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History of Tignes les Brevieres

Before the creation of the dam, there were just two villages making up Tignes – Les Brévières (at the time called ‘Les Brenieres’ meaning ‘place where goats are raised) which was the original village dating back to the 13th Century, and Tignes at 2100m. The main town of Tignes – the ‘Chef-Lieu’ – consisted of several hamlets with names that are probably familiar to regular visitors as many bars and restaurants are named after them – ‘Ronnaz’, ‘Chaudanne’, ‘Illaz’ and ‘Le Franchet’ to name a few. Both had existed since the 16th century as farming communities often running a profitable sideline in smuggling goods from Italy over the numerous mountain passes. Many of the local families have a strong Italian influence as the strongest locals would haul up to 50kg of contraband over the Rhemes-Gollette glacier via the Sassiere combe and into the Aoste valley, returning a few days later with an equally large load. Changing valleys and languages obviously had its benefits and consequently there was an exchange of brides and bridegrooms between the two communities resulting in local names such as ‘Mazzega’ and ‘Marro’ with a distinctly Italian flavour being as common as ‘Favre’ and ‘Orsiere’ which are more traditionally French. This influence also extends to the local cuisine with pizzas, jambon-cru (parma ham in Italy) and ‘Crozets de Savoie’ (a type of pasta) appearing in almost every local restaurant

The first rumours that a dam was to be built-in the valley began circulating in 1928. There followed a series of legal disputes and various government deceits which saw the original plans for a small dam and lake that would spare the village transform into a 200 metre high monstrosity that would forever change the valley and result in the forcible expulsion of over 500 largely illiterate and poor farming people from their community. By 1946 the town priest, who was the only educated person able to put up a coherent argument against the forces of the government, had been killed in the war and the battle to prevent the building work was lost. A 5-year struggle then began which saw military action being brought to bear on locals who were disrupting the construction works in a ‘resistance’ style movement that was ultimately futile. The ‘Barrage de Tignes’ was completed in 1952 and the original town of Tignes was finally lost beneath the waters of the newly created ‘Lac du Chevril’. The hydroelectric lake could, at the time, generate power for up to 10% of France, making the project of enormous importance and condemning the town of Tignes to its fate. This was not the end, however, but rather the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the valley

Monies paid to the local community from the government in damages for the loss of Tignes helped to build the first ski lifts and buildings in the new villages of Le Lac, Val Claret and Lavachet whilst Les Brévières went back to sleep recovering from the 5000 workers who had been housed in and around the valley in a series of pre-fab army style huts. This had earned the village the title of the ‘Wild West of Savoie’ during the construction as men came from all over France to earn fortunes only to lose them again gambling, drinking and fighting in the many temporary bars, casinos and brothels which had sprung up. There are rumoured to be several bodies entombed in the concrete of the dam as a result of these terrible five years. Fortunately, once the clean up was completed, Les Brévières remained largely intact and in the 70’s the first chair lift links were put in place, connecting Les Brévières with its larger sister skiing and snowboarding resorts and putting the village on the map for skiers.

Meanwhile the resort of Tignes continued to grow with lifts first serving the Palafour and Tovieres sections of the mountain expanding to eventually serve the Grande Motte, Col du Palet and Les Boisses sectors as well as linking directly to the resort of Val d’Isère to create on the of the greatest skiing and snowboarding lift systems in the World.