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Friday March 17, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

It's 65 years this month that the original village of Tignes was demolished and flooded to become a phantom village at the bottom of a lake.

65 years ago the old village of Tignes was evacuated to make way for the flood waters for what was considered at the time to be France's much needed hydro-electric dam.

Historically Tignes was made up of two villages, Les Brévières and slightly further upstream the old village of Tignes itself.

It is the old village of Tignes that now lies beneath the reservoir, under what is now called Lac du Chevril.

Rumours of a proposed dam started back in the 1920s.

It met with strong opposition from the locals known as Tignards, who campaigned fiercely to keep their village intact.

The dam construction started in 1948.

The villagers pooled together and formed a 'resistance' movement to disrupt the building works.

Some were sent to jail for attempting to blow up the dam.

The 600 inhabitants were defiant to the end, determined to hold off the inevitable evacuation.

Their campaign came to a bitter and dramatic conclusion in 1952 when the villagers were finally forced to evacuate on March 15th.

Many refused to leave.

During the evacuation much of the village was destroyed prior to flooding the area to eliminate flotsam after flooding.

Many of the buildings including the 17th Century Church of St Jacques de Tarentaise, homes, the post office and school were demolished.

All the records and furniture from the Town Hall, The Mairie, were moved.

Vacating the Town HallVacating the Town Hall
















Church artefacts including statues and paintings were removed.

The cemetery was moved.

Clearing the Tignes cemetary Clearing the Tignes cemetery
















The bell from the church belfry was removed and then the village was slowly flooded from the waters of the Isère river.

It's the river that flows down from the ski area further up stream that we know as Val d'Isère.

A replica of the original church was built in Tignes Les Boisses.

Moving the Church bellMoving the Church bell















The videos show some archive footage of despondent people leaving and walking along snow covered roads to new homes.

There are shots of people packing up furniture as they prepare to leave.

A snow plough clears the roads, people clear the cemetery and the village archive is moved from the town hall.

Here's some more archive footage of Tignes village as the exodus begins:




The video below shows the inauguration of the Tignes dam a year later on 4th July 1953.  

The President of France, Vincent Auriol, is seen pressing all the relevant buttons opening the new giant dam which was intended to supply electricity for heat and light over a wide area.

There is some irony here as the dam was supposed to provide France with 10% of its electricity.

But with the rise of nuclear energy the dam was not used to its full potential.

The water from the dam's reservoir feeds two power stations at Brévières Power Station and Malgovert Power Station and it is now used as a battery-back-up, storing energy for the ski area of Tignes should its power supply fail.

The footage below show the church being cleared of its religious icons, along with the removal of the church bell:


This footage shows the water from the Isère river rising and creating the new Lac du Chevril:


Once every 10 years Lac du Chevril, the lake behind the dam, is drained for maintenance work and the remains of the old village become visible.

It is possible to walk among the ruins of the village, and original villagers who are still alive revisit their old homes.

The last time the lake was drained was in 2014.

The Tignes arch dam is one of the highest in europe.

The dam has become a landmark for Tignes and features a huge figure of Hercules painted on its walls, known as the Giant of Tignes.

The original fresco of Hercules was painted in 1989 by Jean-Marie Pierret with the help of mountain climbers.

The fresco is one of the largest in the world.

The locals were rehoused and the money from the government meant that Tignes could re-invent itself.

The government compensation helped to build the new Tignes, a purpose built ski area at an altitude of 2,100m with the main area situated at Tignes Le Lac.

Monies also went into its first ski lifts and enabled some of the construction of new buildings in Les Boisses, Val Claret and Lavachet.

Meanwhile, Tignes Les Brévières, the little 13th Century village situated at the base of the dam walls, on the other side, remained intact, and continues with its old Savoyard traditions.

TignesOld village of Tignes















TignesOld village of Tignes












Isere river flooding TignesIsère river floods the old village of Tignes

































(Photos: screenshots from videos)

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