•Hautes-Alpes (05470) • Population: 449 • Altitude: 1471 m
Aiguilles is a mountain village on the Guil river valley in the Queyras Natural Park, northeast of Guillestre and past Chateau-Queyras. The village houses are grouped between the Guil river in front and steep, forested mountains behind. The main street through the village has houses, cafés, shops and even a tourist office. This small mountain village near Château-Queyras displays a strong South-American influence in its houses, following a 19th-century emigration and eventual return.
Location. From Château Queyras village, the road goes northeast up the Guil valley past Chateau-Ville-Vieille (3 km), Aiguilles (7 km), Abriès (12 km), Ristolas (15 km) and Ristolas-L'Echalp (19 km).
19th Century Fires
Aiguilles had three terrible village fires during the 19th century, in 1829, 1886 and then just three years later in 1889. (The fountain shown here was built in 1861, not sufficient to save the village.) The 1829 fire caused a large exodus of Aiguilles residents to Mexico, in a similar fashion to the Barcelonnette migration that began in 1814.
The January 1886 fire destroyed over half of the village's 104 houses, and in the Sept 1889 fire all of the village's 102 houses were destroyed.
Those of the 19th-century immigrants who were successful to return home in style built wonderfully bourgeois houses in the South-American style, like the "Mexican" influence in Barcelonnette.
Château de l'Auche. The "Auche" house was built at the end of the 19th century by the family Challe, then sold to the Margnat family around 1920. Ravaged by a fire in the winter of 1995-96, it now houses the village school.
Town Hall. This South-American style building now houses the village Mairie and the Office de Tourisme.
... or Faded Glories. A couple of the historical attractions we've often read about Aiguilles are the Eiffel House (or Metal House) and the Chateau de l'Auche. It turns out that neither of these is really there, at least in a form that would interest a visitor.
The old Chateau de l'Auche was a grand building with interesting architecture. It's now the village school; the old building has been completely rebuilt in school-style, with just the original foundation remaining, and a pair of modern buildings added at each side. The central part still looks quite nice, but it's not the original marvel.
Eiffel House . The Eiffel House sits inside a small park of thick, mature trees, surrounded by a walled fence, and invisible from the outside. It has a great history, but its not in sight, and it's not really a "metal" house. The frame is no doubt of steel, but the exterior appears as normal white cement walls, briefly glimpsed through gaps in the foliage.
The historical story is that the original owners, looking for a solution to the fires that ravaged Aiguilles, built the house with an all-metal structure so it could never burn. The village locals told us it turned out to be too difficult to heat -- a real problem in a mountain town at 1500 m altitude. It was alway cold inside, and the owners ended up living in it only in the summer. This is village lore, though, with no clear timeline about which owners.
There are a dozen sundials in Aiguilles village, some of them quite nice.
At first glance there's a large, old sundial on the church steeple, visible from lower in the village. On closer approach, a very old, monochrome sundial with almost no image left, can be seen lower down on the church. At third glance, or with a second thought, the first "sundial" on the steeple is actually a clock with a single hand, in the style of a sundial
Of the other Aiguilles sundials, the "bee transhumance" one at the north end of the village is our favorite, and the monochrome "Mecano" one down at the west end has the most humorous legend.
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History of Aiguilles
Tucked into the mountains and safely away from Provencal Saracens and the worst of the Wars of Religion, Aiguilles was unfortunately ravaged over the centuries by fire and flood.
The most serious floods occurred in 1408, 1431, 1957 and 2000. In years where a bit more rain would have been welcome, major fires occurred: 1594, 1629, 1746, 1829, 1886, 1889. The 1829 fire triggered the mass immagration to South America.
The "Republic of the Escartons" was established in 1343. In 1346, "L'Escarton du Queyras" joined France, but kept some special privelages. In 1789 the special "Escarton" privileges were abolished, and the the department of the Hautes-Alpes was created, adding the new cantons of Aiguilles and Abriès.
In 1685, following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (that lead to making Protestantism illegal), all of Aiguilles' Protestant families moved away. The space was filled by Protestants and the Vaudois who moved into the Queyras region in 1689. In 1985, 300 years after the Edict of Nantes was revoced [sp], Protestant families returned to the Queyras.
In 1800, the seven communes of the Queyras were grouped together into the canton of Aiguilles (but Aiguilles remains one of the "communes" in that canton). In 1856 a road up the Valley of the Guil was built, an important event for Aiguilles, Abriès and Ristolas.
Tel : 04 92 46 70 34; Fax: 04 92 46 79 05
• GPS: 44.784409, 6.867267
IGN (1/25,000) #3637 OT "Mont Viso, St-Veran, Aiguilles"
Department 05, Haute-Alpes Buses
- See Beyond's Haute-Alpes (05) Bus Schedules for downloading Haute-Alpes bus-lines map and bus-line schedules [pdf for each line] (link for PDF files).