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VAR

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V27, Page 905 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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VAR, a department in S.E. France. It was formed in 1790 of a part of Lower Provence, but in 186o it was reduced by the transfer of the district of Grasse to the newly formed department of the Alpes Maritimes, which is the reason why the Var does not now flow in the department to which it gives its name. It is bounded N. by the department of the Basses Alpes (the Verdon river forming the boundary), E. by that of the Alpes Maritimes (the Siagne stream forming the limit), S. by the Mediterranean, and W. by the department of the Bouches du Rhone. Its area is 2266 sq. m., its greatest length is about 62 m., and its greatest breadth about 56 m. The surface of the department is very hilly, the highest point being the Signal des Chens (562o ft.) at its north-east corner. These calcareous hills are much fissured and very dry on the highest plateaux, but are rich in springs, which is the cause of very beautiful verdure in the valleys. To the W. is the chain (3786 ft.) of the Ste Baume, wherein is the celebrated grotto (now a frequented pilgrimage place) wherein St Mary Magdalene is said to have taken refuge. This chain is connected with the hills (2329 ft.) above Toulon. The thickly wooded Montagnes des Maures (2556 ft.), which extend above the coast from Hyeres to near Frejus are separated from the Ste Baume chain by the Gapeau stream and from that of the Esterel by the Argens river: the Maures chain, with the Argens valley, forms a sort of geological island in Provence, being composed of granite, gneiss and schists. To the north of the Argens valley and to the north-eastern portion of the department rises the Esterel chain, the highest summit of which (the Mont Vinaigre) attains 2021 ft.: this chain is mainly composed of igneous rocks, with some schists and porphyry. The principal river in the department is the Argens, which traverses it from W. to E., and falls into the sea near Frejus after a course of about 68 m. Its chief tributary is the Nartuby, on which stands Draguignan, the chief town, while other streams are the Arc, the Huveaune and the Gapeau. The extreme north-western extremity of the department borders for 21 M. the Durance, which separates it from the department of Vaucluse. The coast line, which is one of the most picturesque and varied in France, runs first W. to E., from the Gulf of La Ciotat to Cape Camarat, and then S.W. to N.E., from the Gulf of St Tropez to that of La Napoule. The shore is dotted (from W. to E.) successively by the sand-covered remains of the Phocaean city of Tauroentum; the little ports of Bandol and St Nazaire; the peninsula of Cape Sicie (on which rises the chapel of Notre Dame de la Garde, and a famous lighthouse, 1178 ft.) with its eastward projection Cape Cepet (338 ft.), bristling with fortifications. to protect the great harbour of Toulon, to the north-east; the roads of Toulon; those of Giens, on the site of the Gallo-Roman town of Pomponiana; the curious peninsula of Giens, formerly an island, but now attached to the mainland by two long spits of sand, between which lies the lagoon of Les Pesquters, with its salines; the great anchorage of Hyeres, shut off from the Mediterranean by the hilly and wooded islands of Porquerolles, Port Cros and Le Levant; the bold promontories of the Montagnes des Maures, that divide the coast into lovely bays; Cape Camarat (1(366 ft.), with a lighthouse; the deep Gulf of St Tropez, with perhaps the best natural anchorage in all Provence; the Gulf of Frejus, where, owing to the accumulated alluvial deposits at the mouth of the Argens, the Roman port of Forum Julii is now occupied by the inland town of Frejus; the red porphyry headlands of the Esterel chain, with the roads of Agay between them; and Cape Roux (1486 ft.) looking towards Cannes, still farther N.E. The department is divided into three arrondissements (Draguignan, Brignoles and Toulon), 30 cantons and 148 communes. The climate is remarkably fine and mild on the coast, where there is complete shelter from the wind, St Raphael (with Valescure above it) and Hyeres being now much frequented winter resorts. The department now forms the bishopric of Frejus (4th century), which is in the ecclesiastical province of Aix en Provence: in i8or there was annexed to it the episcopal see of Toulon, founded in the 5th century, and in the ecclesiastical province of Arles. There are in the department 135 M. of broad gauge railways, and 1484 m. of narrow gauge lines. The principal towns are'Toulon, La Seyne, Hyeres, Draguignan, its political capital, Brignoles and Frejus. There are a number of mines (chiefly iron and coal) in the department, and salt is extracted from the marshes near Hyeres, while there are manufactories of pottery and extensive vineyards. La Seyne is the principal centre of industrial activity. Cut flowers are largely exported from Hyeres. In 1901 the population of the department was 326,384. (W. A. B. C.)
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