Gap, Hautes Alpes (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) -- Tour de France 2010 and 2011 Host City: The Voconces, Romanized Gauls, absorbed the territory of the Gapençais during the conquest of Narbonne in 125-124 BC. AD (whose capitals were Luc-en-Diois and Vaison-la-Romaine). About 145-50 years later Cottius, a tribal leader from the Val de Suse (Valley of Susa -- in the Piedmont of Italy), allied with Rome, and urged by Augustus, began building a road in the valley of the Durance. He had to submit the various tribes involved as they want to retain some independence. This route, was named Via Cottia per Alpen, linking Turin to Sisteron. It had six stations. The town of Gap grew out of one of these stations. Roman emperor Augustus seized the town in 14 BC and renamed it Vapincum.
In 22 AD, Vapincum became the start-point of a Roman road to Valencia (Valence), thereby connecting to the North-south route from Lyon to the South along the Rhône. Gap, then a Roman camp, was protected by a wall reinforced by a ditch. It was the largest garrison between Sisteron and Montgenevre (with 360 men). Gap gained importance as a transportation a hub. During the first several centuries, the population increased. Towards the end of the third century and fourth century, it acquired new fortifications. These walls completely surrounded the first ones (composed of eleven sides and eleven towers) that kept the inhabitants of the city from barbarian invasions.
As you leave Turin on the SS25 road you enter the Susa Valley. The road traces the whole length of the valley, gradually climbing up through the mountain. After 15 kilometres you come to the monastery and hospital complex of St. Antonio di Raverso, founded in 1186 and enlarged during the 13th and 14th centuries. You can see frescos by Giacomo Jaquerio and an early polyptic by Defendente Ferrari. Avigliana lies on the way to Susa. Much more is at http://www.italytips.com/en/i/the-art-and-mountains-of-the-susa-valley.
In 1790, during the French Revolution, the royal province of Dauphiné was split into three departments: the Drôme, Isère and Hautes-Alpes (of which Gap is the prefecture). Hautes-Alpes became the highest department of France and Gap, the highest prefecture of the country, and they remain so today. In 1802, Baron Charles-Francois de Ladoucette was appointed prefect of the Hautes-Alpes. Under his administration, the town of Gap and the Hautes-Alpes experienced an economic boom. New roads linked Gap to Italy in the east and the Valley of the Drôme to the west. Ladoucette's statue, by the sculptor Jean Marcellin Gapençais, dates from 1866.
In related news, returning from exile in Elba (Route Napoléon), Napoleon (who was using these new roads) stopped at Gap in March 1815. Grateful for the hospitality of the citizens of this region, he departed the High Alpine province with these words: I was deeply touched by all the feelings that you have shown, your wishes are fulfilled [I have returned]. The cause of the nation will triumph again. You are right to call me your Father, and I live only for the honor and happiness of France. With my return, all your worries will dissipate -- [my return] ensures preservation of all property rights, equality among all classes and the rights [of governance] that you enjoyed the last twenty-five years .... In all circumstances where I may find myself, I will always remember with keen interest what I have seen throughout your territory. http://www.ville-gap.fr/
The Gap Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Arnoux de Gap) is the seat of the Bishop of Gap. The current structure was built between 1866 and 1904 in Neo-Gothic style by architect Charles Laisné on the site of a former mediaeval building. Le style néo-gothique est très en vogue dans la seconde moitié du XIXème siècle à l’instigation de Napoléon III et du très actif Viollet-le-Duc. http://www.jedecouvrelafrance.com/f-2406.hautes-alpes-cathedrale-gap.html The diocese is suffragan to the archdiocese of Marseille. The first Bishop of Gap by tradition, was Saint Démèter a disciple of the Apostles and martyrs. He should not be confused with Saint Demetrius (Dimitrios), (His feast day is the 26th of October-8th of November in the Coptic and Orthodox churches-reflecting his death in 306 AD in Thessaloniki, during the Christian persecutions of the emperor Diocletian or Galerius). The church of Gap had, among other bishops, St. Aregius (or St. Arey, 579-610? (feast day May 1st)), who established at Gap a celebrated literary school and was held in high esteem by St. Gregory the Great. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_Diocese_of_Gap
From December 28, 986, and the reconquest of Saracen territory, the Bishop of Gap had sovereignty over the city. The Christian successors made donations to churches, monasteries and abbeys, including at Gap. Sometimes they return goods that had come to them during their part in the reconquista, but which had belonged to the church before the subjugation of the Alps by Muslims. Gap was deauthorized in 1801. When the diocese of Gap was re-established in 1822 it encompassed, besides the ancient Diocese of Gap, a large part of the ancient archdiocese of Embrun. In turn, the modern See of Gap was absorbed into the authority of the Archbishop of Aix until 2007. In 2008, the title was reattached to the diocese of Gap by the Pope. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06378a.htm -- Tour de France 2010 Host site.
Briançon is north and east of Gap, past Embrun, on the Durance River at its confluence with the Guisane (Hautes Alpes (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur)) At 1,350 meters it is the second highest city in Europe after Davos, not quite a mile-high city. L'existence de Briançon est successivement rapportée par Strabon, Ptolémée, Atticus et Pline. Yes, it is another town with a Greek, Celtic and Roman history (Brigantium). It formed part of the kingdom of King Cottius. Brigantium was the first place in Gallia after crossing from Alpis Cottia (Mont Genèvre) on the Roman-built road. Here the road divided to go west to Grenoble and Vienne, or to go towards the south through Ebrodunum (modern Embrun), to Vapincum (modern Gap).
About 1040 the area came into the hands of the counts of Albon (later dauphins of the Viennois) and thenceforth shared the fate of the Dauphiné. The historic city-centre is a strongly fortified town, built by Vauban to defend the region from Austrians in the late-17th century. Its narrow passages have seen many times the estranger or un incendie. By the treaty of Utrecht (1713) all the nearby valleys were handed over to Savoy in exchange for that of Barcelonnette, on the west slope of the Alps. In 1815 Briançon successfully withstood a siege of three months at the hands of the Allies, a feat which is commemorated by an inscription on one of its gates: Le passé répond de l'avenir (or roughly "here and no further" im modern speak). The parish church, with its two towers, was built 1703-1726, and occupies a very conspicuous position. On 8 July 2008, several buildings of Briançon were classified by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, as part of the Fortifications of Vauban group. Briançon has often been a start or a finish of Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Dauphiné Libéré. http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Briançon: Great Pictures Here (but some are slow to load)
If you go west from Gap you will come to Die, the former episcopal see and sub-prefecture of the Drôme department in south-eastern France (en région Rhône-Alpes). Die is best known for the Clairette de Die, a sparkling wine; but don't forget the lavendar (even though we are not in Provence). It sits at the foot of massif du Vercors (rivière de la Drôme). It is an old Roman fortification, without a gaulois heritage. The earliest Bishop that can be proven is Saint Nicaise. He was a delagate in the group that represented the french churches at the premier council at Nicosea (325 AD). The museum at Die has an impressive collection of Roman objects and prehistorical items from the region. La cathédrale Notre-Dame (1801 but retaining an 11th Century porch), three ancient portals and remains of the Roman-era fortifications are also worth a look-see. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Diocese_of_Die