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Cadarache — where four départements meet

The allegories of these four departements, salvaged from the 1935 bridge, stand guard at the southern entrance of the new Pont de Mirabeau, which was rebuilt in 1989. (Click to view larger version...)
The allegories of these four departements, salvaged from the 1935 bridge, stand guard at the southern entrance of the new Pont de Mirabeau, which was rebuilt in 1989.
At Cadarache, two rivers and four "départements" meet. We all know what a river is, but what exactly is a "departement"? Departements were created in 1790, the year following the French Revolution. The intention was to replace the traditional provinces by a new, supposedly more rational administrative unit. The departements' size and outline were determined by the distance a rider could travel within one day from the departement's capital, or "chef lieu". The departements' names carefully avoided any reference to the traditional provinces, which had formed the backbone of the "old regime's" administration — they were all were to be named after geographic terms, mostly those of rivers and mountains.

There were 83 departements in 1790, by now there are 95, plus six overseas territories. License plates bear their number and, in several instances, this number is used in place of the name — you'll hear French people saying they live in "le 13" or work in "le 04"...

For almost two centuries departements were ruled by a "prefet", representing the Republic and the government. In 1982, the "decentralization laws" transferred the departement's executive to the elected President of the General Council (Conseil General). The Republic's authority remained in the hands of the prefet, but the General Council now had jurisdiction over roads, social services, transportation and middle-school, or junior high education — which is called "college" in French.

The four departements which meet at Cadarache are Bouches-du-Rhone, (#13), with a population of almost 2 millions inhabitants; Vaucluse (# 84, pop. 500000); Alpes-de-Haute Provence, one of the largest and least populated of all French departements (#04, pop. 146000) and Var (#83, pop. ~1 million).

The allegories of these four departements, salvaged from the 1935 bridge, stand guard at the southern entrance of the new Pont de Mirabeau, which was rebuilt in 1989.


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