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Texte tiré du livre : Notre Provence (7 Mo) by F. Garrigue et A. Vérola



The terrain of Provence

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Limits geological History relief
Rivers the coast climate

I - LIMITS

Provence is located at the south-east of France.
It is limited to the south by the Mediterranean, in the west by the Rhone, north by a line active of Bollène in Sisteron and by the valleys of the Durance and Ubaye. To the east, the Italian border follows the valleys of Tinée and Roya.
It has a surface of approximately 25.000 square kilometres, i.e. the l/20ème of France. It measures 215 kilometers from Arles in Nice and 90 kilometers die Barcelonnette in Nice.

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II - HISTORY GEOLOGIQUE

The ground, such as we know it today, put several million years to be formed.
During a first time (the scientists say the primary era) existed a continent from which there remain nothing any more but the mountains of the Moors and Estérel.
Much later (tertiary era) place had the rising of the Pyrenees which gave rise to the Small Alps of Provence: Ventoux mount, mountain of Lure, Lubéron, Sainte-Victoire, Sainte-Baume. These mountains, directed of west in is, are only the prolongations of Pyrénée. During the same time, the rising of the Alps draws up in our area the Large Alps of Provence: Pelat mount, chain of Cheiron.
Between the large ones and the small Alps of Provence is a zone of plates: plates of Saint-Christol and Valensole, plan of Canjuers.
During a fourth time (quaternary era), the ground was slowly raised (8 to 10 meters), making emerge the plain of Comtat. The Durance was thrown then in a not very deep sea which it filled little by little. This area constitutes Crau where the thickness of the rollers exceeds by places 15 meters. The alluvia of the Rhone formed the plain of the Camargue.

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III - RELIEF

1. The Large Alps. -- They are consisted the south-western part of the large European chain. The highest top is the mount Pelat (3.053 m.) where several important rivers take their source. Unfortunately, certain valleys were deforested inconsiderately. Then the torrents carry the ground and the stones of the mountains and cover with rollers the best fields. To cure this plague and to give to the rivers a more regular mode, the Administration of National Forestry Commission carried out vast afforestations of pines and fir trees.

2. The Small Alps. -- They include/understand:

  • The mount Ventoux (1.912 m.) and the mountain of Lure (1.661 m.) who, in the prolongation one of the other, form only one chain. The northern slope is abrupt, the southern slope goes down soft inclined.
  • Lubéron is held on right bank of the lower Durance.
  • The chain of Sainte-Victoire dominates the valley of the Arc.
  • Sainte-Baume is a single mountain in Provence. Its northern slope has, indeed, a splendid forest (beeches, limes, maples, yews).
  • The small Alps of Provence are chains limestones. The tops form walls with the edges precipice: "baous".

The rare vegetation of the slopes is of three types:

  1. The forest of pines or oaks;
  2. The maquis of thorny brooms (argelas), large heathers, bay-trees, cistuses with hairy sheets, cane-apple bushes;
  3. Scrubland formed especially of odoriferous plants: myrtle, lavender, thyme, rosemary.

3. Moors and Estérel. -- Dominating the sea, these mountains have beautiful forests of cork oaks and chestnuts. But they are especially covered by an impenetrable maquis and seem "a corner of Corsica inserted in Provence".

4. Plates. -- They are held at an altitude of approximately 1.000 meters. In the calcareous ground, the rainwater easily infiltrates and hollow many caves called imbuts. The rivers cut a major bed (gorges of the Verdon).

5. Plains. -- Comtat is a well cultivated flat rich person.

Crau was at the Average Age only one vast desert. In XVIème century, the construction of the channel of Craponne fertilized all the North of this area. The Camargue forms a basin whose western edges and east are approximately four meters height. The center is occupied by the pond of Vaccarès of which the depth is on average 0 m 60. It today is entirely protected by a dam and increases several tens of meters per annum thanks to the contributions of the Rhone.

