Water Wheels are a distinctive feature of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. An important source of industrial power in the 18th century, there still remains around 15 to the picturesque old wheels in the town, still turning with the flow of the Sorgue, even if no longer producing power.
Water Wheel Walk
A water-wheel walking tour is a nice way to see the wheels and have a tour of the beautiful canal-like river that circles the town. The walk takes about an hour and a half, and is also a good initial visit of the old town.
The Office du Tourisme in the center of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has a handy little map available, showing the location of the water wheels and proposing a walking route to visit them. The water-wheel town map numbers the wheels and gives the names and a brief history of them.
On our Water Wheels Photo Gallery page we've used these same numbers, so if you visit the village you can link our photos to the map.
Water Wheels on the Sorgue
The lovely Sorgue river is about 30 km long, from its unique "resurgence" source at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, passing by Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, to Avignon where it joins the Rhône.
Fontaine-de-Vaucluse village, of course, still has a few wheels. And there's the occasional wheel along the length of the Sorgue.
The are even some 18th-century water wheels that remain in the center of Avignon. On the narrow Rue des Teinturieres, just inside the eastern walls, four of the old wheels bring an old-world atmosphere to this lovely and little-visited part of the town. Here the Sorgue river sneaks into town under the guise of the Canal de Vaucluse, nearly invisible.
Water Wheels History
Isle-sur-la-Sorgue had a growing industry of wool and silk from around the 13th century, when the town was fortified by the Popes of Avignon. Combing, spinning and weaving were initially done manually. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the first water wheels were constructed to take advantage of the power of the Sorgue river flowing through town via its five branches.
In 1453 permission was granted to build a water wheel on the Sorgue de l'Arquet, where that branch of the river flows southwest through the center of town, barely noticeable, along the narrow Rue Jean Théophile. The very picturesque Roue de la Porte d'Avignon [our photo] was built around 1530.
The peak of the water wheels was the 19th century, when 62 were listed as being used in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Now, there might be around 20 Roues à Aube remaining. The map-brochure from the Office de Tourisme list 15 wheels in and around the town center, with maybe 3 or 4 others at the outskirts.