The history and heritage sites of Bourg d’Oisans all hold a strong link to the natural environment throughout the area.
The mountain is everywhere, all you have to do is look up. But there is also another element that has shaped the landscape and the history of the town: water. In many different forms.
In adapting to this powerful, magnificent and difficult terrain, humankind has also shaped the land. Humans have made their mark at the heart of the mountains, deep in the valleys and along the tempestuous rivers and streams.
A land shaped by nature, just like the history of humankind…
A little anecdote…
Bourg-d’Oisans is located in a strategic location and the town was developed around a major communications route to cross through the Alps, dating back as far as Ancient Times. In fact, from Grenoble, the shortest way to get to Italy is to go through Briançon and take the Col du Montgenèvre mountain pass.
There are still some visible ruins of the ‘Voie Romaine’ today, especially in Rochetaillée (a hamlet of Bourg-d’Oisans), and in Mont-de-Lans with the Porte de Bons. This Roman monumental arch is carved into the rock.
Why is there is footpath up there?
Why is this valley so flat, when it is located in amongst the high mountain peaks?
Because in the Middle Ages, the Bourg-d’Oisans Plain was actually covered by a lake… Saint-Laurent-du-Lac, the former name of the town, was therefore built above the water level, around the church we see today.
The Flood of Grenoble
During the night of the 14th-15th September 1219, the natural dam which helped create the lake, collapsed. In fact, 28 years earlier, a terrible landslide cut off Romanche River. The lake which was formed as a result over a length of 18km, had never been so big, and flooded a part of the village. The peak of the village at that time was 741 m (it currently stands at an altitude of 720 m).
The sudden rupture of the dam caused the catastrophic flooding of Grenoble and took 5,000 lives. After several centuries of evolution and resisting all that Mother Nature could throw its way, the lake finally disappeared completely in the 16th century. Dams were then built to keep the Romanche under control.
The bread-basket of Oisans
The Plain took over the Romanche progressively and now has a drainage system in the form of a structural grid which contributes to the originality of the farmland here today. Once the land recovered, farming developed here and today, the Plain is covered in farms and hamlets and has become the bread-basket of Oisans, producing wheat and hay.
Museum of Minerals and Alpine Wildlife
Throughout history, other industries have played an important role and allowed the ‘uissans’ (inhabitants of Oisans) to earn a living. The mines played a big part. Today, only the ruins of Brandes mines can be visited, all the mines have been closed off to the public for safety reasons.
At Bourg d’Oisans Museum, you can see the first ever collection of Alpine minerals in France, proof of the sheer wealth of the minerals found on this land. To give you an idea of the popularity of the minerals extracted here, the ones from Gardette mines are believed to have been used to make the chandeliers at the Château of Versailles.
Classified Natural Heritage Site
The remarkable wetlands at the bottom of the valley or a wilderness area up in the mountains, the land of Bourg d’Oisans is home to some natural treasures…
The marais de Vieille Morte
This sensitive natural area owes its name to a former backwater (dead arm) of one of the meanders of the Romanche River, at the time when it still flowed along its natural bed. It is made up of humid woodland and swamps. These feed a network of small channels that help maintain and develop species of wildlife characteristic of humid environments. Some protected species can be found here such as yellow-bellied toads and Alpine newts. This place is also historical as it is home to a number of ruins, dating back several centuries.
Our advice is to visit the wetlands in the summer, with one of the local guides. They are the only ones who can tell you all about the secrets of the Vieille Morte wetlands…
lac du Lauvitel Wilderness Area
The Lac du Lauvitel lake is well-known for accessible hiking trails and its magnificent wild setting, but it is also an almost unique scientific place.
This officially-recognised wilderness area was created in 1995 and is an area that is not accessible to the public, so that the evolution of the ecosystem can be studied, away from any human interaction. For a long time, it was a one-of-a-kind place, and it has become a reference in France. In 2012, it was awarded the ‘1a’ category of certification: protected place managed for scientific purposes. It is managed in a very strict manner: authorisation is needed for any access, all research must be carried out with minimal impact on the natural habitat, etc.