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IV - RIVERS

1. The Rhone and its Affluents. -- the Rhone forms the western limit of Provence. As you know it, it is a very large river. Its flow is equal to those of the Seine, the Loire and the Garonne joined together. Its width between Beaucaire and Tarascon is 450 Mr. But it very fast, is encumbered islands and sand banks, which makes it not very navigable. It passes to Avignon, Tarascon and, with Arles, is divided into two arms: the Large one and the Small Rhone. The Large Rhone moves towards Marseilles and passes to Saint-Louis, the Small Rhone moves towards the Gulf of Lions. Ouvèze sprinkles the plain of Comtat. The Durance takes its source in Hautes-Alpes, but the greatest part of its course proceeds in Provence. It is gigantic a 350 km length torrent to the risings abrupt, dangerous, with the fast slope. It sprinkles Sisteron and Cavaillon. It receives on the right Jabron and Calavon, on the left Ubaye which passes to Barcelonnette, Bléone which passes to Digne, the Adze, and the Verdon which passes to Castellane.

2. Coastal Rivers. -- many small rivers are thrown in the Mediterranean.

  • The valleys of Arc (70 km) and Argens (116 km), in the prolongation one of the other, made it possible to build as of Antiquity a main road which crosses interior Provence.
  • Huveaune takes its source in the solid mass of Sainte-Baume. It passes to Aubagne and is thrown in the sea in Marseilles.
  • VAr (135 km) takes its source with the Pelat mount, passes to Puget-Théniers and is thrown to the sea close to Nice. Its principal affluent is Tinée.

3. The Mode of the Rivers Provençaux. -- the rivers of our area are torrents. In summer, their bed is almost dry. At the times of rains, they grow bigger suddenly and roll a quantity of considerable water. The flow of the Durance can pass in a few hours from 54 to 9.000 cubic meters to the second, that of the Arc from 1 to 700 cubic meters, that of the VAr from 20 to 5.400 cubic meters. These rivers are also characterized by the enormous quantity of materials which they cart and which they deposit in the plain or with their mouth. The alluvia of Argens entirely filled the old Roman port of Frejus. Lastly, in High-Provence, the rivers dig in the tender limestone of the throats to the abrupt walls: large the cañon of the Verdon exceeds 1.000 m of depth. Sometimes even, these rivers disappear completely to reappear further in the form of sources. They are the sources called vauclusiennes, because of the Fountain of Vaucluse, which is most known.

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V - The DIMENSION

The coast of Provence is low and marshy in the west to the pond of Berre. These shores are dangerous for navigation because of the sand funds, they are about deserted. In the south and the east, the rock East coast. It forms many courses (Couronne courses, Croisette, Sicié, course of Garoupe). Very often the sea is inserted deeply between the rocks forming our admirable creeks. In the Blackcurrant south-east the highest cliffs of France (400 m) rise. With broad of Hyères three islands so beautiful are that they were called the "Gold islands". The peninsula of Giens was formerly an island that the sands brought by the sea connected to the ground.

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VI - CLIMATE

II is characterized by:

  • The dryness;
  • The softness of the temperature ;
  • Mistral.

1. The Dryness. -- the quantity of rain which falls in Provence is about equal to that which the Paris area receives: Paris, 530 Misters; Marseilles, 530 mm; Nice, 750 Misters But while in Paris it rains little, but often (more than 200 days), we on average have only 60 days of rain per annum. Violent ones storms burst, especially in autumn and in spring. Water is carried quickly with the sea by the torrents or disappears quickly in the calcareous ground. Long weeks pass, sometimes of the months without a cloud darkening the sky. The gardens must be irrigated. In the forests, the private trees of water, burned by the sun languish, and the least spark lights terrible fires.

2. The Temperature. -- Thanks to the vicinity of the Mediterranean, the temperature is almost uniform. Its amplitude, i.e. the difference between the temperature of July and that of January is very weak. Paris: 20° -- 2° = 18°; Marseilles: 22° -- 7° = 15°; Nice: 22° -- 10° = 12°.

The winters are very soft, especially on the East coast (Nice has only 10 days of frozen per annum). It is the Riviera to the blue sea, with the pure sky.

3. Mistral. -- the mistral is a cold, dry and impetuous wind which goes down from the mountains of the Cevennes and sweeps the western half of Provence. It is a true plague for the peasants.