Let’s go back in time
Roman the valley of Serre Chevalier, (the baths in Sanatio (Monêtier/Serre Chevalier 1500) confirms this) was intersected by the Via Domitia linking Milan and Arles (you can still find some remains of this ancient Roman road below the Lautaret pass).
After the Visigoths, the Francs and the Lombards, the valley Serre Chevalier belonged to the Dauphiné from 1024, and was part of the Briancon principality. In 1339, Briancon even equalled Grenoble in size with 2000 inhabitants.
The valley of Serre Chevalier, in the heart of the Escartons. In 1343, Briancon became the capital of “the Republic of the Escartons”. Admittedly not completely independent, this young “republic” consisted of five “Escartons” (from the French “escarter”: to share the cost) or provinces, and of 51 municipalities. (Presently straddling France and Italy)
The following years saw prosperous times, with the organisation of famed fairs, known as far as Provence and Lombardy, however the plague of 1348 wiped out 73% of the population.
The valley of Serre Chevalier joined the French kingdom in 1349. Many famous people stayed in Briancon, including Fran ois 1st in 1537, Louis XIII and Richelieu in 1629.
The Utrecht treaty of 1713 would destroy the Briancon region. It was divided in two: a Savoyard part (now Italy)and the other in the French Kingdom. “It would be an insult to the people of Oulx (Italians today) and the valley to deny them the French privilege”. If you take a walk towards the Rochilles or the Galibier threshold between Névache and Valloire, and you’ll find old road-signs with the French lily on one side and a Savoie cross on the other… but not at all in the direction you’d expect.
The decision to divide the Escartons into two different countries was little appreciated. The first Italian teacher arrived in Oulx in 1850, because all the people in the Susa valley (Venue of the Olympic Winter Games in 2006) perpetuated the French language and the Briancon dialect. On the other hand, the treaty agreed to maintain ancestral rights.
Men Universal suffrage was adopted. The French Revolution put an end to all hope and the loss of privileges. In 1789, la Grave and Villar d’Arène asked to be attached to the Hautes Alpes.
In 1815, Briancon resisted a siege of 4 months against the Austrians, who finally had to pull back. The end of the 19th century were the golden years with the development of ironworks, tanneries and mills. 1884 saw the arrival of trains, 1894 the arrival of electricity, in 1897 Briancon became a sous prefecture, 1902 the first ski school, 1907 the first competitions in Montgenèvre, 1912 the Lycée d’Altitude, 1919 the first winter Sports Club.
In the Guisane valley, in Serre Chevalier, the ‘Rocher blanc’ is an extraordinary spot. You’ll find more than 300 million years of earth’s history on a difference in height of 300 metres.
The fortresses of the region of Briançon
The fortified town of Briançon is composed of :
- The town fortified by Vauban (1962)
- The ‘fort des Têtes’
- The ‘fort du Randouillet’
- The ‘Pont d’Asfeld’ : bridge finished in 1734, it crosses the gorge of the river ‘La Durance’ at a height of 60 metres
- The ‘Communication Y’ is an arched passage of 200 metres which is bombproof and uphill defended
- The ‘Fort Dauphin’- the ‘Fort des Salettes’
The fortification ‘Séré de Rivière’
These are altitude fortresses, batteries, redoubts of infantries but also some true military villages built at the end of the 19th century.
- The ‘Fort de l’Olive’
- The ‘Fort des Gondrans’ and the ‘Fort de L’infernet’
- The ‘Fort de la croix de Bretagne’ and the ‘Batterie de la Lauzette’
The ‘Maginot Alpine’
Concrete works, built in the thirties to protect the Alps against the aggressive attitude of the fascist Italy.
- The ‘Collégiale de Briançon’ (started in 1703)
- Chapel ‘St Arnould’ (11th century) and its frescos in Saint Chaffrey
- Church ‘St Marcellin’ and Baptist chapel ‘St Jean’ in La Salle les Alpes.
- Church ‘du Bourg’ in Monêtier les Bains
- Listed churches of the 18th century in Les Guibertes
- Chapels decorated with frescos of the 15th century: chapel ‘Saint Martin’ and ‘St André’ (Monêtier les Bains)
Fauna and flora
Scots pine forests, glaciers, humid zones and altitude rocks; the region of Briançon houses a wide variety of natural environments that shelter a wide diversity of animals and plants. The cries of the nutcracker echo in the larch- and silver pine forests. Many insects, under which the butterfly ‘Apollon’, marmots, voles and their main predator, the ermine, live in the mountain grasslands.
