The Furens (XIXth century)

Published on 30 January 2008
The Furens: general view
Guard gates.


Between 1801 and 1866, the population of Saint-Étienne had multiplied six times, going from 16,300 to 96,600 inhabitants. This made it the eighth largest city in France. A consequence of the industrial revolution, this urbanisation needed infrastructure.

It was therefore decided to build a dam across the Furens, a river that crossed the city from one side to the other. There were a number of purposes to this: to protect the city against seasonal floodwater, to ensure city water supply and to raise the low water level so that factories which were still hydromechanical could work.

The structure, of masonry work, represents a decisive stage in rationalising approaches to design and construction. At 56 metres high, it became the highest dam in the world still in service, unseating Tibi in Spain, which had held that place for more than three centuries.

Inaugurated in 1866, it became a model throughout the world for calculating gravity dams. However, its original engineers had not tried to establish a new record, just deal with the challenge made to them by the council of Saint-Étienne. It was simply the site that meant that they had no other choice.