The Durance has its source in the Alps at an altitude of 2632 m on mount Chenaillet near the Italian border. 308 kilometres long it is the second longest tributary of the Rhone after the Saône.
On its left bank the Durance receives two major tributaries which are:
- the Bléone, a 68km long mountain stream having its source at an altitude of 2961m at the “Tête de l’Estrop” and joins the Durance near Manosque; and most of all
- the Verdon, famous for its gorges extending from Moustier-Sainte-Marie almost to Castellane. It has its source at an altitude of 2572m at the “Tête de Sestrière”. 175km long it joins the Durance near Vinon sur Verdon. Its very important yearly flow regulated by a series of five major dams (Castillon, Chaudane, Sainte Croix, Quinson and Esparron) made it the “Water Tower’ of Provence supplying water to a major part of it extending from Marseille to Fréjus through an extensive conveyance system comprising 70km of canals, 140km of tunnels and 480km of ducts.
On its right bank it receives the Calavon which has its source near Banon. Some 80km longs it runs along the north slopes of the Luberon and flows into the Durance near Cavaillon.
A great cultural diversity developed in the Durance basin that is both Alpine and Provencal.
On its way down to the Rhone river, the Durance waters some very fertile plains and cities such as Briançon (famous for its fortification and highest city in Europe), Embrun (Hautes Alpes), Sisteron & Manosque (Alpes de Haute Provence), Pertuis and Cavaillon (Vaucluse) then finally meets the Rhone just downstream of Avignon. Its valley was home to some famous French writers like Jean Giono, Paul Arène, René Fergny, …
This river is the true backbone of Provence from the Alps to the plain of “Crau” running through four Departments of the present Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur (PACA) Region.
In the past the Durance had a reputation of being impassable because of the great width of its bed and its heavy flow. It was said that the Mistral (wind) the Durance and the Parliament (of Aix en Provence) were the three blights of Provence. The Durance was used as a border during Roman days but during the Middle Ages became the best means of transport for timber. But it always was subject to heavy flooding and particularly between 1843 and 1856 there were heavy damages to dwellings and crops. It was during that period that the idea of a dam was born but the works will start in 1962 only in Serre-Ponçon and will last six years. This dam created a very large reservoir used for irrigation and power generation. To date it constitutes the second largest artificial lake in Europe.
Today the Durance is much calmer, less wide and no longer constitutes a threat to neighbouring housing. Its valley has become a major gateway to winter sports in general and some major ski resorts like Serre-Chevalier, Montgenèvre, Orcières, etc…
It is up to us, People of Provence, not to forget that the Durance for generations has been a wide road of human transhumance with the “Vaudois”, “Gavots”, “Radekiers”, etc…
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