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Ariège (department)

For other uses, see Ariège.
Department of France in Occitanie Department of France in Occitanie

Arièja  (Occitan)
Department of France
Castle of Foix 03.jpg
Montégut-en-Couserans - Ussau - 20110702 (1).JPG
Pano Erp 5.JPG
From top down: view of Foix (prefecture) and its castle, Montégut-en-Couserans, Erp
Coat of arms
Coat of arms
Location of Ariège in France
Location of Ariège in France
Coordinates:43°00′N 1°30′E / 43.000°N 1.500°E
SubprefecturesPamiers, Saint-Girons
 • President of the Departmental CouncilHenri Nayrou
 • Total4,890 km (1,890 sq mi)
 • Total153,067
 • Rank95th
 • Density31/km (81/sq mi)
DemonymsAriègeois, Ariègeoise
Time zoneUTC+1 (CET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+2 (CEST)
ISO 3166 codeFR-09
Department number09
^1 French Land Register data, which exclude estuaries, and lakes, ponds, and glaciers larger than 1 km

Ariège (French pronunciation: ​[aʁjɛʒ]; Occitan: Arièja [aɾiˈɛdʒɔ]) is a department in southwestern France, in the Occitanie region. It is named after the river Ariège and its capital is Foix. Ariège is known for its rural landscape, with a population of 153,067 as of 2016. Its INSEE and postal code is 09, hence the department's informal name of le zéro neuf. The inhabitants of the department are known as Ariègeois or Ariègeoises.


A waterfall in the Pyrénées, Ariège

The department is part of the current region of Occitanie and is surrounded by the French departments of Haute-Garonne to the west and north, Aude to the east, and Pyrénées-Orientales in the south-east, as well as Spain (Lleida) and Andorra in the south.

Covering an area of 4,890 km, the department is divided into three arrondissements: Foix, Pamiers, and Saint-Girons.

It is composed of 13 cantons, 21 intercommunalities, and 331 communes. In 2009 the Regional Natural Park of the Ariège Pyrenees was created covering about 40% of the area of the department of Ariège.

Natural regions

There are three main areas:

The Ariège plain

The north of the department consists of plains, hills and low valleys where agriculture is prevalent. Part of Lauragais covers the northeast of the department. Two major rivers, the Ariège and the Lèze traverse the plain from south to north. A landscape of grain fields dominates the scene with growing of sweetcorn and sunflowers and with prairies.

The Pyrenean foothills

This area includes the Plantaurel mountains and the Pre-Pyrenean hills below 1000 m. Various geological structures are present in contrast: the Foix Valley with its granite mountain landscape and the Lavelanet region with marl and limestone.

Ariège high country

The geography is dominated by the Pyrenees mountains exceeding 1,000 m above sea level which form the border between France and Spain. The Pica d'Estats (3143 m), the Pic de Montcalm (3077 m), and Pic de Sotllo (3072 m) are the highest points of the department. These peaks are clearly visible from Toulouse in the Haute Garonne.

The landscape is dominated by forests with coniferous species coexist with hardwoods such as chestnut trees, Black Locust trees, ash trees, and beech trees.

There are hundreds of kilometres of well-marked paths which allow exploration of the magnificent Pyrenees mountains. The high mountains are easily accessible via good roads, cable cars or by foot. There are a number of lodges providing high level mountain accommodation that are comfortable, warm and with good meals. There are also a number of fresh water lakes which provide a variety of activities including, walking, swimming, fishing, canoeing, sailboarding and picnicking.

There are several downhill ski resorts, the three largest being Ax-Bonascre, Les Monts D'Olmes and Guzet-Neige. There are many cross country ski-ing resorts, one of the best being at Plateau de Beille, near Les Cabannes. Ariège is one of the least populated and most unspoiled regions of France. The locals enjoy keeping traditions alive, especially old farming techniques. Consequently, as fewer insecticides, for example, have been used, the flora and fauna of the area continue to be rich in both diversity and numbers. Butterflies are common and birds are numerous; particularly noticeable are large birds of prey, including the magnificent Griffon vultures.

