Dept. des Basses-Alpes by Levasseur, 1847
Dept. des Basses-Alpes by Victor Levasseur, published in Atlas Nationale Illustré, 1847
Engravings and statistical information surround this beautiful map of Basses-Alpes, France, which was characteristic of Levasseur's cartographic style. To the left of the map is the information about the organization of the department as well as the number of inhabitants. On the right is an insert that contains data about the land and production, as well as famous people and points of interest in the department. The engraved images include landscapes of the area, as well as important trade products, such as olive oil. Surprisingly, some of the information in the Productions et Commerce section are still relevant to the area today. For example, the sale of specialty items such as honey, olive oil, and wine is still an important aspect of the economy. It is also interesting to note that the manufacturing industry remained small, despite the shift in favor of urbanization. Levasseur also added two miniature portraits of important men born in Basses-Alpes, Pierre Gassendi and Jacques-Antoine Manuel.
Basses-Alpes had been renamed several times since its creation on March 4, 1790, as one of the original eighty-three departments. At first it was called Nord-du-Provence, but it was soon changed to Basses-Alpes to further eliminate any association to the Ancien Regime province of Provence. Today, the department is known as Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, having been changed in 1970. However, residents are still referred to as Bas-Alpins after the department's former name.
During the French Revolution, the National Constituent Assembly decided to reorganize the administrative structure of France. The restructuring of the nation served two purposes: to break up the provinces of the Ancien Regime and increase control over rural areas. Each department was designed with a capital (Chef-lieu de departement), called a prefecture, located near the center. This was done so that no settlement was farther than a day's ride from a center of government. Basses-Alpes, like all departments, is further divided into arrondissements, which are subdivided into cantons. According to the data provided on the map, Basses-Alpes was comprised of five arrondissements: Digne, Barcelonette, Castellane, Forcalquier, and Sisteron. There were thirty cantons and two hundred fifty-five communes. Modern day Alpes-de-Haute-Provence only has four arrondissements (Sisteron was dissolved) with thirty cantons, and two hundred communes. The current population is estimated at 160,000, which is very similar to the recorded population of 156,675 inhabitants on the map. The population is rather low, due to the high altitude and mountainous terrain of much of the department. Most people live in the Durance River valley leading to a low overall population density, making it one of the most sparsely inhabited departments in France.
Victor Levasseur (1800-1870) was an important cartographer in nineteenth century France. Throughout his career, he held a variety of political and academic posts related to the field of cartography. His most famous work was the Atlas Nationale Illustré des 86 Départments et des Possessions de la France. Also included in the atlas was a map of the world and five continental maps. As an accomplished engraver, he infused his maps with images to further enhance their appeal. Today his maps are valued for these engravings, as well as for the statistical information he often included on the maps. They offer a further glimpse into the world of nineteenth century France.
- Naomi Bean