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Village of the Vaucluse: Roussillon

Flamboyant colors of the village and ochres

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Village of the Vaucluse: Roussillon
Located in the heart of Europe's largest ocher deposit, Roussillon boasts its mineral uniqueness by an astonishing palette of flamboyant colors. Walking through its narrow streets and stairs, contemplating its often simple and naturally beautiful facades, you will admire the result of know-how more than millennia.

Its name is formed with the suffix -one on the Latin person name Ruscilius (or Roscilius), possibly Rusticelius, and designates a Gallo-Roman domain bearing the name of its founder. A derivative of the old French rossel (for reed) was sometimes also considered.


Middle Ages
987, Roussillon has a small castle built on a cloistone.

Cited in 989: "de Rossillione".

In the 12th century, the Saint-André Abbey of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon owned the Sainte-Croix church, and received its revenues. Seigneurie of d'Agoult, of the Wines, and of the Isle until the Revolution.

Charles IX. Passes through the village during his royal tour of France (1564-1566), accompanied by the court and the great men of the kingdom: his brother the duke of Anjou, Henri de Navarre, the cardinals of Bourbon and Lorraine.

Modern period
For years, it was around the natural wealth that the soil offered that the economic activity of the commune turned: the ocher!

In the eighteenth century, with the increase in iron needs, but also the diversification and modernization of textile processing techniques (looms) and the need for dyes, the exploitation of ocher on Roussillon intensified. Many quarries, some of which are still visible, surround the village, but also old ocher factories (like the old factory Mathieu now converted into a conservatory). These quarries and factories were scattered over several municipalities. In addition to Roussillon, one can note Villars, Gargas, Rustrel (and its Provençal Colorado) and Gignac.

Contemporary Period
In the twentieth century, modern mining methods and the discovery of more profitable deposits gradually closed all mines. In the early 1980s, tourism replaced this mining industry5.
Usine Mathieu en 1870
Camille Mathieu (1862-1940) was elected mayor of his commune for the first time in 1895 and remained there for 45 years. This republican was dismissed by the government of Vichy in 1940, he died in December of the same year. In 1893, he had inherited with Léon Thomassin, his cousin, from the ocher factory created in 1870 by their grandfather Joseph Mathieu. Located in the district of Balizone, it was absorbed in 1901 by the Société des ocres de France6.

Under the name of Peyrane, Roussillon was the subject of the book of the American sociologist Laurence Wylie, who stayed there as a family during the school year 1950-1951. Village in the Vaucluse, 1957; abridged edition under the title Village in Vaucluse, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1961; translation A Village of the Vaucluse, Gallimard, 1979, (ISBN 978-2-07-028669-0).

The ocher trail
Ocher is a natural pigment mixed with the sands of the cliffs. The oxide of iron colors it from yellow to purplish. This mineral landscape has been shaped by human hand and by erosion.

Two courses (short or long) allow you a 30 minutes visit to 60 minutes, but you can also contemplate it for as long as you want ... Discreet desks mark out your route for explanations on geology, flora, history , the massif ocrier of the Luberon ...

Protect us with this remarkable site, respecting the safety rules and enjoy this 110-million-year mineral journey! Dogs on a leash are accepted on the site

Paid entry
Full price: 2,50 €
Reduced price: 1,50 € (groups over 15 people):
Free: children under 10 years old.
Trail and conservatory couple ticket: 7,5 €
Schedules that can be adjusted according to traffic - closure of the trail in case of heavy rain and unfavorable weather conditions.


The ochres
An original geological formation
230 million years ago, Provence is covered by the sea and will remain so for a very long time.

Several thousand meters of sediment torn from the surrounding continents accumulate at the bottom of the waters. They will eventually form the white limestones so characteristic of this country: Mount Ventoux, Luberon, Sainte Victoire, Canyon du Verdon, Calanques etc.

Towards -110 million years, the sea deepens. The sediments deposited at the bottom of the waters are gray clays covering the limestones and to which the geologists will give the name of "aptian terrains".

Then, this marine basin being almost filled, it is in shallow waters and agitated by the currents that green sands are deposited above the clays, it is the glauconia, small green mineral grains, which confers their color.

In Provence, around 100 million years ago, there was a major upheaval.

After this long period of marine life, following movements of the soil, Provence is found out of the water.

At that time the climate was tropical. Torrential rains leach out the freshly emerged green sands of the new continent, slowly transforming them into ocher sands and then into white sands in successive stages:
dissolution, by the rainwater which circulates in depth, of all the elements constituting the green sand, except the sand itself very resistant.
- crystallization from this "solution" of other minerals, kaolinite and goethite, which fill the voids between the grains of sand. It is the birth of the ocherous sands.
the leaching which continues on these ocherous sands evacuates the iron hydroxide which colors them. Only the white sands remain.

On the surface, iron hydroxide concentrates to form a ferruginous breastplate similar to that of African laterites.

As for the red, yellow or orange color of these ocher sands, it still keeps a part of its secret.

Of course, we know the main cause: goethite, but by what exactly mechanism has nature led to such a profusion of tints? This remains to be defined.

The legend

Dame Sermonde and the Lord Raymond d'Avignon lived at the Château de Roussillon. Guillaume de Cabestan, son of the Lord of Cabestan in the Hautes-Alpes, was employed at the Chateau de Roussillon as a page to make his apprenticeship as a good knight.

Raymond d'Avignon, who regularly went on hunting, abandoned his wife and often left her alone. It was thus that Dame Sermonde and Guillaume fell in love with each other.

The young boy's song became more and more inflamed, and the familiars of the castle, suspecting something, reported it to Raymond d'Avignon.

To try to find out more, the Lord once invited Guillaume to a hunting party and asked him the question. In order not to betray Dame Sermonde, Guillaume told him that he was very much in love, not with his wife, but with his sister, Agnes.

Raymond d'Avignon decided to go to Tarascon with Guillaume to get confirmation. Agnes understood very quickly the situation and to save the two lovers, played the game. But learning all this, Dame Sermonde, piqued in her self-respect and indignant at the conduct of her husband, demanded of William that he confess everything in the 'one of his songs.

Guillaume complied, and Raymond d'Avignon, learning the truth, entered into a black fury, and decided to avenge himself. During a game of hunting, he stabbed Guillaume in the back, cut off his head and snatched his heart.

He returned to the castle, and asked his cook to prepare the heart with the hot sauce.

Dame Sermonde having feasted her favorite dish, learned from her husband that it was the heart of her lover: "Lord, you have offered me such a good meal that I never want to taste another" .

Feeling that his wife was escaping him, Raymond d'Avignon drew his sword, but Dame Sermonde fled from the castle and rushed from the top of Castrum into the void.
His bloody body forever colored the lands of Roussillon and a spring sprang up where his body ended its course.

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