The Sorgue River and its branches once powered some 66 water wheels:
Scattered around L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue are giant water wheels that once powered the factories and generated wealth for this commune. With the fast flowing water of the Sorgue River as its power source, the water wheels drove industrial activities in the Sorgue River communities (Payes des Sorgues). Wheat and flour milling, wool spinning and weaving and paper milling are some of these industries. These days the wheels are left there for decorative purposes but they are nevertheless an impressive sight.
The Power of the Sorgue River
More than just a water source, the Sorgue River has always played an important role in the economy of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and its neighbouring Sorgue River communities. As early as the 12th century, the power of the Sorgue had been harnessed to grind wheat. The manual wool spinning and weaving, tasks that were originally carried out by peasants on the farms, were soon replaced by the mills. This was followed by the textile and paper milling.
A Provider of Employment
Towards the middle of the 19th century, there were 17 silk and wool factories in the village providing employment for almost 300 workers. At the height of industrial activity the Sorgue River and its branches powered some 66 water wheels, 17 of these on the Sorgue de l’Arquet alone.
Not all water wheels were used for manufacturing purposes. Some supplied water to the hospital and gardens. The ones that were used for industry were authorized by royal ordinance. Many of the water wheels in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue were authorized in the 1800s.
The Communities and their Industries
Each of the Sorgue River communities specialized in a certain industry. L’Isle sur la Sorgue specialized in silk spinning and dyeing. Le Thor’s specialty was madder-dye and flour mills. In Fontaine de Vaucluse, there were seven paper mills. The repair of old water wheels and installation of new ones is carried out by a special service of the municipal council of the Pays des Sorgues.
Although looking at some of the wheels you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’ve been abandoned.
The Water Wheel Circuit
Equipped with a map from the Tourist Office, we went in search of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue’s water wheels. The water wheel circuit is a nice walk to do as it takes you round the perimeter of the village centre.
The wheels are of different styles and in various states of repair. Some are still spinning whereas others have blades missing and they no longer spin.
At Place des Freres Brun stands the factory of Brun de Vian Tiran, the last family-run plant. The factory produced blankets, throws, shawls and stoles and every step of the production process was performed at this plant.
The water wheel circuit is as interesting walk as I’ve never seen that many water wheels in such a small location. The most impressive wheel was the one on l’Esplanade Robert Vasse.
Don’t miss the other Isle-sur-la-Sorgue features at our website:
And get more interesting info about the attractions around L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue by checking out our features:
“Fontaine-de-Vaucluse – the Phenomenal Source of the Sorgue”
“Gordes – Jewel of the Luberon”
“A Walk In The Luberon Countryside With Some Intrepid Travellers”
“Abbaye de Sénanque and its Stunning Lavender Fields”
Please have a look our other videos too, and if you like them, why not subscribe to our Travelsignposts YouTube channel?
“Discover the Source of the Sorgue“,
“A Walk with Emperor Hadrian at Fontaine de Vaucluse“,
“Sorgue Idyll: Emerald Green Waters at Fontaine de Vaucluse”
“Fontaine de Vaucluse: Climb to the Fortress”
“Summer Lavender at Abbaye Notre Dame de Sénanque”
“From Abbaye de Sénanque to Gordes: A Walk In the Luberon”
The Luberon Coeur de Provence tourist office has some more details on Isle-sur-la-Sorgue at this link: Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, together with lots of other helpful information about the Luberon region.