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Roquebrune-sur-Argens (Municipality, Var, France)

Last modified: 2018-06-26 by ivan sache
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Flag of Roquebrune-sur-Argens - Image by Ivan Sache, 10 April 2018


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Presentation of Roquebrune-sur-Argens

The municipality of Roquebrune-sur-Argens (13,195 inhabitants in 2015; 10,610 ha) is located 25 km south-east of Draguignan. The municipality is made of the town of Roquebrune-sur-Argens, of the village of La Bouverie, located 10 km north of the town, and of the family-oriented sea resort of Les Issambres, located 20 km south of the town, between Fréjus and Sainte-Maxime.

Roquebrune was renamed Roquebrune-sur-Argens in August 1920 upon request by the Municipal Council, for the sake of differentiation from Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.
River Argens (116 km) crosses the department of Var from west to east, flowing into the Mediterranean Sea near Fréjus. The median valley of Argens, downstream Vidauban, is a main way of communication to eastern Provence and Italy, followed by the A8 highway and the Paris-Nice-Ventimiglia railway line.
The Argens is known for its violent, unpredictable floods, caused by very intense rain events that increase the flow of its tributaries. On 15 June 2010, a centennial flood (the preceding one was recorded on 6 July 1827) killed 25 people, required the rescue of 2,450 people and the evacuation of another 1,350 by helicopter. The amount of rain fallen in 24 hours was equivalent to the average precipitations over a six-month period. The Argens reached an height of 7.70 m near Roquebrune, with a flow of 2,500-2,800 m3/h (average, 20 m3/s), while the height of submersion in the town of Draguignan and in the plain between Roquebrune and Fréjus locally reached 2 m. More than 2,000 companies were officially declared disaster victims; the damages caused by flood amounted at 1 billion euros.
The increase in the frequency of severe floods (1-2 December 1959, causing the breakdown of the Malpasset barrage and generating a huge wave that killed 427 people in Fréjus; 3 February 1974; 18 January 1978; 8-12 January 1994; 12 January 1996; 15-16 June 2010; 19 January 2014) was attributed to extreme vulnerability caused by climate change and uncontrolled urbanization of the area. Already in 1983, the historian Michel Bellenfant warned: "Today, the plain of Draguignan is covered by houses and industrial sites. What would happen if a flood comparable to the 1827 event occurred?"
[ Un territoire fréquemment inondé. Ensemble autour de l'Argens et ses affluents.]

Roquebrune emerged in the 10th century around "castrum de rocca bruna" (the brown rock's fortified camp), which was erected on a rocky spur overlooking the valley of Argens, at the foot of the Roquebrune Rock.
The Roquebrune Rock, located on the municipal territories of Roquebrune-sur-Argens and Le Muy, forms an isolated "island" (4 km x 2 km; 373 m a.s.l.) emerging from the Argens plain. The Roquette ("small rock") cliffs are separated from the main rock by a wide fault.
Because of its ocher color, the rock was once considered as an "outpost" of the Estérel massif or a volcanic, porphyritic rock. It is indeed composed of detrital material shaped by erosion for the last 300 millions. The rock's ecosystem hosts rare flower species, including the endemic Roquebrune pansy, Viola roccabrunensis M. Espeut, identified in 2004 on the northern slopes of the rock [Espeut, M. 2004. Viola roccabrunensis Espeut sp. nov. Le Monde des Plantes 99:18-21] and found only in a few other stations in the department of Var.

The Roquebrune rock has been inhabited since the Prehistoric times, forming a natural shelter. Remains of a Ligurian oppidum (fortified camp) and of early Christian (5th century) and medieval settlements have been found.
The singular shape and isolated location of the rock have been the source of several legends. The early Christians allegedly destroyed pagan temples where virgins were sacrificed and established oratories instead. Priest Gibelin reported in 1893 the legend of Mary, a young Christian who retired in sanctity in La Roquette; harassed by Robert, she jumped into a vault and was saved by a divine intervention, which resulted in the opening of a narrow passage Robert could not cross. The story and its subsequent sequel involving a nun harassed by a Moor, is the origin of the old custom of the Holy Hole: on 1 May, the youth of Roquebrune and Le Muy met on the site, where only virtuous people could cross the narrow fault. The nearby chapel Notre-Dame de la Roquette was reported as the place of several miracles and even resurrections.
Another legend explains the former name of the rock, the Three Crosses' Rock. When Christ died, three faults opened in the rock, recalling the three crosses of the Calvary. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims used to climb on the rock to plant three crosses recalling the miracle. Three decades ago, Bernar Venet, an artist from Le Muy (website), designed three crosses, of 4.75 m in height and more than 1 ton in weight, modeled on paintings by Giotto (Scrovegni chapel in Padova), Grünewald (Isenheim Altarpiece, Unterlinden Museum in Colmar), and El Greco (Prado Museum, Madrid), which were inaugurated on 11 July 1991.
The village of Sainte-Candie, allegedly built near the top of the rock, is the origin of the legendary foundation of Roquebrune. The local writer Jean Stuerga claimed that the Roquebrune rock is very similar to the Karadagh rock, located near Candia, today Heraklion, in Crete. Accordingly, the village would have been named by a Cretan sailor. Stuerga adds that the Candia rock was also a sacred place and included a narrow cave similar to the Holy Hole.
[Var Matin, 5 July 2017]

The last permanent settler of the Roquebrune Rock is Father Antoine, born as Louis Chauvel in 1923, who established his hermitage in a cave in 1996 and still inhabits it - after a few years away because his participation in 2000 to a TV program attracted too many tourists.
Antoine welcomes visitors who respect his ethics, summarized by two humorous plaques set at the entrance of the cave: "Father Antoine's cave and mind are too small to welcome big groups" and "Father Antoine's cave is not a tourist's sight but a place of fraternal encounter".
The hermit lives without money and bank account; the owner of the private plot where he settled never asked him any loan. He spent ten years of his early life in a monastery and made 14 travels to India. Father Antoine wrote eight books (Frère-antoineries, 2015); every month, Rachel Guimbaud picked up his manuscripts, transcribed then on a computer and forwarded them to a publisher.
[VSD, 30 December 2015]

Ivan Sache, 10 April 2018


Flag of Roquebrune-sur-Argens

The flag of Roquebrune (photo) is white with the municipal coat of arms in the center.
The arms of Roquebrune are "Or two rocks sable", as shown in the Armorial Général (image).
The arms are canting, representing the brown rock - in modern renditions, the rocks are indeed shown in light brown rather than black. The two rocks are locally identified with two mushroom-shaped rocks part of the Roquebrune rock, known as the Two Brothers (photo)

Ivan Sache, 10 April 2018