Zola Dam in Aix-en-Provence Articles about Provence

Zola Dam in Aix-en-Provence

Zola Dam in Aix-en-Provence
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As is well known, the famous French writer Emile Zola spent his childhood and youth in Aix-en-Provence.

There is the Francois and Emile Zola Boulevard in this city (boulevard François-et-Émile-Zola) named in memory of the father and son Zola.
 
Of course, the most famous member of the Zola family was namely Emile, however, his father also left a noticeable imprint in Aix-en-Provence. Francois Zola is the author of the project of construction of the dam for uninterrupted water supply of the city. The dam was built in 1854 and became a kind of «monument» to its creator.

The writer’s father, Francois Zola was Italian by birth and previously had the name Francesco Zolla. Having chosen in his youth the military career and joined the French imperial army he began to write his name in the French manner (François Zola).

After serving in the Austrian artillery troops after the fall of Napoleon Francesco retired from service and in 1818 obtained an engineering degree at the University of Padua. Then, the young engineer Zola took an active part in the construction of the German Railway (which was one of the first railways in Europe).

However, Francesco Zolla still had a time to serve in Algeria as part of the French Foreign Legion troops, but in 1833 he finally left the military service and settled in Marseille.

Here Francois Zola participated in the competition for the best project for the reconstruction of the port of Marseille, unfortunately unsuccessfully. Nevertheless, he continued creative pursuits within the engineering profession.

And in 1844, after moving with his family and young son, Émile Édouard Charles Antoine (born to Francois and his wife, Émilie Aubert, in 1840), to Aix-en-Provence, he was able to show his engineering talent.

Aix-en-Provence, being at the time a small Provencal town with a population of about 28 thousand people, suffered from lack of water. Francois Zola undertook to resolve this problem.

He made a plan of dam construction to gather the water coming down from the mountains, and then cut a channel by which it would enter the city from the valley where the rainwater flows flew. (There was no other natural water source nearby Aix-en-Provence).

However, at first the intentions of engineer Zola did not strike a spark out of the residents and the city administration. But he did not give up and persistently continued the implementation of the plan to build the dam.

Francois Zola had to fight for it for several years, and his persistence won!

He even went to Paris, where drew out of the French government to make the decision on the recognition of the dam construction project to be of public interest. Also as a result of his activities the privately owned lands necessary for the construction were purchased. (Previously, the owners not wanting to sell the lands had to give up these territories at market prices).

And in 1846, the construction of a dam in Aix-en-Provence yet begun. Francois Zola led all the works personally. But, unfortunately, he failed to see the dam built up – the engineer died suddenly in 1847 of pneumonia.

The wife and son of Francois then had to go through hard times .The wife became a seamstress and worked hard to «stay afloat» for herself and her son. A the future writer Emile after graduating from college in Aix-en-Provence was forced to wander through Paris in search of work. Before becoming a successful famous writer the young man changed several professions (he worked at the customs, as a book packager, a forwarder in a publishing house and a journalist).

The construction of the dam of Francois Zola in Aix-en-Provence was completed only in 1854. Its active operation lasted until 1877 and now it is kept in working order, although the main source of drinking water for the residents became the channel de Verdon.

The view on this dam was depicted in one of his paintings entitled «Le barrage Zola» ("Zola Dam") by the writer’s Zola classmate and friend, the famous painter Paul Cezanne.


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