There are also many unspoiled villages and hamlets tucked away in the valleys close to the department's border with Spain – Seix, Cominac, and Aulus-les-Bains are examples – together with picturesque mountain villages, most notably Aleu which comes alive in the holiday season.


Ariège stands on the eastern limit of oceanic dominance over rainfall, but other influences are felt:

There is no great tendency to summer drought, as the flow of air from the north-west brings rain throughout the year. Rainfall is moderate on the foothills and in some sheltered valleys, measuring 700 to 1,000 mm per year, but increases significantly in the higher valleys with levels between 1,000 mm and 1,800 mm. The slopes exposed to the north-west, such as Aulus and Orlu, are, as one would expect, the wettest, together with the frontal ridges that meet air flow from the southwest (giving rise to the Foehn effect). Snow cover is common over 1,000 metres, lasting several months above 1,500 to 2,000 metres. Some periglacial areas exist over 2,500 m but the only true glacier in Ariège is that of Mont Valier, near Castillon-en-Couserans.

Temperatures are mild in the foothills, most notably at the city of Foix (400 metres) the average is 5 °C in January and 19 °C in July. However, they decline rapidly with elevation, e.g. at l'Hospitalet-près-l'Andorre (1,430 m) it is 0 °C in January and 14 °C in July.

Comparison of local Meteorological data with other cities in France





National Average1,973770142240
Saint Girons1,935952132920
Climate data for Saint Girons
Average high °C (°F)10.3
Daily mean °C (°F)5.3
Average low °C (°F)0.3
Average precipitation mm (inches)83
Average precipitation days (≥ 1 mm)
Mean monthly sunshine hours1191301691691791892052071901521171091,935
Source: Meteorological data for Saint Girons – 411 m altitude, from 1981 to 2010 January 2015 (in French)


Saint-Lizier Cathedral

Ariège is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790 under the Act of 22 December 1789. It was created from the counties of Foix (Languedoc) and Couserans (Gascogne).

A request was made to the Council of State to rename the department Ariège-Pyrénées. According to the proponents of this project, the word "Pyrenees" would better position the department to promote itself throughout France. The demand was rejected.

Foix is the administrative capital of the Ariège. It is an ancient medieval town with a fortress, Chateau de Foix, perched on a hill overlooking it. The fortress has been attacked many times without being captured including an attempt by Simon de Montfort. It has also been used as a prison, and the names of English prisoners of war can still be seen on the cell walls. Another famous castle in the Ariège is Montségur, located on a rocky outcrop at a height of 1200 metres. During the Albigensian Crusade and siege in 1244 the castle was largely destroyed, with more than two hundred Cathar priests burnt at the stake as heretics. The castle was gradually rebuilt by Royalists over the next three hundred years.

The start of the seventeenth century saw the area ravaged by the Huguenot rebellions of Protestants against Catholics. In 1621 the Huguenot forces ruined the church at La Tour-du-Crieu. In 1629 Pamiers was sacked by Henry of Condé following uprisings that left several hundred dead in the city. This was also the period during which the abbeys at Foix, Tarascon-sur-Ariège, Saint-Girons, Saverdun and Le Mas-d'Azil were torched and destroyed.

The nineteenth century was a time of strong industrial growth, supported in Ariège by an abundant supply of water power. The department also benefited from its significant reserves of iron ore. The growth of iron-based industries was a feature of the period with the establishment, in 1817, of a steel manufacturing plant at Pamiers. This has been the principal driver of the local economy ever since. Other representative examples of the iron-based industries that developed in Ariège during the nineteenth century include the forges at Montgaillard and the blast furnaces at Tarascon-sur-Ariège.

An additional part of the department's industrial development during the nineteenth century was the paper industry at Saint-Girons and the textile industry in the Pays d'Olmes. Changes in forest laws in 1829 resulted in the War of the Maidens, a revolt by peasants who resisted losing their rights to use the forests. They disguised themselves as women while performing acts of rebellion.

