Amiens is an ancient city – Ceasar came here in 54 BC to plan the invasion of Britain!
The economic development of Amiens came from woad, ‘blue of Amiens’, which was grown on land to the east of Amiens. Mills were established to grind the woad and small industries developed along the river banks. The resulting prosperity of the town and its bourseoisie led to the building of the cathedral in the 13th century.
Hortillonages = marshes…….. Hortillons = market gardeners who work on the marshes. The name goes back to the latin meaning ‘small garden’.
Hortillonages is a development of man made swamps from 12th century to grow food to feed the growing population. What had been arable land became marshes as water levels of the Somme rose. Ditches cut to drain the land were deepened as water levels increased and this meant that the ‘rieux’ (small channels) became navigable. The land between the rieux were known as ‘areas’. Instead of cultivating crops on dry land and transporting their goods by mule the town centre was accessible by water. The riverside market became the most important one in Amiens and was at its peak in the Belle Epoque (end 19th early 20th century).
The hortillonages belonged to the Church until nationalisation by the Revolution in 1790 and then were sold to farmers.
Nowadays, market gardeners still operate but rather outside this area which has become more a leisure area with private owners. Most of the holiday homes have no services eg electricity or water and are only accessible by ‘barque à cornets’. These are specialised boats with ‘horns’ or raised bow and stern to facilitate loading and navigation in narrow twisting waterways.
The Hortillonages now cover 6kms by 0.5kms. The whole area is fiercely protected and owners are required to maintain their land and the banks around it. A local Association has been established which successfully fought off plans for a motorway and ensures that the banks are maintained where owners cannot or do not do so. Income from the tourist barques helps to finance this work.
It is a nature reserve, accessible to all. In 2019 we walked around but this year we managed to book onto one of the guided electric barques. It was delightful floating through the rieux and seeing the variety of properties and gardens. There is, of course, competition for the best kept garden but also really wild areas. A delightful trip-ette!