Burgundians - Orientation



Identification. More than language, culture, government, or topography, history and economy define Burgundy. Burgundy's exact limits have fluctuated considerably, although they have centered on a corridor drawn south from Dijon to Mâcon (roughly the Saône River valley), and westward, overland, to the great bend of the Loire River at Digoin. Modern Burgundy is comprised of four departments (Côte d'Or, Yonne, Nièvre, Saône-et-Loire). This is essentially the Territory that was controlled by the Aedui, a Celtic polity that played an important role two millennia ago at the time of the Roman conquest of Gaul. Along the southeast-facing slopes of the Saône River valley, Pinot and chardonnay grapes are grown, making this region's name synonymous with wines of world renown. These vines were planted at least two millennia ago by the Gallo-Roman descendants of the region's Iron Age inhabitants. The region derives its name from neither the Celts nor the Romans but from the Germanic Burgundian kings, who ruled the area from their seat in the Rhône corridor until the mid-sixth century.

Location. Burgundy is located between 46° and 48° N and 3° and 6° E. Two principal river valleys, those of the Saône and the central Loire, have long figured in the historical gography and the economy of the region. Together with rivers that rise in Burgundy (particularly the Yonne and the Seine), passages between highlands and plateaus have connected the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the English Channel, and the North Sea, rendering the region a primary Western European zone of passage since at least 40,000 B.P. The complex geology of Burgundy, with major rock facies of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic origin, ensures an abundance of natural resources: coal, oil, precious metals, naturally radioactive deposits, and a variety of rich soils. North of the Loire and west of the Saône, the Morvan Mountains rise nearly 1,000 meters above sea level. This mountain range is the first obstacle that the westerlies, bringing moisture from the Atlantic Ocean, encounter in France. Characteristically moist, the Morvan is in contrast to the Rhône-Saône river corridor, which acts as a conduit for warm, dry Mediterranean winds. The collision of these two air masses over Burgundy ensures unsettled, sometimes extreme weather conditions and widely variable seasons.

Demography. Burgundy has approximately 2 million inhabitants, about a quarter of whom live in and around the six largest cities (Dijon, Chalon-sur-Saône, Nevers, Auxerre, Mâcon, Le Creusot). Only Dijon and its suburbs exceed 200,000 inhabitants. Somewhat over a quarter of Burgundy's population is considered rural, living in villages or on isolated farms; another quarter of the population lives in towns of a few thousand placed amid farmlands and vineyards. In sum, the region's inhabitants are distributed evenly across the landscape, in what is termed log-normal distribution. The population of Burgundy grew slowly in the first half of the nineteenth century, stabilizing around 1850. After that date, the rural population decreased steadily as a casualty of urban growth caused by industrialization. In many rural areas, half the population was lost between 1850 and 1950. Today, rural residence is enjoying considerable renewed popularity in the form of second or retirement homes, although this obviously does not reflect an increase in numbers of agriculturalists. On the whole, the rural population in Burgundy is markedly older than the urban population, especially in areas of reduced agricultural potential (e.g., Morvan) where population decline has been steep for more than a century.

Linguistic Affiliation. Burgundians speak French, although a characteristic regional dialect is reported from at least the twelfth century; a sonorous Burgundian r contrasts with the Parisian uvular r . Morvandeau and Brionno-Charolais, distinctive patois (dialects) with a sizable vocabulary unintelligible to most Francophones, are still spoken; numerous other dialects of French are common in the region.


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