The plain of Crau: mythological legends and a canal

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Crau landscape - ©Anevrisme / CC-BY-SA Crau landscape - ©Anevrisme / CC-BY-SA
Plain of Crau Plain Legend


Hercules, Strabo and Cie

The accumulation of pebbles in the plain of Crau was explained by a legend: Hercules, on his way to Spain, came across Ligurian people in middle of the plain. The hero had no weapon, so he could not fight with them…

He started to pray Zeus, who immediately sent a big pebbles rain! And even after centuries, all the area was covered with those stones… Aristotle, for his part, said that those pebbles were here because of a big earthquake!

Posidonius said that at this place used to be a big lake, who froze one day: and because of the earth’s movements, the ice finally broke and made pebbles! And according to Strabo, those pebbles were pieces of big rocks which crumbled as time flies… Hey, Strabo was right!

The Giants

Another legend (from Provence) said that Giants (Cain’s sons) lived here. One day, they decided to dethrone God! So, they started to pile up mountains and hills… to reach God! But this one saw their little game.

So, in order to punish them, he created the Hurricane, the Thunder and the Mistral (a cold Provencal wind), which destroyed everything on earth… only left a vast plain full of pebbles. Our Giants, of course, died! You know what? The legend says they are still here, buried somewhere in the plain!


Well, enough of this legends! Where do those pebbles come from? From the river Durance, an affluent of the river Rhône. Because, before being an affluent, the Durance used to run into the sea, passing by the channel of Lamanon, 4 millions years ago.

The river accumulated pebbles coming from the mountains (yes, Strabo was right): and once the river changed his bed, they were exposed… and created the plain of Crau! This vast area is known as coussoul, cursorium in Latin (″course″). Farmers put their sheeps here, from March to May: yes, they raise ovine here since the Gallo-Roman era!

The canal

They raised the canal of Craponne in 1554, to bring the water of river Durance to its former delta. A canal named after Adam de Craponne, an Italian engineer settled in Salon-de-Provence: he made here the first diversion canal towards the Crau!

Oh, already, in the 12th century, the marquis of Provence Alphonse of Aragon gave Raymond de Bolène, lord of Salon and archbishop of Arles, ″the aqueduct and the water of Durance to lead this river to Salon, and from here, to the sea″.

But Craponne’s work was something else… a huge creation! Started in 1550, it was 25 kilometres long 10 years later! Hey, mister de Craponne spent a fortune for this canal. Yes, he paid everything: he even had to ask money to another famous chap from Salon… Nostradamus!

A plain between desert and farming

Since those days, and thanks to several irrigation canals, the plain was transformed into a real arable area! We have meadows, fruit trees, vegetables… They even produce fodder, the famous ″Crau’s hay″.

But after this greenery set, we find a real desert, pretty arid: a desert, yes, trust me! Since the precipitations only reach 500 mm per year! We can see this desert from the road N568, linking Saint-Martin-du-Crau to Fos-sur-Mer.

And also!