Towns of particular historical interest in the department include Pamiers, which hosted a large commercial centre and three churches; Mirepoix, a medieval town; and Saint-Lizier, which is situated on a hilltop with winding streets, fine views, and a church with cloisters that are noteworthy. Saint-Girons is an agricultural centre with a Saturday market.


Arms of Ariège department
The red and gold represents the County of Foix and the bell is the emblem of Couserans, countries of the former province of Gascogne. This blazon, proposed by Robert Louis, is not official.

Or, with 3 pales of gules and escutcheon of azure charged with a bell in argent.

Anthem of Ariège

The patriotic song Arièjo O moun Pais was written by Father Sabas Maury, born on 1 March 1863 in Gestiès in the valley of Siguer. He was the pastor of Miglos and Varilhes. It became the anthem for Ariège.


The Ariège department is a largely unknown department which is situated next to Aude in the southwestern part of the Occitanie region. It shares its borders with Aude, Andorra, Haute-Garonne and Pyrénées-Orientales.

It is predominantly a farming area, as the soil is rich and fertile. More than 50% of Ariège is mountainous, with 490,965 hectares being covered by forests.

Economic Activity
Economic DataValueDate
Business Creation8142005
No. of Businesses19,75015 Nov 2006
Rate of Business Creation10.4% (Ariège) 9.3% (Midi-Pyrénées) 9.3% (France)2003
Unemployment Rate10.4% (Ariège) 9.1% (Midi-Pyrénées) 9% (France)Sep 2006
source : Ariège expansion
Limestone breccia, polished stone marketed as "French Grand Antique Marble". Old quarry at Aubert, Lez River Valley, southwest of Saint-Girons, western Ariège Department.

In the Ax valleys, the mining of talc is the most typical activity. The processing plant for talc at Luzenac is supplied by Carrière de talc de Trimouns, which is the largest producer in the region (400,000 tonnes per year).

This industry is supplemented by tourism. Winter sports resorts are located at Ax 3 Domaines, Ascou-Pailhères, Plateau de Beille, Le Chioula, and Goulier Neige.

In the Lavelanet area, the textile industry used to be significant, but much of the industry has moved out of the country and offshore. A few companies have tried to persist in the face of competition from lower cost-labor in Eastern Europe and Asia. New craftspeople installed themselves in the abandoned factories, like the brewery Le Grand Bison, now active for several years and counting gold and silver rewards for their beers.

In the Pamiers area metallurgy, aeronautics, and chemistry are the main industries. Metallurgy, at the Aubert & Duval factory, produces forgings for the aerospace and energy industries. Several companies are in the aeronautics outsourcing industry, such as Recaero and Maz'Air, partners with aircraft manufacturers. Chemistry is represented by the paint industry with the Alliance Maestria, which includes several companies making paint for anything from buildings to aircraft. In the same sector, Etienne Lacroix in the commune of Mazères, mainly manufactures fireworks and pyrotechnics.

For the Saint-Girons area, industry is in decline. It is represented mainly by the production of paper.

Hydroelectric production from Ariège is about one-fifth of Pyrenean production. The hydroelectric plant at Aston has the largest annual production capacity in the Pyrenees (392 million kWh). With Orlu and L'Hospitalet-près-l'Andorre, these three plants have the largest capacity in the department. The hydroelectric developments in Ariège can support a city of 600,000 inhabitants. Large industrial plants use the energy produced together with the natural gas from Lacq.

The Ariège Chamber of Commerce and Industry is situated at Foix. The department's Economic Development Agency ("Ariège Expansion") is at Verniolle. The department has established three 'business incubators' to support enterprise in Ariège.


A train arriving in Pamiers station.

Mostly mountainous and rural, the department of Ariège is far from the main transport routes serving the main valleys and coastlines. The railway arrived in the department in 1861 with the Toulouse to Puigcerda line which is the only line that remains open to this day in the department. Besides the trains of the TER Midi-Pyrénées, this route is still served by Intercity trains from Paris-Austerlitz.

