Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Provence -- Les Baux

Looking toward Les Baux from a viewpoint

Our adventure in France continued when we next visited a perched village called Les Baux.  The village is small and built right into the mountainside.  It has the remains of a castle at the top and examples of siege engines on display.  The winds were extreme the day we visited almost strong enough to blow an adult over hence I could easily imagine a child getting blown off the edge.  There is a protective wire fence today.  In olden times tossing offenders off the cliff was one way the local noblemen got rid of them. 

The view of the countryside below from atop Les Baux

There are Catapults, Trebuchet, Bricole and Couillard all able to hurl stones, boulders and flaming objects at the castle walls and a battering ram to break down the main gate.  Demonstrations showing how these were used and placards in both French and English explaining their use are part of the display.  One of the times these types of siege engines would have been used at Les Baux was following an unsuccessful Protestant revolt that led Cardinal Richelieu to order the castle and its walls demolished in 1632. 

Our tour guide, Angelique, had a sad romantic tale to tell us about Les Baux.  A very long time ago, during the Middles Ages, a rich, young and handsome nobleman wooed a beautiful young maiden.  She was very desirable and had many suitors but this particular man won her hand and the approval of her father (a most important factor in those days).   After they married he took her to his lovely castle atop a windy steep mountain where they were supposed to live happily ever after.  However, they had not been married very long before he was called on a crusade and being a true gallant noble knight off he went leaving her behind.  After a period of time a young poet arrived at the village and when he saw the lady of the castle he fell in love with her beauty and began composing poems about her.  It is unknown how long this went on but eventually the nobleman returned home and found out what had been happening in his absence.  He was furious and either banished the poet or flung him off the cliff.  His lady wife was so distraught that she ran from the scene and accidentally fell off the cliff to her death.  The nobleman was grief stricken and lost his mind.  Apparently everything went from bad to worse from that time forward.   

Today the population of the village is quite small, dependent on tourist trade, so it was hard to imagine the time during the Middle Ages when it was the seat of a powerful feudal lordship controlling 79 towns and villages.  People have been living at Les Baux for almost 8000 years and lords of Baux claimed their ancestry from Balthazar one of the three oriental kings mentioned in the Bible.  Included on the coat of arms is the star of Bethlehem.  The last princess of Les Baux, Alice of Baux, died in the 15th century.  At the height of its power and influence the court at Les Baux was renown for its culture and chivalry.  The mineral bauxite was discovered here in 1822 and takes its name from the village.  

 Perched village suggests steepness and some climbing to get to the top.  Angelique thought I should park myself in a café at the bottom of the mountain and wait while the rest of the group climbed up to the remains of the citadel but as Bopa used to say you can tell a Norwegian (American) something but you can’t tell her much.  What fun would that be to sit in a café and not get to see anything?  I politely nodded and then just kept climbing up (a bit slower than the others) eventually making it to the top not too far behind the rest of the group. 

There are a couple of interesting pieces of public art on the top.  One is this monument to the poet Charloun Rieu who lived from 1846 to 1924.  Another is what looks like a large Roman helmet.


Les Baux was charming and filled with small shops, cafés, cobblestoned streets that were barely wide enough for the small delivery vans—all other cars and vans had to park at the bottom and people walked up the narrow streets.

We felt like Bopa was with us what with the cliffs (he loved to look out from high places) and these fossils that we found all over the ground at the top. 

We found an old church and a cemetery up there too.  What could be more interesting to a family historian?  A raised tomb was open and empty so one of the more curious teenage boys peeked in.  “There’s room for six people in here!”  He announced surprised.  Many of the graves not only had plants or flowers on them but also photographs and other memorabilia.

By this point I had my windbreaker hood tied on tight (above left) and was convinced that I needed a scarf (Mrs. G with a scarf, right) so in Les Baux I found one in a little shop.  With a bit of faltering French (my part) and a little English (the shopkeeper’s part) the purchase was accomplished and I had a lovely new scarf!  Flush with success and bravery from that episode I next approached a gentleman in another shop and bought a tiny Santon.  This area is known for Santons little figurines that are often used in nativity scenes.  I found a little lady kneeling and holding a bunch of lavender.  She is only about 1½ inches tall.  Neither purchase was expensive and small enough to stuff inside my purse. 

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