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Le Gouffre

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Chemin de la Fontaine
84800 Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
With a total average flow of 630 million m3 per year, the volume of flowing water makes this source the biggest in France and one of the biggest in the world. It is caused by the appearance of an enormous underground network. Refreshing and calm in summer, boiling and stormy in spring-autumn, the Fontaine is a natural diva that has fascinated visitors and researchers since Antiquity.
The water springing from Fontaine de Vaucluse comes from the infiltration of rainwater and melted snow from the southern Mont Ventoux, Monts de Vaucluse and Montagne de Lure which account for a 1240m2 “impluvium” whose sole outlet is the Fontaine.
The spectacular rise in water in spring-autumn may inspire the surprise and admiration of visitors (90m3 per second) but the regular flow in summer and during seasons where there is no rainfall is more of a mystery for specialists.
During colour experiments in the limestone mountain’s underground rivers, speleologists proved the existence of sewers, natural drains feeding the Fontaine de Vaucluse.
The end of the 19th century saw the first attempt to dive into the source’s submerged channel. Over 100 years of daring explorations have shed light on the mystery of how it works and where the water comes from.

Abyss exploration timeline

1878: OTONELLI, Marseille professional diver reached –23m in an atmospheric diving suit.
1938: NEGRI believed he’d found the bottom at –30m.
1946: COUSTEAU and his team reached –46m.
1954: MAGRELLI reached the shore –25m.
1955: The OFRS (COUSTEAU’s team) did 80 dives down to –74m and sounded down to –84m.
1967: COUSTEAU’s team submerged the Télénaute vehicle which reached –106m.
1974: The GRSA did a survey on the abyss. A decree banned explorations after this dive.
1981: The Société Spéléologique de Fontaine de Vaucluse started its research again.
TOULOUMDJIAN aided by COMEX reached –153m in a scuba set.
1983: German diver HASENMAYER reached depths of –205m in a scuba set.
The SSFV and ACRC submerged the Sorgonaute and reached –245m with a wire guided vehicle.
1984: Dive and implosion of the Sorgonaute II at –205m.
1985: The SSFV and Société MIC submerged the instrument holder MODEXA which stopped on a sandy bed at –308m after located two South East corridors.
1986: The ACRC attempted a new experiment and had to abandon the Sorgonaute III at approximately –200m. The measurement apparatus was left in the abyss.
1989: The SSFV armed with the Spélénaute again observed the channel, drew up another cross-section of the abyss down to –308m and attempted to enter the corridors identified in 1985 but they were too narrow for the Spélénaute to go through.
1993: Nicolas HULOT dived down to -40m for the TV programme USHUAIA.
1996: The SSFV armed with the Spélénaute discovered an enormous chamber at –174m.
2004: Exploration of the Prado corridor (discovered by Cousteau in 1950). The Spélénaute used for this operation at –135m accompanied by a diver linked up at –120m. The 2 channels connect at the top of large wells. ( - - - )

1998: Divers identified numerous recent items. The SSFV drew up an archaeological exploration file to find out how long this had been going on for.
2001: The SSFV organised exploratory dives with the Spélénaute between –40m and –80m to safely observe the cavity and potential deposit sites. The extremely important discoveries by additional dives commissioned by the Ministry for Culture resulted in the establishment of protective measures for the abyss.
2002: The SRA and SSFV collected approximately 400 antique items, some of great historic value.
2003: A second archaeological site brought the number of pieces and items to over 1600 dating between 80BC and 450AD.  
  • Le Gouffre 1 - Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
  • Le Gouffre 1 - Fontaine-de-Vaucluse