Territory and heritage

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Over the centuries, the Pays de Grasse has been unified variously as a provostship, a diocese, a district and a canton and the idea of the Pays de Grasse as one unit still very much permeates the way of thinking of the local population. There is a sense of common history, culture, shared family ties and economic interests. The city of Grasse is now the administrative centre of the western Alpes-Maritimes department and capital of Eastern Provence, and its history and the history of the region are inextricably linked. Let’s take a look back into the past to see how the Pays de Grasse has changed over the centuries.

Back in the times of Antiquity, a major road network built during the reign of Augustus shows the interaction that went on between Grasse and its territories. This road network played a crucial role in the region’s economic and political life. 
In the Middle Ages, Grasse became a crossroads. The road between Fayence and Nice crossed the city from east to west, and there were also roads to the coastal towns of Cannes and Mandelieu in the south and Séranon and Castellane, two toll and market towns, in the north. The existence of these roads is proof of the commercial vitality of Grasse at this time and of the trade that went on between the city and its territories. The economic growth of Grasse was based on its cloth manufacturing and leather and tanning industry. When scented leather gloves came into fashion, the tanners of Grasse started specialising in the manufacture of scented gloves. The increasing number of taxes on leather at the time of the French Revolution led to the decline of the industry. The perfume-makers took over where the tanners left off. As this new activity developed and expanded, so did the number of flower farms throughout the territory. Some of the farmland previously used for crops was now used for growing flowers for making perfume. In Grasse, Mouans-Sartoux, Auribeau-sur-Siagne, Peymeinade, La Roquette-sur-Siagne, Pégomas, they grew jasmine, tuberose and roses. In the higher ground in Gourdon, Cipières, Escragnolles, they harvested fine lavender and sheep manure, known locally as migon, which was an essential fertiliser for growing jasmine. All over the region, olive plants were eclipsed by double violets, Victoria violets, narcissi and hyacinths. From the eighteenth century onwards, flower farming and the perfume industry rapidly developed to become the principal activity in the Grasse region, and it remained so up until the mid-twentieth century. Thanks to industrial and chemical advances, the perfume-making industry in Grasse has diversified and now includes aromatics, cosmetics and fine chemicals.
As a result of globalisation flower farming has now virtually disappeared. These days, mimosa is the main flower grown in the region. Tourism started developing here from the late nineteenth century onwards. The communes in the Pays de Grasse acquired a reputation as both summer and winter resorts. Tourist brochures vaunted the region’s climate as well as its festivals, the arts, gastronomy and its hotels. Perfume factories began opening to the public; there were organised bus tours to Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey, Cabris, Gourdon, Mouans-Sartoux, Saint-Cézaire-sur-Siagne and the Loup gorges. People flocked to the casino and to the theatre in Grasse. 
During the second half of the twentieth century, the dramatic growth of seaside tourism led to major changes in the coastal villages. And far from the coastal crowds, a rural, culture-based tourism developed inland. Cottages and Provençal farmhouses known as bastides and mas were an important part of the rich cultural heritage of the Pays de Grasse as were mills, wash-houses, religious buildings, terrace cultivation, footpaths, bridges, Neolithic burial grounds, castellaras and sites of geological interest. Discover all this and more on our themed circuits!