards the creation of jobs in the areas of trades and services.
Thus, according to the survey on labour needs by ASSEDIC, most of the jobs available are now from the professions of sociocultural and sports activities (1031 offers listed out of 4752 total in the department), hotel (968 offers), cleaning (438 offers), catering (345 offers).
Of all these offers at least three quarters were for seasonal jobs.
However, significant changes in the sociological situation of the department are to be expected from the implementation of the ITER project at the mouth of the Durance valley.
In the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department agriculture has had a very important place in the economy but the food-producing polyculture has given way to a much more specialized agriculture oriented around fruit, cereals and high value added products (honey, perfumes, and essential oils, cosmetics, olives, and wine).
The cultivated species are temperate species, especially those at higher altitude, and Mediterranean species at low altitude. The production is of a wide variety. In recent years, an increase in the cultivation of lavender has emerged, particularly in the area of Saint-André-les-Alpes.
The utilised agricultural area is 165,809 hectares mostly devoted to farming activities such as grass meadows for over 96,000 hectares.
According to the agricultural census of 2000, the department has 2,947 farms, more than the 1,500 farms under the previous census carried out twelve years previously. The average farm size has increased from 32 to 56 hectares.
This is an area of arboriculture particularly along the Durance, which is the main farming area in terms of number of farms (829 in total).
It is followed by the crop sector (mostly grain) with 740 farms with the rest in the livestock sector.
One of the characteristics of the department is that there are 614 farms devoted to breeding animals other than cattle. These are for the breeding of sheep and goats, including the production of milk used for cheese making under Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) for Banon cheese.
The Alpes de Hautes-Provence department is a region where 49.1% of the area is forested or 343,691 hectares, with an average rate of 39.4% for the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. The National Office of Forests (ONF) manages 86,000 hectares. The main species exploited are Scots pine, black pine, larch, pubescent oak (or white oak), and beech. Fir and spruce are less common. The 2003 heat wave caused the decline of many species of trees, consequently accelerating the return of Mediterranean oaks, alders and linden.
Industry is relatively small in terms of business establishments but has several relatively large companies.
At the end of 2004 the department had 937 establishments with 17 exceeding fifty employees.
This is particularly the case of the historic plant at Saint-Auban (the Arkema factory formerly Elf-Atochem), the Sanofi of Sisteron factory (north of Saint-Auban), and Manosque (L'Occitane factory). Some more specialized factories (olive oil, perfumes, wines) produce products with high added value.
At the end of 2006, according to ASSEDIC data, the industrial sector employed 4,261 employees in the department, or a little over 14% of private sector employees.
In the Chemistry sub-sector there are 1,761 employees and agribusiness has 1,205 employees: these are the two main divisions.
The chemical sector includes segments of: pharmacy (Sanofi factory, cited above, with more than 650 employees), basic chemistry (Arkema factory, with more than 500 employees), and cosmetics with more than 450 people.
The industrial sector has lost nearly 400 jobs since 2001 particularly from downsizing at Arkema and despite the good financial health of Total S.A. which owns it. This may change with the implementation of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).
The Building sector and public works account for 1,387 active establishments with more than half (758) institutions without any employees (artisans established their behalf). In late 2006, the sector employed more than 3,900 employees including nearly 1,500 in the public works sector particularly driven by the completion of major infrastructure (motorway A51 and others).
After the depopulation caused by the rural exodus, the department pioneered agritourism in the 1950s although it is no longer the leader in France in this field. Approximately 120 farms offer tourist activities (accommodation, catering or leisure), with 70 certified.
The tertiary sector includes very different enterpriises.
Commercial activities have undergone considerable change, and had in 2004 2,473 establishments but with 1,396 (over 56%) with no employees.
In late 2006, however, this sector employed 6,478 people in more than 1,000 establishments. Employee headcounts have risen sharply since 2001 as there have been a total of 627 additional jobs (more than 10% of the workforce) since that date.
The number of employees is about 22% of the workforce employed in the private sector.
This has resulted from the development, particularly in the cities of Manosque and Digne, of major retail shopping areas. Nearly 1,600 employees in the services sector are employed there.
Service activities cover a total of 7,322 institutions in late 2004 with 4,323 (over 59%) with no employees.
It is this sector, however which has the largest number of establishments with more than 50 employees - 96 establishments.
At the end of 2006, this sector employed, among others, 1,141 employees in the transport sector, 3,425 employeees in business services, and more than 4,000 in the field of services to individuals.
These sectors are evolving and increasing their activities.
The positive migration flow for the department often originates from the arrival of retired households, due in particular to the significant increase in numbers of elderly and home care services.
The transport sector created sixty additional jobs but it was especially the service sector enterprises and service to individuals (e.g. health and social activity) experienced a dramatic and significant growth.
The health sector has substantially increased its importance in the economy with over a thousand more jobs, especially in the segments of short-term caregiving and maintenance, with nearly 850 related jobs.
This is largely explained by the fact that the major industrial companies in the department, such as companies in the construction sector, use temporary workers, instead of hiring full-time.
In the canton of Volonne, where Saint-Auban is, the reduction in industrial jobs (160 jobs lost on the Arkema work site) is partially offset by the increase in temporary employment (100 additional jobs ).
Similarly, in Manosque, the first city of the department in terms of employment, and sustainable development (2,000 more jobs in five years), the increase in temporary jobs has been spectacular - reaching 400 jobs. These jobs are in, among other things, the cosmetics industry, the construction industry and public works, and retail. Large retail chains in the city prefer this mode of hiring to permanent staff.
In the field of health and social activities, there has been significant job creation also with 760 more jobs, bringing to 13% the share of employees in the sector in terms of total private employment. This increase is particularly in hospitality and accommodation with nearly a thousand employees, an increase of about 150 jobs since 2001, while the area of home care now employs 741 employees instead of 457 five years earlier.
Finally, note that voluntary work, with nearly 1,000 jobs offered, is also present in the department.
The beautiful scenery provides the background to many activities and sights. Eleven villages have been classified as having special architectural character. In particular there are:
Famous dishes from the commune:
Weekly Newspaper: Haute Provence info
Free Newspapers: J'y Vais Provence, a bimonthly journal. Cultural information and portraits of artists of the department.
A free bimonthly magazine is associated with the website providing close-ups of artists and events in the region. Distributed to 4,000 copies in town halls, tourist offices and shops, it is to this day the strongest support media for the department.
Many roads in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence are narrow and winding due to terrain. These natural conditions make access to certain parts of the department rather difficult, especially in winter, and particularly the communes in the Arrondissements of Barcelonnette and Castellane. They are therefore quite isolated from the rest of the department and the region.
There are several railway lines in Alpes de Haute-Provence. These are:
Old abandoned lines:
The families Simiane, Agoult, and Ponteves, nobles of Provence
(TV films in Italics)
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Basses-Alpes.|