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ARTOUSTE – The Hidden Dam

Artouste, or otherwise known as Artouste-Fabrèges, is located in the French department of Pyrenees-Atlantiques, at the end of the Ossau valley in France.

It is a massive dam that took a construction span of 8 years; from 1924 to 1932. The main purpose of this monolithic construction was because there was an urgent need to provide energy for the towns along the valley. Back then, electricity was not as easily attainable as a flick of the switch; and it was even more so for the folks living in the secluded towns along the Ossau Valley.

As such, the French Compagnie des Chemin de Fer du Midi Railway National Company undertook the project of building a dam to generate hydropower, which in turn, provides electricity for the vicinity.

Lake Artouste, which sits at the end of the valley, is high up at an altitude of 1,997m; perfect for the construction of a dam. However, due to the limited technologies and resources in the past, it was not an easy feat building a dam high up at such altitude. The first major challenge encountered even before the actual construction was ‘transport’. Given the high altitudes and frequent transportation needed for workers and raw materials, a feasible solution was needed to remedy the problem.

Thus, before the actual construction of the dam, they started improving the infrastructure by building railroads, trains and cable cars to solve the transportation problem.

Today, the dam stores 24 million cubic meters of water, and is still an energy source for the towns along the valley. Interestingly, the cable cars, trains and railway are still intact. And yes, they are still functioning perfectly safe and sound. Instead of transporting workers and raw materials, it is now open to visitors who want to try the exhilarating and adventurous ride up the dam.

Travelling by the edges of the mountains complemented with the breathtaking scenic view, you cannot help but to imagine the lifestyle of the workers in the past – and that makes for an absolutely unforgettable memory.

JAMES DUNG is one of two founders of Obbi Good Label, and is a Singaporean currently living in Bordeaux.

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