‘Restanques’, cabins, ice houses, ‘apiés’, ‘cade’ ovens and whitewashed ovens all form part of what is known as local heritage. Fragile, modest and of the people, it characterises the history of our department.
The Sainte-Baume Massif contains 21 ice-houses – the biggest concentration in the Mediterranean basin! The first ice-houses were built in around 1640.
They are large, stone constructions, two-thirds underground and covered in a tile cupola. They are between 8 and 10m in diameter and are 15m deep.
Close to the ice houses are large prairies, the basins, where the water from surrounding springs and streams was frozen into ice. This ice was then cut and processed in the ice-houses. After this operation, the ice-houses were closed airtight and were not re-opened until the end of April. The ice would be transported at night by carts, and was largely reserved for the towns of Toulon and Marseilles.
The ice trade declined suddenly around 1880 – 1900, when the railway network allowed for mass importation of ice from the Alps and the first artificial ice factories were built along the coast.
In Provence, we call ‘belfries’ the delicate wrought-iron structures crowning the village clock and supporting the bell that chimes the hour and warns of danger. At once the same and different, simple or finely chiselled, the belfries are remarkable works of art, with an exceptional form and elegance.
The Var is the department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region that contains the most belfries. From the Verdon to the Mediterranean, the belfries of the Var gloriously defy the wild Mistral winds, which carry the chimes of the bells over great distances, jealously protected by their metal cages.
Don’t forget to look up – you’ll be amazed!
The ‘restanque’ from the Provençal word ‘restanco’, is a supporting dry-stone wall on the side of a hill to create a farming terrace.
The cultivation of the hillsides developed in Provence between the 18th and 19th centuries, and has permanently shaped the landscape. The terraces constitute an effective response to the constraints of the hilly terrain and heavy rain: the successive tiers break the streaming rainwater and encourage its absorption into the earth. Generally south or south-east facing, they reflect the sun and creates favourable micro-climates.
In the Var, the ‘restanques’ scale numerous slopes, covering almost the entire department. They can also be found both on the coast as well as further inland. They contain vines, olive trees, almond trees, cut flowers, and create picturesque, glorious landscapes of delicate and magical lines between civilisation and untamed nature.
To provide the beehives with a favourable micro-climate, Provençal beekeepers have built dry-stone walls with alcoves in which the hives are placed. The hives are generally made of chestnut wood or made from oak-tree bark. These dry stone walls are generally called ‘apiés’ or ‘bee walls’ (‘brusc’ in the Provençal language). The Var has around 100 (maybe more!), which you can explore on your rambles.