Haute-Provence, the birthplace of the UNESCO Global Geoparks

From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, a group of young geologists with a passion for geology undertook a geological inventory mission in the Alpes de Haute-Provence. Gradually, their mission evolved into an approach to the protection of geological sites. At the time, this was only a distant public concern.

From their work, the idea of "geological heritage" was born, which was to win over the collective conscience leading to the writing of a major text in 1991: the #1International Declaration of the Rights of the Memory of the Earth.

In its scientific approach, the team of geologists questioned the role of geology in the constitution of the territory and in the consciousness of the people who inhabit it. They gradually established a whole philosophy around geological heritage, which became a resolutely holistic concept, an innovative vision for the time, bringing together several fields of investigation and, above all, associating all heritages.

How did one go from a concern for the preservation of local geology to an international territorial development concept, the Geopark? For this to happen, a French geologist and a Greek geologist met in 1996, from a common passion, the ambition to preserve and enhance rural territories through their geological heritage was born.

ITB Berlin 2018, le premier salon mondial du tourisme avec des équipes provenant des UNESCO Géoparcs du monde entier

From The Inventory Of Geological Sites To The Creation Of A Natural Reserve

Back in 1978. The town of Digne wanted to rejuvinate and diversify its tourist activity. It offered a study grant to the University of Provence in Marseille to make an inventory of the geological wealth of Digne and its surrounding areas with the aim of writing a guide to these geological sites.

#2Guy Martini, then a postgraduate student, embarked on the inventory. Other students, such as Nadine Gomez, currently curator of the #3Gassendi Museum and the #4Maison Alexandra David-Neel, joined him to take part in five excavations of fossil-sites to enrich the inventory. However, Guy Martini soon realised that these sites were in poor condition.


In addition, a trade in fossils existed with dealers and collectors. Guides of fossil-sites were organising trips from the Netherlands to Digne. The #5Ammonite Fossil Rock-Slab, already known at the time, was losing paleontological specimens - protective measures had to be taken urgently.

While requesting the cancellation of his mission to write a guidebook, which risked contributing even more to the plundering of geological-sites, #6Guy Martini proposed instead to create a Nature Reserve to protect and enhance these endangered sites. This was an avant-garde initiative, since at the time there was no specific experience of this type dedicated to geology.

The Deputy for Culture on the Council of the town of Digne, the veterinarian Bernard Dellacasagrande, immediately understood this need and convinced the Mayor of the time, Pierre Rinaldi, of the high importance of such a vision, of such an approach. The latter supported the project unconditionally over the years. Other personalities also gave their support: Senator Fernand Tardy and Claude Rousset, Professor of Geology at the University of Provence.

From then on, 18 sites were strategically chosen for their paleontological and scientific importance. They were also chosen with a forward-looking vision of the territory. The #7National Geological Nature Reserve of Haute-Provence was inaugurated in 1984.  

VIDEO 1 (lien 8, inauguration de la réserve géologique)

The Emergence Of The Notion Of "Geological Heritage"

In 1986, a #9legal-trial for plundering fossil-sites in the county was widely publicised, a small group of Italians was arrested with a trailer full of fossils in the campsite of Barrême. For the first time in France, fossil-looters were condemned. This event strengthened the collective awareness. The protection of geological sites becomes a necessity, it is a matter of local and common heritage to all. The term "geological heritage" emerged.

VIDEO 2 : le procès

The 1st International Symposium On Geological Heritage In Digne-Les-Bains

In 1991, the Geological Reserve organised in Digne-les-Bains, with the help and support of UNESCO, #10the first international symposium on the protection of geological heritage. Nearly 200 participants from thirty countries met for four days. They shared and pooled their experience and their approach to heritage protection. At the end of their collaborations, they adopted #11the International Declaration of the Rights of the Memory of the Earth, known throughout the world as the "Digne Declaration". This is the founding text of geological heritage. Never before had a text been published on the subject. Protection was mainly the prerogative of scientists who were interested in fossils as an object of study. Geology, the true guarantor of the Earth's memory, is now, like any other heritage, a legacy of the Earth's past for the citizens of today and for future generations.

VIDEO 3 (symposium)

A Desire To Break Down Barriers, A Trans-Disciplinary Vision

Beyond its scientific interest, geology has much to contribute. To do this, it must be taken out of the academic and scientific realms: knowledge must be freed, shared.

Gradually, the Natural Reserve Team, which then included new young geologists, was extending its field of action to all the territory's heritage. It started from the principle: a territory is made up of geological elements supporting a vegetation where people live and have a story to tell. A new philosophy was gradually put in place. For the first time, a link was established between the time of the Earth and that of Humans. This approach questions the role of geology in the landscape and in the history of humankind: these people who spread out over the Earth according to the terrain, the landscape and the natural resources they offer.

VIDEO 4 (Anniversaire 10 ans de la réserve)


This broader vision of geological heritage opened the door to many enriching encounters: philosophers, writers, dancers (such as Générik Vapeur, a street theatre company Régine Chopinot's Ballet Atlantique). It also attracted internationally renowned contemporary artists such as #14Andy Goldsworthy. These artists are progressively establishing a #15collection of land-artwork installations in the middle of wild nature in the territory. This trans-disciplinary approach was highly original for its time.

VIDEO 5 (Horloge géologique)

Involving The Local Inhabitants, The "Memory Shapers"

Gradually, the desire was to involve the local inhabitants of the territory in this process: the inhabitants who love their countryside, its landscapes, its culture and its values. They carry within them the memory of their ancestors : who better than them to impart and share all these memories? A network of "memory shapers" was being formed, local partners, stakeholders - mountain guides, craftsmen, producers, etc.

Benoît de Souza, a ceramist and visual artist from Digne, had the idea of creating ceramics bearing fossils.

Continuing in this vein and ideology, with the desire to share and impart local heritage, the team of geologists welcomes not only the general public but also #16schoolchildren from surrounding villages as well as organising touring events and initiatives to share and spread local heritage to as many as possible. Everyone can visit the area, following in the footsteps of the peddlers who once crossed the mountains on donkeys with their goods. They can discover the old #17lime-kilns, the #18ammonites, the #19the stars of Saint-Vincent, the high mountain hides of the #20Resistance and the strange rock formations of #21terres noires (Black Lands, badlands rock-formations).

9 PHOTOS D’ARCHIVE, défilant en diaporama, « SCOLAIRES VISITES » (lien 15)

A l’époque, partager et donner à comprendre le patrimoine géologique au grand public était totalement nouveau. L’équipe de la Réserve est alors invitée dans #22plusieurs émissions télévisées de type actualité scientifique. Les émissions vont même jusqu’à se dérouler sur les sites géologiques.