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Saint-Paul lez (or les) Durance?

-Robert Arnoux

Road signs on the motorway don't agree: some announce "Saint-Paul-les-Durance", as if there were several Durance rivers ; others add a "grave" accent on the "e" of "les", thus making up a word "lès" which does not exist. Even maps, sometimes, seem to get confused. There is only one way of spelling the name of the village which hosts the ITER IO: it is "lez", and there is a good reason for it. "Lez" is an old French word, commonly used until the 16th century, which has now vanished from spoken and written language, but has survived in some villages', churches' and towns' names.

"Lez" means "near", "close to", "next to". Thus Saint-Paul-lez-Durance is Saint-Paul by the Durance River, like Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, is Villeneuve close to Avignon.


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