During your hikes in the mountains, you’ll maybe have the luck to encounter some chamois. Birds like the golden eagle, the owl ‘grand duc’ and the peregrine falcon make their nests in the cliffs. On the steep rocky gradients the alpine ibex sometimes appears. Even in the screes, you can encounter animals like the ptarmigan (white partridge) that changes its plumage according to the seasons.
The old mines
The mining heritage of the region of Briançon is exceptional. The working techniques have remained traditional until the closing of the installations in the 1960. Here, you can find several objects that have disappeared from the other mining areas since the 19th century.
For centuries, people in the region of Briançon have known how to exploit all the natural resources in order to affront the hard living conditions. Long before the apparition of electricity, many factories functioned thanks to the only energy that existed: hydraulic energy.
The agricultural life
Southern district, the region of Briançon experiences a summer drought which has required, since the Middle-Ages, a very well organised irrigation of the land under cultivation. Today, the 120 kilometres of canals in the region and the many traces of the traditional agriculture make up a very important patrimonial wealth.
The lime kilns
As a walker or a skier, you will have certainly passed next to a lime kiln without realising it. The cause is the small seize of the drystone kilns which were used by the farmers of the region to produce lime. The size, 3 metres across, is a specificity of our region: everywhere else, they have much more imposing dimensions.
The municipalities of Serre Chevalier invite you to discover some of their heritage :
Free guided tours. Numerous chapels to discover, drawbridge, sundials…
You’re welcome to visit several sites: the Saint Marcellin church with its concealed treasures, or the intriguing Saint Barthélemy chapel but also the guided tour of the village “Le Bez” and the famous sun dials.
Discover guided tours around the village of Monetier-les-Bains reveal a thriving past, through its history of Romans, the Republic of the Escartons, to the more recent days of water cures and its spa. Also discover the chapels and frescoes from the XVth century.
- Guided tour of the village : on tuesdays
- Guided tour of the frescoes : on wednesdaysduring french school holidays. Otherwise, on request.
In Serre Chevalier, as in most of the Hautes Alpes valleys, you’ll find splendid sun dials, old and new, that bear witness of the importance of the sun in our region.
- Free guided tours
Discover the museums of Serre Chevalier and take a plunge into the past :
Museum “Autrefois mon village” (My village in the past) in the Sainte Luce chapel in the centre of Villeneuve.
Tel. 04 92 24 54 00
Children can participate to work groups every thursday at 2 pm about patrimony.
Another museum which is just as interesting is that of “Musée d’Art Sacré” (of Sacred Art). Set in the Saint Pierre chapel, previously the chapel of the Penitents, it presents a wide collection of religious objects borrowed from the thirty chapels and churches of Monetier-les-Bains. The items of the different collections show sacred art as perceived in the BrianV on area from the 15th to the 19th century.
- On thursday, wednesday and sunday from 2 to 6 pm
- Price: free
- Museum of Sacred Art, tel. 33 (0)4 92 24 57 43
- City council, tel. 33 (0)4 92 24 40 04
The whool mill
The wool mill of Chantemerle is the restored testimonial of an industrious past that bloomed in the 19th century.
In fact, around 1870, the valley of Serre Chevalier had over 300 workers dispersed in the tanneries, ironworks, wool and flour mills. Competition and the arrival of the railway exhausted all these activities. The mills were re-opened in the 1970s.
Longo Mai Mills visit every thursday in Chantemerle. Sale of finished product in the shop of the mill.
Tel. 04 92 24 04 43
The patrimony of the region is surprisingly rich : irrigation canals, Geological sites, military places, marvellous natural places, old mines, chapels with frescoes, lime ovens…
- 33 (0)4 92 20 56 55
- 33 (0)4 92 21 07 62
- Briançon patrimony center
- 33 (0)4 92 20 29 49
- Fortification patrimony
- 33 (0)4 92 21 14 61
Flora and fauna :
- Arnica Montana
- 33 (0)4 92 21 25 76
- Clarée Valley patrimony
- 33 (0)4 92 22 30 18