In the past, it had been a very different story. South of Bordeaux, the inland area was a succession of vast, barren plains that were frequently flooded. This extensive sandy marshland, which became known to many as the “French Sahara”, was a particular challenge to many pilgrims as they headed south towards Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain.
In 1849, Chambrelent had personally acquired 500 hectares of land in Cestas (in a part of the town known at the time as Saint-Alban). His self-defined task was to establish how forests might develop on land that alternated between periods of flooding and periods of drought. His research showed this could be achieved by breaking down the top level of soil and then deploying a large-scale network of ground-level irrigation channels, thus ridding the land of otherwise stagnant water. The soil could then be used to accommodate maritime pines and oaks (Quercus suber, or cork oak, and Quercus ilex, or holly oak).
In case that all sounds a bit too simple, rest assured, Chambrelent later provided more detailed information about his findings in the 1887 book “Les landes de Gascogne, leur assainissement et leur mise en culture. Exploitation et Débouchés de leur produits.”, and in the specialist review Annales des Ponts et Chaussées. Chambrelent had also presented his findings at the 1855 Universal Exhibition in Paris, which did much to raise his profile and indirectly resulted in Napoleon III awarding him the Croix d’Officier de la Légion d’Honneur. Then, in 1857, a law largely based on Chambrelent’s recommendations was passed and provided the blueprint for the “assainissement et mise en culture des Landes de Gascogne”. The stage was set for the transformation of the area into the green and pleasant landscape which remains today.
|"He cleaned and embellished the moors and brought ease to a deprived area."|
Touring Club de France, the association which sought to promote and develop “tourism in all its forms” between 1890 and its demise in 1983.
The monument stands just a few hundred metres away from the property where Chambrelent carried out his life-size research. The mansion which he built there in 1863 still remains; it and the surrounding land were later passed on by the Chambrelent family to the French State and are now home to the Unité Expérimentale Forêt Pierroton, part of France’s national agronomic research institute (INRA, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique).
|The grave chapel in central Bordeaux where Chambrelent is buried.|
|The entrances to Chambrelent football pitch and housing estate in Pierroton (Cestas).|
|How the Landes gradually turned green during the 19th century (source: INRA), and (right) how the area looks today on Google Earth.|