The Provence is a historical and cultural region as well as an ancient province in the south-east of France, extending from the left bank of the Lower Rhone to the west, to the river Var in the east and bordered South by the Mediterranean.
The Provence is now part of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, and corresponds to the departments of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var and part of Vaucluse, Alpes-Maritimes and Drôme.
The relief of Provence is globally undulating with, in its central part, impressive pre-Alps and to the east and north-east the Southern Alps culminating in 3 412 m at the Aiguille de Chambeyron (Alpes- Provence). Further south is the Pelat massif which amounts to 3 050 m. On both sides of the Var and east of the Verdon, the Préalpes de Castellane, which culminate in the Puy de Rent at 1 996 m, are made up of plates and links oriented west-east. The Plans of Haute-Provence delimit the prealps of the central hills (Plateau of Valensole, Plan of Canjuers, Plateau of Albion). To the west, the massif of Mont Ventoux, located mainly in Comtat Venaissin, overflows in Provence where its altitude reaches 1,600 m in the forest of Sault. The Montagne Sainte-Victoire, famous for the paintings of Cézanne, dominates the Pays d'Aix. We can also mention the Alpilles in the Bouches-du-Rhône, the Grand Luberon in the Vaucluse, culminating in the Mourre Nègre and finally the Sainte-Baume massif, which extends from west to east, Gémenos -Rhône) in Mazaugues (Var).
The coasts of Marseille to Menton are rather steep (Calanques, Maures, Esterel). Erosion due to severe summer thunderstorms may constitute fairly deep gullies.
The west of the region is marked by the plain of Crau and the Camargue formed by the delta of the Rhone, which constitute the only real flat spaces of the provençal region.
The watercourses that cross the Provence :
- The Rhône forms the western border of the region. The Rhone has the second flow of all the rivers flowing in the Mediterranean after the Nile. Throwing itself into a sea without a tide, the river formed a delta (La Camargue).
- The Durance originates at 2,390 meters above sea level in the meadow of Gondran. The source is near the old Fort of Gondran, in the commune of Montgenèvre in the Hautes-Alpes, near the Italian border. It flows into the Rhone a few kilometers south-west of Avignon. The Durance is a river known as "capricious" and it was once dreaded for its floods.
(The Provençal tradition says that the three plagues of Provence were the Mistral, the Durance and the Parliament of Aix).
- The Verdon, takes its source at the foot of the "Tête de la Sestrière" (altitude 2,572 meters), and flows into the Durance after having traveled some 175 kilometers. Its gorges are particularly famous.
- The Var, which rises at an altitude of 1,790 meters, south of the Col de la Cayolle, and travels 114 kilometers in the Alpes-Maritimes (it no longer crosses the department that bears his name) before entering the sea Mediterranean between Nice and Saint-Laurent-du-Var. The Var, is considered as the natural border between Provence and the country of Nice.
- The Argens crosses the department of Var from Seillans to Fréjus, where it flows into the Mediterranean.
The Provence is a region with a Mediterranean climate with hot and dry summers. The winters are mild near the coast, usually wet to the east, but roughest in the north and north-east (Pelat, Ubaye, Préalpes de Digne) where the climate becomes alpine.
In its central and mediterranean part, the vegetation of Provence is of the garrigue type, the summer drought making it particularly vulnerable to fires. On the other hand, in its most eastern and alpine part, it becomes more verdant and damp.
The main wind is the mistral, whose speed can go beyond 110 km / h. It blows between 120 and 160 days per year.
The historical language of Provence is Occitan. Several associations work for the development of Provençal. In 1854, around Frédéric Mistral, Félibrige was formed in Châteauneuf-de-Gadagne, a literary association whose objective was to restore the Provencal language and to codify its spelling by literature and especially by poetry. In 1904, Mistral was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for Mirèio (Mireille).
The plain of Crau
At the foot of the Alpilles, between the Camargue and the pond of Berre, the plain of Crau covers 600 km². There are very distinctly two Crau:
- The northernmost Crau, the most fertile, enhanced by irrigation thanks to Adam de Craponne, where many crops are grown, including the production of "hay of Crau" (AOC), which is particularly renowned for its nutritional value .
- To the South, lies the Dry Crau. This semi-desert pebble plain shelters a vegetation adapted to the climatic rigors. This landscape is called the coussoul in Provençal and it is there that the sheep graze since Antiquity. This pastoral practice makes it possible to maintain an exceptional ecosystem, sheltering in particular numerous birds : the Eurasian Stone-curlew, the Egyptian Vulture, the Little Bustard or the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse that lives in France only in the Crau.
The Coussoul of the Crau and the pastoralim
Steppe of exception, the Coussoul of the Crau retraces 6000 years of interactions between the nature, the man and the sheep. For millennia the delta left by the Durance has been shaped by the herds to create a unique environment in the world, sheltering an exceptional and diversified fauna inherited from the African steppes.
Since the 1990s, the actors of the environment and the agricultural world have joined forces to safeguard the Crau, its exceptional nature and the agricultural activities that support it. Today, the coussoul of the Crau enjoy a status of strong protection: a Natural Reserve of more than 7400 hectares. To protect and support this dual natural and pastoral heritage, farmers and environmental actors have designed a joint project: in September 2004, the Conservatory of Studies of Ecosystems of Provence (CEEP) and the Chamber of Agriculture of Bouches du -Rhone were appointed co-managers of the Nature Reserve.
The coussoul of the Crau has been traversed by sheep since Antiquity as evidenced by numerous vestiges of Roman sheepfolds. The 19th century saw the creation of the "Mérinos d'Arles" breed, renowned for the fineness of its wool, which is now raised for meat following the collapse of wool yarns. The coussoul is grazed mainly in spring before transhumance in the Alps.
The Cistercian Abbey of Sénanque :
Surrounded in the hollow of its valley, Notre-Dame de Senanque Abbey remains as one of the purest witnesses of the primitive Cistercian architecture. This active abbey is located in the commune of Gordes, in the French department of Vaucluse and the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.
Founded in 1148, it became an abbey in 1150. It is part of the "three Provencal sisters", with the abbey of Silvacane and the abbey of Thoronet, which testify to the great radiance of the Cistercian order in Provence.
Today the priory of the abbey of Lérins, the monastery, located in the valley where the Sénancole flows, is still occupied by a community of Cistercian monks of the Cistercian Congregation of the Immaculate Conception.
The abbey church, of a very sober Romanesque style, is built in limestone, cut and assembled in large regular apparatus. The roofs are covered with slate. It has an infrequent orientation, the conodine being oriented to the north-east and the main facade to the south-west. Usually symbolic, this one was determined by the sense of the valley.
The chevet consists of a single semicircular apse. This apse is crowned with a molded cornice and is pierced by three bays in semicircular simple frames surmounted each one of an arcade in the form of eyebrow. It rests on the crossing of the transept which has cut-outs, holes of boulin and a protruding cornice supported by geometric crows.
The crossing of the transept is surmounted by a small square bell tower pierced also with holes of boulin and crowned by a stone roof of stone finished with a cross of stone. This bell tower is typical of the Cistercian Romanesque architecture, which preaches sobriety.
The abbey also has a Romanesque cloister whose galleries are punctuated by arches of discharge sheltering triplets of arcades in semicircular supported by columns surmounted by capitals with leaves of water.