Since 2002 Ariège has been connected to the national motorway network via the A66 autoroute which joins the A61 autoroute at Villefranche-de-Lauragais and continues south of Pamiers by the National Route NR20 as a dual carriageway as far as Tarascon-sur-Ariège.


Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.

The department has 151,477 inhabitants, or 146,289 without double counting.

The populations of the arrondissements (double-counting) are :

The populations of the principal towns (double-counting) are :

Communes with more than 2,000 inhabitants (and trend of the population as at 2006)

  1. Pamiers (15,574 hab.) Increase
  2. Foix (9,658 hab.) Increase
  3. Lavelanet (6,727 hab.) Decrease
  4. Saint-Girons (6,552 hab.) Increase
  5. Saverdun (4,376 hab.) Increase
  6. Tarascon-sur-Ariège (3,493 hab.) Increase
  7. Mazères (3,287 hab.) Increase
  8. Mirepoix (3,107 hab.) Increase
  9. Varilhes (2,848 hab.) Increase
  10. Laroque-d'Olmes (2,705 hab.) Increase
  11. Saint-Jean-du-Falga (2,591 hab.) Decrease
  12. La Tour-du-Crieu (2,333 hab.) Increase
  13. Lézat-sur-Lèze (2,253 hab.) Increase
  14. Verniolle (2,215 hab.) Increase

NB : The communes in italics are part of the agglomeration of Pamiers.

The department has 2 Urban Areas: Foix (17,000 inhabitants) and Pamiers (23,876 inhabitants).


According to INSEE as of 2017 24.8% of available housing in Ariège consisted of secondary residences. The following table indicates the main communes in Ariège (population more than 1,000) where second homes or occasional residences comprise more than 10% of total housing.

Communes with more than 10% Secondary Residences (2017)

TownPopulationNumber of homesSecond homes% second homes
Ax-les-Thermes0 01,26703,48102,71678.0%
Bélesta0 01,0640861018621.6%
Mercus-Garrabet0 01,1990 07260 011816.3%
Le Mas-d'Azil0 01,1660 07460 011615.6%
Saint-Paul-de-Jarrat0 01,3130 07410 0 010414.0%
Saint-Lizier0 01,4180 08200 0 011213.7%
Tarascon-sur-Ariège0 03,0440 01,8800 0 024112.8%


The department has two parliamentary constituencies and 13 cantons. In general it can be said that: "With a republican and secular tradition since the Third Republic, Ariège is firmly held by the Socialist Party (PS) even though in recent years the right has managed to sink a few corners of the fortress".

This resulted in a parliamentary representation until 2017 was dominated by the PS and a General Council where 19 of the 22 members were PS or close to this party – the political orientation of the department is therefore clearly identified. In 2007 it was the department with the most votes for Ségolène Royal (59.56%). In 2012 it had the third most voters for François Hollande in France with 64.69% after Corrèze and Seine Saint-Denis.

Ariège's 1st constituencyBénédicte TaurineLa France insoumise
Ariège's 2nd constituencyMichel LariveLa France insoumise

Although male/female parity is well respected by MPs (Mrs. Frédérique Massat and Mr. Alain Fauré), all 22 councillors were men until 2011 when two women were elected.

The President of the General Council is Augustin Bonrepaux of the Socialist Party.

Socialist Party18
Union for a Popular Movement2
Miscellaneous Right1
Miscellaneous Left1


The region was originally part of Aquitaine and has retained many hallmarks of the Gascon culture and Gascon language.


The gastronomy of Ariège is based on the cooking of Pyrenean regional food, such as cheese or charcuterie from the mountain country. Azinat is the local and typical dish of Ariège. The department is also well advanced in the field of organic farming.






Notable people linked to the department









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This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Ariège (department), which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (view authors).

Date of last edit: 2021-01-28T19:32:07.000Z