The French commune of Roussillon is located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, roughly midway between Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. Situated in the heart of one of the biggest ochre deposits in the world, Roussillon is famous for its magnificent red cliffs and ochre quarries. Ochre is a natural dye derived from clay containing hydrated iron oxide that has been used as paint since prehistoric times. Ochre clays have been used medicinally in early Egypt, an example of which is found in the Ebers Papyrus dating to about 1550 BC. Ochre is also used as pigments to color houses, clothes, and bodies.
The ochre deposits provide a natural reddish-brown hue to the entire village. The ochre façades of the houses are magnificent - shades vary subtly from light yellow to dark red, set off by the brightly painted shutters and doors. The red, yellow and brown shades of the houses form a striking contrast with the lush green pine trees. Situated at the foot of the Monts de Vaucluse in the Luberon, Roussillon is classified as one the most beautiful villages in France.
During the 18th century the demand for ochre rose when the pigments found use in the textile industry, and the mining of ochres in Roussillon intensified. As many as seventeen different shades of dye were manufactured from the local rock during the 18th and 19th centuries and into the 20th. The ochre business was at its best towards the end of the 19th century and ochre from Roussillon was exported all over the world. Mining was stopped in 1930 in order to protect the sites from degradation or even complete destruction, but the history and nitty-gritty of the ochre dye-making industry is detailed in the Conservatoire des Ocres et des Pigments Appliqués within the village. Numerous quarries and ochre factories can still be seen today.
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