BASSES-ALPES, a department of south-eastern France, formed in 1790 out of the northern portion of Provence. It is bounded N. by the department of the Hautes Alpes, E. by Italy and the department of the Alpes Maritimes, S. by that of the Var, and W. by those of Vaucluse and the Drôme. Its area is about 2698 sq. m., while its greatest length is 89 m. and its greatest breadth 56 m. Pop. (1906) 113,126. The river Durance passes through the western part of this department, receiving (left), as affluents, the Ubaye, the Bléone and the Asse (the entire course of each of these rivers is included within the department) as well as the Verdon, the upper course of which is within the department, while the lower course forms its southern limit. It is a poor and hilly district, the highest summits (the loftiest is the Aiguille de Chambeyron, 11,155 ft.) rising round the head waters of the Ubaye. The department is divided into five arrondissements (Digne, Barcelonnette, Castellane, Forcalquier, and Sisteron), 30 cantons and 250 communes. It forms the bishopric of Digne, formerly in the ecclesiastical province of Embrun, but since 1802 in that of Aix-en-Provence. Its chief towns are Digne, Barcelonnette, Castellane, Forcalquier, and Sisteron. It is poorly supplied with railways (total length 109 m.), the main line from Grenoble to Avignon running through it from Sisteron to Manosque, and sending off two short branch lines to Digne (14 m.) and to Forcalquier (9 m.). It is a poor department from the material point of view, being very mountainous and containing many mountain pastures. But these pastures have been much damaged by the Provençal shepherds to whom they are let out, while the forests have been very much thinned (though extensive reafforestments are now being carried out) so that the soil is very dry and made drier by exposure to the southern Sun. From near the head of the Ubaye valley the pass of the Col de l'Argentière (6545 ft.) leads over from Barcelonnette to Cuneo, in Italy; it was perhaps traversed by Hannibal, and certainly in 1515 by Francis I.
See C. J. J. M. Féraud, Histoire, géographie et statistique du Département des Basses-Alpes (Digne, 1861).
(W. A. B. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)