Just when you think you have seen France from top to bottom you come across a part of history that catapults you back in time –way back to the time of the troglodytes. In the mountain region of Alpilles in Southern France, the lavender dominates the landscape. Stone cottages housing bakeries hug the roads like a well-worn jumper. The gentle winding road resembles a slow moving roller coaster as is sweeps and glides through the picturesque countryside. The hills dip and soar all at the same time so when you glimpse an enormous outcrop towering over yet another ancient town, it takes but a minute to realise that you have travelled to a place of signifigence.
The medieval town of Les Baux de Provence was built by ambitious Warlords seeking to establish their power. The based themselves high up on this impregnable rock thereby taking control over Provence. As a sign of their arrogance, the princes played with rhyme constructing slogans such as “A l’asar Bautesard” loosely translated meaning At Ransom Belchazzar. Balthasar was said to have been one of the nobles that presented gifts to Jesus. In their eyes they were descended from the Magi (an epiphany of Jesus Christ and magic) and so chose the Star of the Nativity as their emblem. The city suffered greatly during the many wars of the period that were decided over steel and fire. For all of the scheming and plotting of the ruling lords and princesses, there is little left today to stand testament to their reign. One of the most valuable finds was a “Colom barium” dating as far back as 3000B.C.
Whilst the Romans had extensive influence in the construction of the mountain fortress, it was eventually overrun by barbarians and the Visigoths in the 5th century, then the Burgundians and the Franks a century later.
After many changes of “owners” the town finally submitted to Louis XI and the Crown of France in 1642.The city is made up of three parts. The village district that was built around the church of Saint Vincent today remains mostly in its original state (with some minor additions). Traders offer freshly baked bread and delectable pastries.
Called the “dead city” Le Baux is no longer inhabited but a re-enactment takes place in the old village each year in the spring. Witness a 12th to 16th century stone thrower which could hurl up to 50kg boulders as far as 200 metres. No wonder in the Lord of the Rings everything got squashed.
La Maison Du Roy- once the home of a noble is now the local Post Office. It is a central figure to the rich past of the remaining buildings. On the grand rue the 16th century Hotel de Brion houses the Louis Jou Foundation, a collection of prints and publications ranging from ancient manuscripts to modern art. Buy a reproduction from the printers shop a workshop still in use today.
Place Saint- Vincent was once the old monastery and reflects heavily on the architecture of the 11th to the 13th centuries. It is the village’s largest and most ancient church and together with the pre Romanesque chapel holds some of the most precious ideals of its time.
Rue de la Calade (the former Town Hall) overlooks the small valley of La Fontaine Santons Museum formerly the private residence of Bertrand Mocadeu, contains a Provencal crib and a wide selection of santons- small terracotta figurines. The cribs have become so popular that a santons fair is now held each year in the city of Marseilles. The figurines are exported to the rest of France bringing funds back into Les Baux des Provence.
However this classical piece of the past also has a first in the discovery of Bauxite. In a room at the Hotel De La tour Du Brau on the rue du Trencat in 1812, hydroxide of alumina(the raw material used for the refining of aluminium) was discovered. This of course developed into one of the major industries of our time.