WELCOME PAGE
BACK TO
WELCOME PAGE
SCHEDULE AND PRICES
SCHEDULE
& PRICES
VISIT
VISIT OF
THE GALERIES
HISTORY AND GEOLOGY
HISTORY &
GEOLOGY
EVENTS
OUR
EVENTS
ACCES & CONTACT
ACCES &
CONTACT
SURROUNDINGS
IN THE
SURROUNDINGS
WHO ARE WE
WHO
ARE WE?

THE BEGINNINGS

In the region of Apt, the use of ochre goes back to Paleolithic times but in 1785, in the nearby village of Roussillon, Jean-Etienne Astier, the 1st manufacturer of ochre, began the exploitation. In nearby Gargas, the extraction of ochre began in 1848. At first the ochre was extracted using agricultural and hand-crafted tools; and its transport to Marseille, was done in a very basic way, in baskets on mules.


THE PEAK

The arrival of the railway in 1877 changed the way this activity was organised. From then on the ochre could be sent to Marseille in large quantities, and from there all over the world. The trade increased. Quarries, washing sites and factories flourished in the region. In 1901, several companies were set up, including the SOF (the Ochre Company of France) which brought together the Burgundians and the Vauclusians. The production of ochre rose until the years 1928-1929.
In all, 40 000 tons of ochre were produced, of which 90% was exported.


THE DECLINE AND THE REVIVAL

The economic crisis of 1929 didn't spare the ochre industry. Little by little, the foreign markets closed down. In 1938, the production of ochre decreased by half. The second world war was fatal to the industry. The quarries and the factories closed down...In 1971, the production was no more than 1000 tons and the SOF was near bankruptcy when it was bought back in 1974 by G.Guigou. Today sale and export of ochre are in constant growth with 1300 tons produced annually. The ochre workers are still located in Gargas.


THE USES

Ochre has always been used mainly as a colouring agent, in the fabrication of paint, colourwashes and coatings. Due to its clay-like nature, ochre was used in the past as a thickener in the manufacture of linoleum, rubber, paper, and cardboard...Today, ochre continues to be used in the industries of cosmetics, fine arts, foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals.

OCHRE AND OCHREOUS SAND

The coloured cliffs of Gargas are made up of a rock called ochreous sand, which is itself formed by two main elements:
10% to 20% of ochre, a fine mixture of a white clay (the kaolinite) and iron hydroxide and oxide (goethite and hematite).


The digging of a vault




The digging of
the lateral chimneys





Gradual progress




Gallery

Map of mines layout in Gargas, courtesy of the Janselme family"

EXPLOITING THE OCHRE IN OPEN-AIR OR IN GALLERIES?

Depending on the quantity of earth and rock covering the ore, the ochre was exploited either in galleries or in open-air.


THE OPEN-AIR QUARRIES

In open-air, the layer of "sterile" is removed before reaching the exploitable area. The cutting fronts can be as high as 20m and this way of extraction has left spectacular landscapes. The ochre cliffs are the result of the combined efforts of man and nature.

THE UNDERGROUND GALERIES

If the sterile layer is too thick, it is more profitable to dig galleries into the rock. The foreman determines where to start. The front miner digs into the wall either a diagonal ribbed vault or an arched vault. Then two other miners, a left-handed one and a right-handed one, dig up a very narrow chimney on each side of that vault. They will dig as deep as the combined length of their arm and of their pickaxe.

The central block thus isolated is destroyed with explosive. The work of progress goes on in the same way. The ore is carried out to the outside in wagons pulled by mules.

From 1885 on, the galleries are straight. They can be as high as 10m to 15 m by 3 m wide. There has never been a need to shore up the galleries, by the compactness of the ore and the fact that the tunnels are separated by pillars of 6m by 6m. In some quarries the two ways of extraction are used simultaneously, offering cutting fronts with holes in it. Nowadays, the exploitation of ochre is only permitted in open-air quarries.

Top of page

 
SARL ARCANO
SOCIETE DES OCRES DE FRANCE
SOCIETE DES OCRES DE FRANCE
OKHRA
OKHRA
MAIRIE DE GARGAS
MAIRIE DE GARGAS
Mines de Bruoux
SARL ARCANO
Website created by Sylvie Houssais for the la s.a.r.l. Arcano. English translation by Sylvie Houssais