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©1 - 3Q|Archives départementales des Hautes-Alpes, cote Z Guillemin 9

Heritage

Shall we go over the whole story again?

In the villages, the stone and wood houses extracted from the mountains tell you all about the area. If you look up, a sundial will tell you the time. By its maxim, you’ll guess what’s important to the man or woman who ordered it. If the accent sings, don’t be surprised to find a hint of Italy or Provence, they’re close by. Step inside a church and you’ll be struck by the Baroque madness that adorns the walls. Here, history is shared in the present. Welcome to our home!

Discover our heritage

Culture is all around you, in every corner of space, in every dream…Our perched valleys are erudite and it’s with passion that we share our small and great heritage.

A bit of history

You want to understand what “Escartons” are, but you don’t want a lecture? Let me tell you. It’s the story of a group of mountain people with a fierce spirit of independence.

Les Escartons, a paid freedom

Back in the Middle Ages, in 1032. The German Emperor, Henry III, gave the Counts of Albon the title of Princes of the Briançonnais. Through a war here and a marriage there, they became the heads of an independent state whose capital was Grenoble. Their territory? Roughly speaking, today’s Isère, Drôme and Hautes-Alpes regions. Among the d’Albons, boys were called “Dauphin”. Years later, Dauphin became the title of sovereign of the Dauphiné!

And what about the Queyras?

It belongs to the Briançonnais region, which became rich thanks to … a Pope! In 1309, Clement V left Rome for Avignon. The road between Northern Italy and Avignon became very busy. Bishops, merchants and artists stopped in Briançon, where they could eat and sleep: money was coming in!

Everything’s going well for them!

Not really, because they’re in the middle of a feudal system. They need new freedoms and to reduce taxes. But the Dauphin was in debt, and Humbert II wanted to sell the Dauphiné. In 1343, the “Grande Charte” was signed: the Briançon people paid the Dauphin 12,000 florins and an annual rent of nearly 4,000 florins. In exchange, they became “free and bourgeois citizens”.

Are they no longer subject of a lord?

No! They gain the right to create an inhabitants community, to elect consuls in charge of managing the village.

There are 5 of them?

The Briançon escarton, the Queyras escarton and, in what is now Italian Piedmont, the escartons of Oulx, Pragelas and Château-Dauphin. Each has its own assembly. The Grand Escarton dealt with the problems of the “grand” Briançonnais region, while the Escarton du Queyras managed matters concerning the Guil valley: maintenance of the “Chemin de la Combe”, provisions for armies on their way to Italy, etc. The Queyras escarton was a sort of Association of communities that defends freedoms and burdens sharing.

Is 4,000 florins a year a lot of money?

That’s why Escartons were invented. Escarter means to distribute taxes, escartonnement means to distribute. Each year, the rent is “escarted” between the communities. The assembly that decides on escartonnement for the entire Briançonnais region is called the Grand Escarton. The valleys are small escartons.

1349, the Dauphiné conceded to France

Who is the annuity paid to next?

To the King, even if Humbert II asked that the eldest son of the King of France takes his title.

Did they pay every year?

Until the French Revolution, by making each new king sign a copy of the Charter. That’s how Queyras kept its freedoms!


Deciphering our architecture

If you want to know the Guillestrois and Queyras villages, take a look at their houses – they have so much to tell. In all the villages, farming and livestock breeding were once the main occupation of the majority of the inhabitants. The house is both home and work tool. It includes the kitchen, a bedroom or two, the cellar, but also the stable and a huge barn. Don’t be surprised by the imposing size of these houses. The longer the winter, the more crops had to be brought in, so the bigger the barn had to be. If you happen to visit an old house, take a look at its circulation spaces: the courtyard (entrance hall) opens up to the stable on one side, the kitchen on the other, and the cellar at the back. The staircase to the second floor leads from the courtyard. Then imagine: these spaces are wide enough to allow the passage of a man coming down from the barn loaded with a bale of hay. Likewise, his wife, carrying two buckets full of milk, could easily enter the kitchen, where the cauldron and the cheese press await her. There you have the basics of our local architecture. But from one valley to the next, various solutions have been invented to meet these needs. A rich heritage to preserve and discover.

The “fustes” of Molines and Saint-Véran

The houses in these two villages are mostly built of stone and wood. To understand this architecture is to immerse yourself in the daily life of farmers before mechanization. Summer is devoted to harvesting: hays, regains (second cut of hay after it has grown back), barley and oat harvesting to feed the animals in the stable in winter, wheat and rye to make bread for a year. These harvests are stored in the barn. It takes up two-thirds of the volume of the house… here, winter is long! In August, we start separating the lambs and calves from their mothers, so that milking follows. Cheese and butter making takes over in the kitchen. They are stored in the cellar. Some houses have two! In winter, the families live in their stables with the livestock, so they can benefit from their warmth. This saves a lot of wood.

Aiguilles and American villas

In Aiguilles, opulent houses stand side by side with modest ones. Fountains are adorned with sweethearts. Wood, so present in Saint-Véran, is absent here. This architecture tells the story of a renaissance, or rather three renaissances.

Disaster

Aiguilles disappeared in a fire. Hay fermenting in a barn or a poorly maintained chimney – everything burned. Many Aiguillons (inhabitants) went into exile. As skilled traders, they sometimes went very far to try their luck in Chile, Argentina, Peru and Colombia. Twenty years later, having made their fortune, they returned to build themselves a beautiful villa in Aiguilles. No more barns, but all modern comforts: spacious bedrooms, central heating, a reception room. No more flammable materials: masonry, cut stone, metal shutters and zinc. Outside, an enclosed courtyard, monumental gates and Mansard roof announce the ease of the occupants.

A second fire destroyed 58 houses on the Ville-Vieille side.

The third fire burnt 108 houses down on the Abriès side. Rebuilding was quicker. At the end of the 19th century, it’s the Town Hall’s turn: with its monumental wrought-iron balcony and proud bell tower, it’s superb!

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