Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04200) Population: 7,360 Altitude: 482 m
Sisteron is a pre-Roman town built at a narrow rocky gap (clue) where the Durance and Buech rivers join. The gap at the north edge of the town rises in a cliff to the Rocher de la Baume on the east side of the river, and to the rocky peak topped by the imposing 13th-to-17th-century citadel on the west side, protecting the town. From the north, the road enters the town through a tunnel beneath the citadel, and the town is still protected by parts of the 14th-century walls. The gap and the citadel are most impressive when arriving from the south, viewed across the town.
Sisteron has a very large old-town area, with narrow streets, ancient houses and historical sights, along with a great selection of small shops and boutiques. There are a wide variety of cafés and restaurants scattered throughout the town. There's also the Vauban Citadel to explore, with its magnificent defenses and great view.
Sisteron's Little Train. LaPetit Train de la Citadelle is the typical small tourist train (rubber-wheeled, not tracked) that tours the old town and goes past the citadel. In a town that's stretched out, with a lot of steps and a lot of steeply inclined streets, it's a handy way to see the sights. It starts and ends near the tourist office; you buy your ticket directly from the train driver (7€, 2015).
Guided Old-Town Walk.
We usually explore towns and villages on our own the first time, discovering things without any real planning. In Sisteron, however, the "tourist" route through the old town turned out to be a good way to see a lot of the different parts of the town without too many side trips. The "route" is clearly sign-posted, so you don't really need the map supplied by the tourist office (although it is a nice map).
Sisteron is a very popular town. It's located on a north-south axis between Grenoble or Gap and the Mediterranean, and there's autoroute access between Sisteron and Aix-en-Provence. The town has a lot of events during the summer, and can get very crowded. Even in the off-season, Sisteron remains active at night, unlike many Provencal towns that are active during the day and sleepy through the nighttime; our photo here is on a September night.
The 11th-century origins of the chateau are long gone, but the donjon is from the 12th century, and the current battlements, built in the 16th century during the Wars of Religion, are ancient enough, and very impressive.
A second area of narrow streets and medieval houses packed together are between the center and the river. Three streets parallel the river, on three very different levels. A combination of steep streets and many stairs, some using vaulted passages to tunnel through the tall, old buildings.
The buildings in this riverside area of old Sisteron are very high, the streets are narrow and sometimes dark. The feeling here is "a bit worn", but in the sense of being ancient rather than run-down. There are narrow steps and vaulted passages with tremendously high arches. It gave us more of a feeling of being connected with the medieval past than the more renovated parts of town nearer the center.
It was down in the part of old Sisteron near the river that we had conversations with two different people. One lived in Sisteron and wanted to explain the local history of the ancient shops we were admiring and photographing. The second man was on vacation from Montpellier, but had lived much of his life in Sisteron. He described to us how he had worked in a job just across the bridge, in a cavern deep underground in the rock, on a project concerning an underground canal of water from the lake Serre-Ponçon. He also tried to help us by describing all the places we should visit on the rest of our vacation in the Haute-Alpes.
A third area of old Sisteron is between the center and the base of the citadel. Some of these narrow streets have interesting old houses and doorways. And one of them, Rue Droite, is a long pedestrian shopping street with many very interesting shops.
The Romanesque-Provencal Notre-Dame-des-Pommiers cathedral was built in the 12th century (1160-1220), part of an Episcopal group including the Saint-Thyrse church, a baptisery and a cloister reserved for the Canons. The name comes from the Latin pomoerium, for the area inside the walls containing a necropole. The architecture is Lombardian Alpine. It's the oldest and one of the most beautiful of the group of cathedrals of Digne, Embrun, Bayons and Senez.
The Sisteron Citadel (Citadelle de Sisteron) was built in 12th to 16th centuries, on a site earlier fortified by the Romans and the pre-Romans before them. The final, massive fortifications were designed by Vauban. The Citadel is open for visiting (see below), and grounds include a small historical museum.
History of Sisteron
Gallo-Roman: Sisteron was originally a village of the Celtic Gauls. It was occupied very early by the Romans, and became the sixth city of the Second Narbonnaise.
Medieval: Sisteron became an episcopal town in the 4th century. It escaped the Barbarian invasions, but was pillaged so thoroughly by the Saracens that it didn't regain its prosperity until the 11th century. Sisteron was in the domain of the counts of Forcalquier and then the counts of Provence, for whom it guarded their northern frontier. In 1483, it became a Royal domain when the last count of Provence gave the town to Louis XI, and was co-administered with the bishops.
