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Abriès (Municipality, Hautes-Alpes, France)

Last modified: 2013-12-28 by ivan sache
Keywords: hautes-alpes | abries | fleur-de-lis (blue) | ibex |
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[Flag of Abries]

Flag of Abriès - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 17 May 2004, after a photo taken by Hervé Prat


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Presentation of Abriès

The municipality of Abriès (365 inhabitants in 2010; 7,700) is located in the Queyras massif.
Queyras is located south of Briançon (via the Col de l'Izoard, 2,360 m); the area ismostly watered by river Guil, tributary of the Durance. The region enjoys a relatively clement weather, with limited rainfall and a lot of sunshine. Accordingly, forests grow in Queyras up to 2,300 m a.s.l., which is a record for the Alps. On the sunny slopes, villages inhabited the whole year round are located at unusual elevations: Saint-Véran-en-Queyras is the highest municipality in Europe (2,040 m). Most of Queyras is nowadays a Parc Naturel Régional, where winter and summer tourism is the main source of income.

In the Middle Ages, the political system of Escartons (groups of villages) was set up in this region of the Alps to face collectively problems caused by natural disasters (droughts, floods, epidemics) and human incompetence (wars, invasions). The Republic of Escartons grouped five Escartons, two being nowadays in France (Briançon and Queyras) and the three in Italy (Oulx, Pragela, Château-Dauphin). The charter establishing the Escartons was signed by Dauphin Humbert II in 1343, six years before the "transportation" of Dauphiné to France, and later confirmed by the Kings of France. The Escarton of Queyras was made of the seven municipalities of Abriès, Aiguilles, Arvieux, Château-Villevieille, Molines, Ristolas and Saint-Véran. In 1721, the see of the Escarton was officially established in Château-Villevieille, in a room with a big cupboard. The cupboard had eight locks. Each head of municipality and the secretary of the Escarton owned a key, so that the cupboard could be opened only when everybody had agreed to do so. According to the charter, the Escartons were free of several taxes, but had together to maintain the roads, clear the snow, watch cattle and help the poor. They appointed consuls for police, justice and management of the forests. The "Italian" Escartons were transferred in 1713 to the Duchy of Savoy, while the Escartons of Briançon and Queyras existed until the French Revolution.

The village of Abriès is located in the upper valley of the Guil (1,550 m a.s.l.) at the confluence of the Guil and the Bouchet. The name of the village might come from Latin ad bricos, "near the summits", which are locally called brics (Bric Froid, 3,302 m, and Bric Bouchet, 3,216 m). The village was successively called Abrii, Abrici and Abriès. Another possible etymology is the Provencal word abria, "sheltered", "exposed to sunlight", from Latin apricus.
In the Middle Ages, Abriès was a wealthy market village, where goods from France and Piedmont were traded. Cattle, cheese, wool and wood things from Queyras were traded for rice, pasta, fruit and vegetables from Piemont. Abriès was granted in 1257 the status of tax-free "market place". The big market hall was built in 1609. The wealth of Abriès declined in 1856 when the road to Guillestre was built through the gorges of the Guil.

Like every mountain village, Abriès was often damaged by natural disasters: floods in 1733, 1948 and 1957; avalanche in 1706, sweeping 71 houses; blazes, the last one in 1921. However, the most severe damage was caused by man. In 1690, Abriès and Ristolas were burned down by the Savoyards and the Huguenots. In 1940, the mountain hamlet of Le Roux was occupied by the Italians, who could not seize Abriès and lost 500 in the valley. Queyras was later occupied by the Germans, who were expelled during the Liberation with difficulty. Abriès was liberated by the Moroccan Tabors commanded by Colonel Colbert de Turgis, who was killed a few days later. On 13 September 1944, the Germans counter-attacked and burned down Le Roux and 160 out of the 220 houses in Abriès. The Germans were eventually expelled from the heights of Queyras only in April 1945.
Abriès was rebuilt from scratch with the help of the state. People left the village, which had less than 200 inhabitants in 1965 and enjoyed only two wedding ceremonies between 1953 and 1965. However, the remaining people did not accept the death of their village and remembered that Abriès had been a very innovative village: the first hotel in Queyras was built in Abriès in 1897, the year Abriès was the first rural municipality with power supply; a scheduled bus line replaced the mail coach in 1911; the first English tourists imported ski in 1930; in 1945, a truck replaced the ten mules who had pulled the wooden snowplow until then; the first motorized haymower was bought in 1951 and the first skilift was built in 1960. The ski resort of Abriès has 30 kms of ski runs and another 40 km for cross-country skiing.
In spite of war damage, Abriès has kept historical monuments. The village church was known for the two columns which decorated the porch. Like in Guillestre and Saint-Véran, the columns were supported by lions. Unfortunately, the Guil swept away the columns in 1733 and only the lions were recovered from the river. Like everywhere in Queyras, several houses are decorated with ancient or modern sundials bearing mottos related with time, sun and death.

Source: Le Queyras, aspects culturels et historiques, by Carine Souplet

Ivan Sache, 17 May 2004


Flag of Abriès

The flag of Abriès is white with the municipal coat of arms and COMMUNE D'ABRIES written in a semi-circular pattern below the coat of arms. The coat of arms of Abriès is yellow with a chamois / ibex / mouflon (?) and a blue fleur-de-lis.

Ivan Sache, 17 May 2004

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