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January 2019 I French Living Photo: Wikipedia/Paul Nadar

Unique homes in an Alpine village 2km above sea level Europe’s highest village, in the southern Alps, has an architecture all its own. Jane Hanks finds out why from one of its residents Secret history of buildings

scientist to realise that he needed to increase his stature, his media profile and his visibility in order to get funding and facilities. He was a media giant, and relentlessly corrected press articles, and explained himself and the science he did. He vaccinated animals in public to raise his profile, and entered for prizes and awards in order to continue his work.” Pasteur was awarded medals, titles, grants and honours from countries around the globe. In France, among other honours, he was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1853 and promoted to officer, commander, grand officer and finally given the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour in 1881. During Pasteur’s lifetime there were sections of the public who did not understand the theory of bacteria causing infections, and could not understand the workings of the human immune system, so they doubted the effectiveness of vaccinations. In the 21st century it might seem odd that there are still some people who doubt that vaccines work (see our Back Page), but Ms Morel puts it down to their success. “Due to immunisation programmes, today in Western Europe no one sees people dying of diseases like TB,

diphtheria or smallpox so there is a tendency to believe that being in good health is the natural state of things. But in fact that’s not the case. We are healthier and live longer than at any time in history because we eat uncontaminated food, drink clean water, live in clean houses and in towns with efficient sewerage systems. “Public health depends on a majority of people being vaccinated in order to protect the few who are not. But today we live in a culture of increasing individualism, where there is less concern for group welfare than for individual choice. But if you go to developing countries, in Africa for example, you quickly see that public health without vaccinations, clean water etc is not at the same level.” She is proud of the museum’s interactive displays, allowing children as well as adults to re-enact some of Pasteur’s experiments, as well as exploring the effect that vaccination has on public health: “The display shows visitors the mathematical calculations. How many people will die of a given disease if you vaccinate 50% of a population (it’s quite a lot) or 70% or 90%? “We hope it helps people understand Pasteur’s work - and especially the importance of vaccination.”

Pasteur realised he needed to raise his media profile in order to secure additional funding and facilities for his research

Saint Véran is the highest village in Europe at 2,042 metres above sea level and is one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France. It is in the Southern Alps, in the Parc Naturel Régional du Queyras, not far from Briançon, the highest town in France at 1,326 metres. Legend has it that the village was formed when a sixth-century bishop freed the lowlands from a dragon, which rose into the air and died in the mountains. Local people marked this miracle by building a settlement where the dragon landed and named it after the bishop, Saint Véran. Jacqueline Turina, who has lived in the village all her life and who gives guided tours to visitors, thinks the real story is rather more prosaic: that the bishop discovered the place on his travels to Rome and recognised the richness of the pastureland in the area. Though high in the mountains, and covered in snow for seven months of the year, Mrs Turina says Saint Véran is a wonderful place to live: “We face south with marvellous views and plenty of sunshine and the rich grass grows for a far longer period than further south. “Transhumance has meant that sheep and cows have been brought up here from Provence for centuries, and this continues today. “At first people only lived here in summer, but perhaps, one winter, the snow came earlier than expected and so people had to stay, and having done so once continued to do so.” Another attraction to settlers were the copper mines which are even higher up

and were mined as long ago as 2,000BC, right up until 1956. Historians believe the metal was originally mined by some Italian settlers. To survive the long winters, the inhabitants built houses which are unique to the village, as their first floor, called a fuste and built of wood, is far bigger than in other areas because they had to store food and fodder there to last the long winter. The ground floor has thick stone walls and families lived with no other heating than from the animals who lived in the same space. Wood was precious and was kept for cooking and for building. Next to the house was a small stone building called a caset. “This was built to shelter the family during one of the very frequent fires,” explained Mrs Turina. “There was so much wood that a cooking fire could easily get out of hand. “In the 16th century, the whole village was burnt down, and when it was rebuilt it was separated into five sections, each separated by a no-build zone which acted as a fire break. “Each quartier was like its own small village, with a communal bread oven and a water fountain, also built in wood, with a lavoir attached. “Wood is everywhere in our village.” Two traditional houses can be visited in the village. The oldest dates from 1641 and is run as a museum by the Parc Naturel Régional du Queyras. In the second, visitors are greeted by the nephew of owners who lived there in the traditional way with animals to keep them warm in the winter until 1976. For details of guided tours of Saint-Véran, contact Queyras tourist office: queyras-montagne.com

Profile for English Language Media Sarl

The Connexion 195 - January 2019  

France's English-Language Newspaper

The Connexion 195 - January 2019  

France's English-Language Newspaper