Around 1400, Sisteron had a spiritual Renaissance with Saint Vincent Ferrier. That didn't last very long, however, as seven plague epidemics between 1451 and 1503 killed off two-thirds of the population. Sisteron sided with the Crown during the Wars of Religion, and suffered two bloody sieges. Along with some other killing troubles, the plague returned in 1630, and typhus came along in 1744, decimating the town.
Recent: Sisteron didn't recover until the end of the 18th century. The town had remained Royalist, so when Napoléon arrived in time for lunch, on 5 November, 1815, the local population pretty much ignored him. During the 1939-1945 war, the resistance managed to liberate the political prisoners being held in the citadel. The town later suffered major damage from allied bombardment.
Tel (Mairie): 04 92 61 36 50; Fax: 04 92 61 19 57 Tel: 04 92 61 12 03
Market day: Wed.
May - Fete de l'Agneau at Sisteron -Transhumance sheep festival in the streets of the town.
July (3rd Sun) - Fête de l'Agneau (the famous lamb festival) - from 12h, Parc Massot-Deveze
July-Aug - Festival des Nuits de la Citadelle- théâtre, danse, musique classique (mid July-mid Aug)
Dec - Santons, Creches Exposition des Professionals
• GPS: 44.197154, 5.943559
IGN (1/25,000) #3340 ET "Digne-les-Bains, Sisteron, Les Mées"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #28 "Montagne de Lure, Val de Durance"
The GR6 Hiking Trail passes east-west through Sisteron. The GR6 connects with several other trails to the east and the west, and to the south. North, along the Durance, the land is more built-up.
• To the west, the GR6 climbs to the top of the ridge (748 m) and follows the ridge for about 6 km before turning south. The trail crosses the Montagne du Lure along the ridge between Pas de la Graille (1597 m) and the summit (1826 m), then drops down through the forested southern flanks to St Etienne-les-Orgues, and on south to Forcalquier.
Sports in around Sisteron include:
- Gliding - Aerodrome Sisteron-Vaumeilh; 12 km, route de Gap; open all year; Tel: 04 92 61 17 45; Fax: 04 92 61 10 91
- Fishing - Etang de pêche les Pres hauts, 3 km from the center; Magasin de peche, Tel: 04 92 61 07 52
- Mini-golf - Plan d'eau des Marres
- Swimming - Plan d'eau des Marres
- Swimming pool
Baden-Powell Scout Museum
- This museum presents the Scouting movement since its creation in 1907 by Mr. Baden-Powel. There are three rooms with uniforms, flags, medals, artifacts and suvenir photos.
- Location: 6 rue de la Mission, behind the cathedral
- Open: 1 June - 15 July; 15-30 Aug: Tue and Fri from 2h30 - 19h30
- 15 July - 15 Aug: Tue - Sat, 10h30-12h30, 14h30 - 17h30; Sun 10h30-12h30
- Tel: 0492 610 316, or 0689 898 685
- Email: museeduscoutisme.sisteron@orange
- Open: Apr 9h-18h, May 9h-18h30, June & Sept 9h-19h, July-Aug 9h-19h30, Oct 9h-17h30, Nov 10h-17h.
- Entry: 6.50€; kids 6-14, 2.80€
Earth & Time Museum - Musée Terre & Temps
- The Earth and Time museum is dedicated to measuring the time of men and the time of the earth. Located in an ancient Convent chapel.
Earth & Time Trail - (Circuit Terre et Temps)
Related to the musem is a walking tour that goes through the old town and circles the Citadel, visiting points that relate to different types of time: Religious time: Cathedral; Civil time: town clock; Military time: Citadel ; Cyclic time: the dendrochronologie; Relative time: Rocher de la Baume.
Distance 13 km, time 1 hour
- Location: 6 Place Général-de-Gaulle - behind the cathedral.
- Open: Apr-Oct: Tue-Sat, 9h-12h, 13h30-17h30
July-Aug: Tue-Sat, 9h-12h, 13h30-17h30; Mon 13h30-17h30
- Closed: Sun
- Tel: 0492 616 130
- Email: email@example.com
- Web: www.sisteron-tourisme.fr/museeterretempssisteron.html
On our most recent visit to Sisteron (Sept 2015) we stayed in the Grand Hotel du Cours, in the very center of town. It turned out to be an excellent choice. The location, of cours, is outstanding. The old building is classy, the service excellent, and the room (a bit small) very tasteful, and with a view of the Citadel. The adjacent restaurant is also excellent, and very practical, although there are many other places to eat at in Sisteron.