Sisteron, the Gateway to Provence

In my post last week I wrote about La route Napoléon, the modern-day motorway that follows the route Napoléon took to Paris through the south of France on his way back from exile on the island of Elba. Not only does the N85 motorway follow an event of historical importance and interest, it also passes through a truly spectacular part of France.

Roughly halfway along La route Napol̩on is the picturesque town of Sisteron. The town is situated in the narrow gap that was formed by the River Durance as it cut through a long mountain ridge. It is because of this striking geological feature that the typical Proven̤al town has been called the Porte de la Provence Рthe gateway to Provence.

As I mentioned in my previous post referred to above, roads and motorways we take for granted today often follow routes that have been used for hundreds of years. Archaeological evidence shows that Sisteron has been inhabited for at least four thousand years. Although it was the Romans who were the first to make a ‘route’ through the geological gap in the mountain range, almost certainly they were following a natural pathway that had been used by prehistoric people and animals in their annual, seasonal migrations. The Latin inscriptions on rocks in the area still bear testimony to the presence and passage of Romans through the town. It is not surprising then that Napoléon and his makeshift band of supporters used the same route on their historic journey north.

Today Sisteron boasts 300 days of sunshine a year. But, for tourists choosing Haute Provence as their Europe destination, this town offers so much more than just sun. People choose the area for its natural setting and scenery, the quaint, typically Provençal narrow streets and architecture, three museums and the perfect location for gliding enthusiasts. The area is also popular amongst walkers.

Given the town’s location, there is an impressive Citadel overlooking the town, which houses one of the three museums, in part dedicated to Napoléon. If Napoléon is not enough for you, there is also the Baden-Powell Scout Museum, as well as the Musée Terre et Temps, which explores the earth and the measurement of time.

Haute Provence is certainly one of the best places to visit in Europe, and it is towns like Sisteron that offer tourists a unique mix of culture and history, natural setting and recreation.

The Photographs used in the post are but a few that Patrick Raymond has uploaded to a set on flickr for this town, if you liked these images, have a look the many others.

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About Thomas Dowson

Hello, I am Thomas Dowson - a freelance writer and archaeologist living in Normandy, France. My field of expertise is prehistoric art - such as the cave paintings in the Dordogne and South Africa. But I am becoming passionately interested in France more generally, and Normandy in particular, and what this country and one of its very well known regions has to offer people with all sorts of tastes and desires. In 2005 I exchanged a university archaeology lecture room for a Bed & Breakfast in Normandy. More recently I started the Archaeology Travel website; sharing my expertise and love of archaeology and travel with others who also want to explore the many different pasts around the World.